Monday, August 6, 2012

*To Read or Not To Read*

     I have recently made myself pretty scarce at most of the open poetry mics in the Hudson Valley area, for a variety of personal reasons. Essentially it came down to two things: there were people I didn't wish to see, and poets I didn't wish to hear. Hibernating for a while seemed to be my best option. It was after all Winter (then Spring, then Summer...), and I was unemployed and money was tight and it was just easier to stay home and zone out to the most recent Netflix for the evening with my Beloved Roommate at my side.

     This Spring, I started to do some substitute teaching again, something I've done on and off for many years, basically since I graduated from SUNY New Paltz with teaching certification, English 7-12. One school district in particular welcomed me with open, eager arms, and I logged many hours in there, on both the elementary and secondary levels. I needed the challenge and I needed to get out of the house, and all in all, it was a good choice. I will probably continue subbing in the Fall, expanding into one or two more districts so that when my unemployment benefits are finally discontinued, I will still have some money coming in.

     A sub's day begins at 5:30 am, and often leaves me exhausted by dinnertime. Another good reason to stay home. I made a few exceptions to my abstinence, like the wonderful reading series that occur all over the Capitol District, but for the most part, I kept in touch with the poetry world online. Summer has allowed me more time to write, to continue to search for a full-time job, and to contemplate my future.

     The desire to write has never left me, and I suspect never will. I am well into the second draft of a first novel. I'm not sure it'll be anything special, but I am committed to finishing more projects these days. Is reading at local open mics really a necessary part of the writing process? Of being a writer? I have been attending these events steadily for the better part of twenty-five years now, and many of the regular faces are familiar. Many are good writers. Some are good writers who found some theme, some style that they were comfortable with and never left it. Others are horrendous writers who are indulged by generous-to-a-fault hosts who are afraid of offending attendees, to the point of rewarding them with features that their work doesn't currently warrant, in my my opinion, and may never warrant.

     I don't believe there's any great secret to increasing attendance at readings. Publicity is key, of course. In this day of the Great and Powerful Internet, there's no excuse. Send out an email once a month to the hundreds of email addresses you should be acquiring at your events when readers are signing up. More important, however, is the quality of the features. If a nonpoet should wander in to one of these events and hear one of the Ramblers, the Theatrical Declaimers, the Nonsensical Masturbators at the mic, I don't blame them for not returning. Or telling their friends to avoid it as well.

     People still refer to the poet Bob Wright, the faithful compiler of the calendar for Hudson Valley readings, as the "Poetry Nazi," from his days as the leader of the Woodstock Poetry Society. However, everyone got a chance, no one abused their time at the mic, and features were selected based on the quality of their work, not because they were 'frequent flyers'. Granted, it helps if you become a familiar face around the venues. It's not a black & white world, this World of Arts & Literature. But for the most part, Bob selected quality readers from the Hudson Valley area to stretch their wings over a thirty minute period, giving listeners a bigger sampling of their work than in the open. And it was good.

     What do you think? About any of this? It certainly could be the Change of Life talking today. Could be the Still Unemployed Poet with too many bills and not enough skills to compete in today's hellish job market. But I can't be the only one. It would be nice to go to a reading where the variety,  the originality was honored with attentive listeners who came to listen, and not just to hear themselves talk. Not a perfect world, certainly. But, it could be better.