Sunday, June 14, 2009

Open Mic Etiquette {Note to Poets}

Dear Poets,

When you read your work at an open mic, it is not necessary to explain the poem. It is not necessary to share with the audience the city it was written in or weather conditions outside the window of your garrett while you were writing. Were you happy or sad or full of knowledge and/or wisdom from just having completed reading Gibbons' The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? Not really necessary. A brief mention could be interesting but that's all. Perhaps you used an unusual word in your poem, such as, say, abducent nerve.

Well, okay. I grant it might be of value to inform your now slavering public that an abducent nerve is:

A small motor nerve that has one task: to supply a muscle called the lateral rectus muscle that moves the eye outward.

{Challenge poem: Use "abducent nerve" in a crown of sonnets.}

But even that is really truly unnecessary. Perhaps your poem references Paris, not the Paris of croissant and Yves Montand but Paris, Texas. Maybe maybe maybe you can mention that before reading.

But really. Truly. HERE'S MY POINT, FOLKS, AND PLEASE NOTE, THIS IS A BLOG, NOT AN OPEN MIC READING. Let the poem, a compilation of words, space and time, do its own talking. Let the audience understand what it understands. If there is a doctor in the house, ha ha, even she might miss abducent nerve, because the thrust of the poem is about bravery or love or redemption. But the doctor will have listened and heard something new and brave.

You can't control what your audience hears. You can't control how your audience interprets. All you can do is read your poem. And it is so very tiresome and insulting to be told:

"This is a poem about love," by an eager poet. I, for one, want to make the discovery on my own. And if there is any merit to the poem, I will. Without the poet's help. Without a five-minute lecture.

Of course if a poet goes on and on before reading his or her poem because he or she is oblivious to the audience, or narcissistic, well, what's to be done but to leave the reading or avoid that poet in the future. I go to poetry readings to encounter poems, not poets.


  1. googled "not an open mic" and lucky to find this...

    thank you!

    but do painters bring their own work to another's artist's opening?

    so many open-mic-types do NOT come to listen -- is it really worth having them fill out the crowd?

  2. How neat that you found this through Googling.

    In truth, I need to write a part 2 for this. Because it's not just open mic poets who can overexplain. I fell back on that term too much.

    Good comments. Thank you.

  3. Oh! I wish Rothenberg and Meltzer would read in NYC! I saw various mentions on a listserv. Are you at the 333 or the poetnews email?