Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Democracy of the Open Mic

What I like about Open Mics is the democracy, given limits of time and space.

Why write this? I recently heard a poet say, No one goes to open mics if they they write good poetry (or--are connected). That's not a direct quote, but it conveys the gist.

Okay. What's different between open mics and poetry readings with featured readers. In New York, the latter are generally staged by the under forty-set. The under-forty set who have graduated from a local MFA program and have friends their age, with their interests.

The poetry readings with featured readers do not, in fact, necessarily offer a finer quality poetry than open mics do, not overall. I recently attended a reading of three featured readers. Each had an MFA. One was a wonderful poet--or a poet I consider wonderful, as does a publisher and critics and the friend I went with. The other two were not wonderful. Much self-absorption. No wit, no wisdom, no lyricism, no ear.

That said, I may only hear one or two poets whose poems make me yearn for more when I go to an open mic of, say twenty poets. And unless I get lucky, I don't hear a Frank O'Hara or Rita Dove or Marilyn Nelson or Doug Anderson in the making.

(Of course, God knows what the other poets think of me. Usually they avoid me. We all make our judgments.)

Unless I attend a reading at Cave Canem, the organization for Black poets, it's unlikely I'll see a Black poet at a featured-reader event. Sad and most often true.  Open mics are often mixed, maybe not fully representative of all New York, but lively, of more than one social set--or more than one esthetic. I remember a young woman--this was years ago in Seattle--improvise a poem about being made love to by her supremely attentive boyfriend. It wasn't a great poem but the event of it, the lighting, her voice, the remarkably quiet (for a bar) room, not to be forgotten. And not to be missed.

 Yes. Sometimes I want to hear high level art honed by years of work. Sometimes I want to hear a famous poet.  But sometimes I just want a chance to test out my own poems. Sometimes I want to be around people who love poetry. How wonderful is that.

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