I shouldnt have to write this but...
I see a lot of obnoxious behavior at poetry readings lately. And since a lotta you people dont know how to act at these things, Ill go ahead and spell it out here. An open reading doesnt mean open season to do anything. To me, it means an open exchange. And there are violations to this spirit that I will describe below.
Most poetry readings consist of poets taking turns reading their work, usually for a period of five to seven minutes. Most poets realize that reading too long cuts into the reading time of other poets, especially those reading later in the evening. So they have enough manners and respect to not read over the limit.
But some poets dont. Nothing is so obnoxious as someone who reads on and on forever. Not only does it bore the shit out of an audience, it shows a general selfishness and lack of respect for the other poets. It gets pretty tortuous when someone grinds on for half an hour. And people that do this dont usually read anything very interesting. Or maybe it just seems that way because theyre reading too long. They usually wind up their performance with the famous quote, "Im gonna read just one more." They always say that. Talk about adding insult to injury? It drives me crazy. It happened again last week. This guy went on and on forever. I could have grown a beard in the time he took. The whole crowd was bored to tears. I actually saw a guy, a big biker-lookin guy with a beard, break down and cry like a baby. It was a terrible thing.) So please, try to stay in the time limit when you sign up for a reading. Really, the host should intervene and stop people that read too long. Or the crowd should heckle em. Or maybe even shoot em.
There are other things that jam the lines of communication at poetry readings. For instance, readings where most of the audience talks when the poet is trying to read. To me, reading poetry to a roomful of people who are gabbing with each other is pissing in the wind. I mean, whats the point. Nobody hears you, and you feel like youre not connecting with anyone . . . I usually just avoid these kinds of scenes. But, then I avoid most poetry readings lately, for reasons that are probably becoming clear to the reader by now.
Also, people who are in bands or troupes can present a problem at an open reading. Especially when they trick the host by signing up as four or five people, then go on-stage together and stay there for over an hour. This works out to an average of a whopping fifteen minutes per reader. Not only does this thinly disguised takeover tactic sour the audience, it practically ensures that people wont come out to whatever show it is youre trying to promote. One guy who tried this crap asked me why I didnt come out to see his show. "Because I saw it ten times at all the open readings you took over." The guy got all indignant, had this genuinely hurt look on his face. Unbelievable. Some poets, boy . . .
If we strive to avoid the situations described above, poetry readings can be fun and interesting. Sometimes, we can even experience the magic of reaching other people with our words, and we can be touched by the words of others.
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