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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Poetry Readings

Someone once died at a Geoffrey Hill poetry reading. I presume the cause of death would have been given as ‘misadventure’. Did GH interrupt proceedings or not? That I don’t know.

I remember an American poet once savouring his poems so much he decided to read some of them twice.

Michael Hartnett, who was a short man, once mistook an overhead projector’s lamp for a microphone and spent a reading hunched over trying to speak into it, or so I’ve been told. On hearing some giggles he straightened up and asked indignantly what the audience thought was so funny.

Jessica Smith, I have read on Silliman, distributes copies of the ‘next poem she is going to read’ before standing mutely, reading it. Some of the time. Not all of the time.

I have seen poets with their inter-poem patter written out neatly on prompt cards.

I saw a poet in York the other month receive a text message during his reading, stop to have a look, then start the poem again.

A story about Irish poet Desmond Egan’s reading style also involves Michael Hartnett. It’s been told better elsewhere, but involves Hartnett interrupting a theatrical-sounding poetry chorus staged by Egan, Hugh Kenner and Hugh Kenner’s wife, which had gone on much longer than anyone else’s reading on the same night. Very fairly, Hartnett thought enough was enough: ‘How long is this nonsense going on? Your twenty minutes are up!’

The poetry heckle. There is a story about John Montague asking his audience for requests, only for someone to shout ‘Death of a Naturalist’, but I’m sure that’s apocryphal.

There was the introducer who described a very well-known writer as a ‘fairly well-known poet’.

The Black Mountaineers' readings would go on for hours. I’ve read descriptions of Creeley and Olson readings that would only come to an end when the janitors turned off the lights and began locking up the building.

A writer once told me of asking someone who was being polite after her reading, ‘And do you write yourself?’ only to receive the answer that this was the person she had just read with.

Poetry readings. Who’d go to one, I ask myself. Who’d give one, for God’s sake. Emily Dickinson never gave a poetry reading.


Unappeasable Henry said...

You could say something similar about musical recitals.

I once went to see a 'fairly well known' pianist performing. An elderly audience member in the front row collapsed forward, ending up about a metre from the piano stool. The pianist carried on playing; but at least he kept looking over his shoulder to see whether the heart massage was having any effect.

Mark Granier said...

I may do a post on this myself.

I once gave a reading, a LONG time ago, as a warm-up for a band. A bad idea. I got so pissed off with the heckling I found myself shouting back at them (without quite realising what I was saying): "What do you want me to do, strip?"


Ms Baroque said...

This is very funny. Couldn't resist linking it. There are of course mny more stories, as we know...

Rob said...

Excellent post.

I blogged about the worst reading I’ve been to. It was worse than it sounds. It lasted nearly four hours!

In Montreal, I went to a reading where one guy read an interminable poem, which consisted mainly of the line, “Brush your teeth” repeated over and over again with varying pitch and volume.

I have been to some good ones too. Edwin Morgan was the best reader ever. But I think readings are - for the most part - a rare opportunity to sell books and pamphlets, and that's why even poets who aren't natural performers still persist in doing them.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I once went to a reading of German poetry with trombone accompaniment. It all went on fine until the translator disappeared and dogs outside started competing with the trombone.

Mark Granier said...

One of the most irritating things you can encounter is a reader who doesn't want to read (but is doing it out of some misguided sense of duty), and lets you know it. I've witnessed this a few times. In one instance, about 18 years ago, the poet actually announced that he didn't like giving readings, then, grudgingly, proceeded to READ HIS FUCKING POEMS. My hackles still go up when I think of it (even though he went on to become a bloody good poet).