Thursday, November 17, 2005

Trusting the Poem

My reading Monday night went very well, according to all reports. I'm still new enough at the process that I lose myself to the performance a little - having come to reading by way of acting, I tend to disappear into character when on stage. It's a character quite near to myself, to be sure, but it's still a character at the lectern reading those poems. But the feedback was gratifying and it felt good while I was up there.

Got some terrific insightful feedback from my cousin. He's not a big poetry fan - the only readings he's ever attended have been my mine, and not even all of those, but he knows me well and he knows good performance when he sees it. Summarized, he said he liked the poems, but couldn't understand why I spent so much time setting each of them up - explaining them in advance, as it were.

Of course, I didn't see it that way (I never do. Do I, Ben?). But I quickly realized that I had, in fact, inserted a set up before each of the dozen poems I'd read. I told myself (and still sort of believe) I was just designing good transitions, turning "some poems" into "a reading", but the bottom line (drumroll, please) is that he's right. I didn't trust a single one of the poems to start with its title.

I've heard poets do tons of set up and some do almost none. I'd once thought it was a simple matter of audience outreach, that poets taking seriously the task of making a connection with an audience would naturally want to present a show complete with crafted transitions. That may still be true.

However, my astute, observant cousin - who will (if I'm correct) never read this post and therefore go on thinking I've hated him since 1986 - was right. If I have enough confidence in the work, I should trust it to hook its own listener without me holding its hand. And if I don't, how could I possibly think of sending it off on its own in a book?

1 comment:

Peter said...

I agree with you (your cousin). As a listener, it's sometimes nice to have a brief transition between poems, or a very brief intro, if needed, because we don't have the poem on the page in front of us (usually). But long detailed introductions to poems (sometimes that are longer than the poem itself!) can be insulting to the audience. Or embarrassing to the poet: especially if the intro is more interesting than the poem.