Saturday, April 2, 2011

Poetry Q&As: in the entourage of art

Being but a humble entity in the world of poetry (or a brazen nonentity, yes, that might be the case) I have participated in only one Q&A after a reading. By which I mean I was to be the "A" part of the equation and the audience was the "Q."

This "A"-time followed a reading of three poets. We also delivered manifestos on poetry and queerdom, teaching poetry, living queerdom and poetry, and so on, so there was indeed room for interrogation.  Such a manifesto is meant to provoke. Incidentally, this was in February at Trace Peterson's Tendencies series at the CUNY Grad Center.

The topic here is Q&A sessions. I just saw them mentioned elsewhere, and with annoyance, the idea being why do poems read at poetry-only poetry readings need further explanation?

They don't.  The occasional Q&A can be interesting and if there is promise of sparkling water, wine, good cookies, perhaps a crudity or two, then more than tolerable.  Poetry, however, needs not be explained. A poem can be written about or talked about. That's good, interesting. But directly after it has been presented to an audience, there should be no need to eradicate its already fleeting hover by asking the poet where she writes, or what she thinks about formal verse or MFA programs.

So why the Q&As?  I suspect they've been around forever. I don't know that, but it seems reasonable given the stick-to-it-ness of human folly.  A few responses grabbed from the air:

  • We don't like to feel.  A poem provokes nesting emotion, wakens it. Much of the world's ugliness arises out of a fear of feeling. Certainly addictions widely pervasive cloud us from our feelings, as strip mining hides from us from the troubling realities of nature in her raw beauty.
  • We like to pretend we are "in" on the poem or the poet's thoughts, life, process. We want to be part of the action. We want to be in the entourage of art. (We can do that by making art, but that's time consuming.)
  • The above two suggestions assume it is the audience that is at fault, when it may well be the organizer of the reading who worries the poems themselves won't be enough. They see the poems as a basic black dress and then accessorize it to hell with long introductions of the poets and the Q&A. (The wine and cheese are good things. Don't touch that.)

This is off the top of my head which is already off its heady rocker and you are welcome to protest or suggest more reasons the poet and not the poem is celebrated.

Thank all the powers of heaven and earth for the poem. {Pictured: where poems are born.}

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