Tuesday night I was invited by Rick Mullin to perform a bit of my poetry at Tasty Coco in Caldwell, NJ. Been a long time since I prepared a 20-minute set (last time was April, 2009, and the time before that was in 2008) and I had a different kind of challenge than I was used to in preparing for such things. In the past, I was comfortable with a basic "extended open" approach to preparing the set: identify 6-7 poems I liked and wanted to present, pick a few others to create some decent transitions, knead until blended. And since I was never seriously close to committing the chapbook to print, I never really considered that I might be "featuring" its contents for consumption in pursuit of sales interest.
Now, I had the the book beginning to feel real (I even had a prototype to hold up if I wanted to), but I also had 2 other projects that were interesting enough to me that I was considering doing something with them (one's a persona package approaching chapbook length, one is a fun sequence that may or may not be able to sustain itself for 24 pages.). On top of that, I've been writing "in response" a lot in the past year, and I've always found that poems that link to other art or to events that the audience has a little collective recollection of make for great moments in a reading; at least from the audience, which is where I'd always experienced them before.
Another factor was my co-feature, Quincy R. Lehr, whose style on the page was much truer to form and at the microphone much truer to performance art than mine. There wasn't much chance of similarity in either content or presentation from us, but I didn't want to even flirt with it.
There was also the format of the series, which I knew from prior attendance was highly interactive and informal, and included a "lightning round", or a once-around-the-room after the open and the features, in which every poet in the room gave one more poem. So I'd have to save something back, a cognac-like aftermoment which would be my last impression on the crowd.
And finally, there was the crowd, which I knew was going to include at least a few folks who know me primarily as a technologist or a project manager, who in fact are career technologists themselves, who may have seen my poems on paper before but would never have seen me as a performer (except in training sessions, which actually is a good way to show off your skills - but that's another post). So not only did I want to make a good impression, but a particular impression, and one which wouldn't present itself back to me too embarrassingly in line in the cafeteria.
Oh, and it was Poe's 201st birthday, so I wanted to mark that, somehow, as well.
All of these things are "good problems", of course. I take away that I've got a little more to offer as an artist than I used to, that I'm reaching that "wider audience" I've always coveted (not that my Mother's opinion isn't always very encouraging), and that I haven't lost my skills for anticipating the crowd (which, if you have been hanging around here long enough, you know I had far earlier in my life than my serious interest in poetry). But it also signals to me that I've arrived at that necessary transition point, that I'm no longer interested in having a few minutes of microphone time. And that my ambition for creating has grown to the point where it requires conscious cultivation, that I can't take a month off from writing and expect to pick it up a the same place it was, that the project is now at least as important as the individual poem.
So what does this mean? I don't know. Kind of a wake up call for the year, really. Maybe not a make-or-break year, but certainly one in which my expectations for myself are changing. Need to set some larger goals for 2010, of course, and start thinking in terms of that 2-year cycle that seems necessary for the completion of a book/project. And about carving out the writing time instead of taking it where it comes (with a focus on revising and assembling, which is not something I can do easily orally, as I tend to compose).
Thanks then, to Poetry at Tasty Coco and Rick for giving me this opportunity not only to drag a few of my engineering mates into the poetry scene, but also to have this moment of reflection. I feel like the bell has been rung, and it's up to me to answer it now.
Speaking of "bells", the homage I paid to Poe was to read the opening section of "The Bells" before reading my own stuff. Rick was nice enough to capture the moment and post it to his channel. Take a look and let me know what you think.
And stay tuned. This could be a good year.