Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The holy silence

Saw an obituary today for a fellow in his seventies named Lucky H. Christmas. He was from Quality, Kentucky.

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Record Store Cats.

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What I like best at the reference desk is when somebody asks me a question about something I know absolutely nothing about, and I'm able to lead them to good information. Sorry to burst anyone's bubble, but it's not true that librarians know everything. We can, however, darn sure figure out where to look it up.

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I'm enjoying the new Indigo Girls album. And as it turns out, if it's true that they are using the orchestra pit as part of the stage instead of selling the three rows of seats they can stick in it, I apparently have a front row seat for their concert in Indianapolis next month. I have it on fairly good authority that they are not selling the pit, so I am quite pleased. Front row, bay-bee!

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Thanks to those who have weighed in on my reading questions. Never fear, I have already practiced my poems and plan to continue doing so throughout the week. (I practice them standing up. It makes a difference.) I don't ever memorize my poems to the point of going completely "off the page" with them, but I am generally looking at the audience instead of down at my paper at least 50% of the time. Unless I'm reading something brand brand new (which I very seldom do, though I do it at the student readings in Provincetown because it's just more fun to read the stuff I'm working on that week) or unless I suddenly get uncomfortable with what I'm reading for whatever reason. (That has happened to me. Midway through I realize: "Oh shit, I said THIS in this poem? Why didn't anybody TELL me? Gah..." and all I can do is just finish reading.)

David Vincenti's comment was a good one. He said:
If I know my audience will be mostly amateurs or non-poets (like when I trot myself out as "the engineer who writes poems"), I do usually introduce myself/my work and script a few transitions.

If I know my audience is likely to contain a non-trivial fraction of deep readers and/or experienced writers - especially, perish the though, people whose work I love - I spend more time inside the works and less between them.
And you know what, I think that's what I do too. I think sometimes inexperienced (for lack of a better word) audiences need a little more hand-holding, which is not necessarily a bad thing. With a more experienced audience, I have more of a sense that I trust them to "get" the poems on their own a little more, that they have certain expectations of a poem and that they know to pay a certain kind of attention to a poem, that they have a context for it. The audience at a Five Women Poets reading tends towards the "friends and relatives" sort of audience. I often like to subvert their expectations of poetry by actually (gasp) being funny and engaging (at least that's what I aim for...), where with a more experienced audience, I don't feel the same kind of compulsion to persuade them to like me; I let myself trust that they are there primarily because they like poetry, for whatever warped and twisted reason, and that changes how I present my work. With an inexperienced audience, I feel like if I can win them over and get them to like me, then I don't have to worry so much about the poems necessarily being entertaining or engaging; if I pull them in with a few words of introductory patter, they're more willing to follow me into a poem that is maybe more "difficult" (ugh, that word) than they'd normally stick with.

If that makes sense at all. And I hope it doesn't come across as being condescending to my "less experienced" audience, because holy moly, does it feel good when someone comes up to you afterwards and says "you know, I never really cared for poetry before, but..."

Also, in all honesty, the first ten or so words that I say after landing at the podium are generally pretty much a lost cause -- I have a breathy moment, I'm not quite there yet. Better that should be introductory bla-bla, instead of losing the first line or two of my first poem. (Especially if there's a microphone. Nothing like launching right into your poem and halfway through it you realize the damn thing's not on.)


Lyle mentioned applause in his comment. Since we have seven readers, what generally happens (and sometimes we actually mention this in our overall intro to the reading -- "hi, thanks for coming, we'll have a ten minute intermission halfway through, you can purchase our CD, bla bla bla") is that people applaud after each reader finishes. That works pretty well. I don't think we've ever had people try to applaud after every poem. That makes my hands hurt just thinking about it.

He also mentioned silence -- and yeah, there is that moment sometimes mid-poem, sometimes right after the last line, when you can hear the audience listening and you know they're right there with you. That is the BEST FEELING IN THE WORLD. An actress friend of mine refers to that as "the holy silence."

And those moments, those silent moments, make all the rest of it worthwhile.

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Word of the day: anadromous

One entry found for anadromous.

Main Entry: anad·ro·mous
Pronunciation: &-'na-dr&-m&s
Function: adjective
Etymology: Greek anadromos running upward, from anadramein to run upward, from ana- + dramein to run -- more at DROMEDARY
: ascending rivers from the sea for breeding [shad are anadromous] -- compare CATADROMOUS

(thanks to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

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I watched some tennis on TV the other day. As they hit the ball back and forth across the net, back and forth, back and forth, it went: BAP, BAP, BAP.

BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP.

Thud.

And that's all I have to say about that.

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Favorite headline of the week, from the NOAA Fisheries Service announcements:

Invasive Sea Squirts Persist on Georges Bank

(I do hope that's not what killed Lucky Christmas.)


3 comments:

Lyle Daggett said...

"What Killed Lucky Christmas" would be a great title for a detective novel.

Interesting about standing up while you practice reading poems. I do practice reading mine sometimes -- at least to time myself if I'm not sure -- though I don't think it's ever occurred to me to stand up while I'm practicing.

One of my early poetry teachers told us once that Ernest Hemingway at one point in his life wrote eight hours a day, standing up (apparently because he had a bad back).

I heard poet Olga Broumas say that she often writes while she's walking around. She talked about how it helps her get close to the kinetic movement, the body, of the poem. At least that's something like what I remember her saying.

"The holy silence." Mmmm, I like that.

The only other "trick" I use when I'm reading to audiences is I try to concentrate on pronouncing each word as clearly as possible. To read "mouth speed" rather than "eye speed," as another of my early poetry teachers put it. Kind of an obvious thing, I suppose, but it seems to me related to reaching that point of concentrated silence in the room.

There are all those studies that find that speaking in front of people is statistically the most common fear. I tell people who do things like skydiving and kickboxing that I write poems and read them in front of people, and they shudder and say "Oh no, I could never do that."

"BAP BAP BAP BAP .... Thud." Very amusing. ;~)

Pamela said...

I covet that name. What do you suppose the H. is for? Maybe we could get Dr. CDY to sponsor a contest...My guess? It's some variant of Holly...which is a common name for men in KY.

I've been to Quality, Kentucky, and it's not a patch on Monkey's Eyebrow.

Lyle: My word verification is wantmrdr (maybe murder is how Lucky met his end...)

Pamela

Montgomery Maxton said...

I fwd that obit to a lot of folks. I want to see his tombstone. There's nothing Lucky or Christmas about a tombstone. H was for Halloween (I hope).