I’ve always felt that an important part of being a poet is putting your stuff out there in the world. With the unique exception of Emily Dickinson (and even in her case we can’t be sure of how many others she shared her work with), poets write to express an opinion or emotion. They write to be heard. Otherwise it’s just so much scribbling.
The two main ways of sharing these days are either by sending work out to a publication, online or print, and reading it aloud at an open mic or featured event. I send things out in spurts, and then lag behind for months. With the Interwebs, gone are the days of typing out fresh copies of poems, searching for targets in the Poets Market (always outdated by the time the annual edition reached the bookshelves in the fall), stamping SASEs, and tossing it all into the corner mailbox, fingers crossed. I honestly feel there is a place for every poem now, more so than ever before. Several Facebook pages even specialize in sharing information on where to send your work. Most times poems can be emailed, and response times are often in hours, not the weeks or months (or never) of old.
Connecting with a crowd face to face offers a unique satisfaction that no publication, no matter how exclusive or venerable, can match. It’s a kind of performance, yes, but I made the choice long ago to only strive to read my poems as I hear them in my head, and no more. The more I can let my own personality come thru, either in my words or my asides, all the better. No copies are required, response is immediate, and I can even jot down a few revisions after I sit back down. Hearing the poems is a great way to really find out if you’re getting your ideas across the way you intended.
Does the size of the audience matter? I was recently a featured reader at a Hudson Valley venue where attendance has been uneven at best. I was surprised to see a few of the regulars missing, although the crowd there of about a dozen was very receptive to my work. Am I a creep because of that little nagging disappointment that was hoping for a few more bodies?
There is the Facebook Invite illusion, where creating an Event Page lets you tally up dozens of Yeses or Interesteds, when in fact they’re mostly being supportive. I try to only share information about readings with people I think will be interested. I surely know poetry isn’t everybody’s thing. But even so, when those inflated Facebook numbers don’t manifest into even a fraction of attendees, it’s a bit of a downer.
And the weather was bitterly cold that night as well. It was a weeknight, and even at my age most of us work full-time. I hardly attend any readings myself these days. But, I can honestly say I read as I almost always read. I was in the groove, and got the words out in a close approximation of what I heard in my head before I put them on paper. And yes, the first draft is always on paper. That much of my writing habits will probably never change. The second draft is created in my laptop.
How do you feel reading to crowds smaller than you might have expected? How do you feel reading aloud at all? Do you prefer online writing communities, for convenience or comfort? Am I an egotistical pig for feeling the way I did? I can’t be sure.
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