Thursday, September 17, 2009

Open Mic Poets: I owe you an apology

I write these posts in a flurry--which is good--I've finally made peace with imperfection; and so I sometimes have second thoughts on what I've written.

Point being, on June 14, 2009 I posted "Open Mic Etiquette {Note to Poets}" and commented on an increasing tendency to deliver long introductions to poems, and that this tendency was most common to poets of the open mic.

What do I even mean by "open mic poets"? Well. Poets who love to read their poems aloud, who enjoy the company of other poets at open mics, mostly held in coffee houses or bars. By and large, open mic poets, as I here define them, don't submit their work to literary journals, or do so only when the journal is tied to one of the open mic venues they frequent.

In New York City, for instance, Evie Ivey's Green Pavilion reading in Brooklyn, a monthly reading series "under the chandeliers" at a funky coffee shop with a large backroom, recently published a slick, well-executed anthology of Green Pavilion poets--poets whose work, whose names, don't appear in publications with a greater circulation.

Okay, definition over. Thing is, when I advised open mic poets against explaining their poems prior to reading them--let the work stand on its own, I suggested--I wasn't exclusively addressing open mic-ers.

In fact, one of the most annoying readings I had attended was of Poetry poets, Poetry being one of the superstar journals of this field. The reading was held at Housing Works Bookstore and featured four poets. The first two poets to read explained their work at length, revealed various resentments held against editors who'd rejected their work, or considered their time at the mic to be a first draft of a memoir. (Much autobiography.)

The final two poets simply read their poems. The final two poets were Philip Nikolayev and Mary Jo Bang. Nikolayev, who is bi-lingual (Russian and English), placed his poem in a context. I don't remember the specifics, just that he offered one or two sentences of introduction--he was born and originally educated in Russia and sometimes listeners are eager to know if his work is a translation or his own.

Mary Jo Bang, also calmly laconic in her notes to the audience, told us a poem she was about to read followed a particular form. And then she read her poem. The emphasis was on the work, not what led up to her writing it.

All of this is to simply urge all poets to trust their poetry to do the work. To trust the listeners to figure it out. Each listener may take away a slightly different "it," one feeling sorrow in a poem, another a tender wit. We can't really control other people's reactions, we can only try. Sometimes I wonder if that isn't why some poets write poetry. And if so, good for them. Just don't explain away your impulse.

No comments:

Post a Comment