Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sherman Alexie, and being That Person

First off, if anyone who was at tonight's Sherman Alexie reading happens to read this, I apologize. Yes, I was That Person at the reading: the one who has a cold, but comes to the reading anyway with a pocket full of cough drops, and makes it through most of the reading but eventually develops a nasty tickle in her throat and starts coughing, and sits there coughing in fits and starts, trying to decide whether it's more disruptive to get up and run out of the room (which would have involved walking in front of half the audience) or to sit there continuing to try and stifle the coughs. I was That Person, someone I have bitched about after many a reading, and I apologize. Sigh.

Cough, cough, cough.

(At least I had my cellphone off, heh.)

The reading, though, was fabulous. He started off by telling us that this would be his first poetry-only reading in several years, then he spent a good ten-fifteen minutes storytelling -- talking about a turbulent flight, retrieving an elderly woman's hat on the street (yes, both of these stories were as funny as you'd expect of him), small moments of grace -- which led into some of his thoughts on the Virginia Tech massacre. He read/spoke for, oh, 40 minutes or so, then took some questions. He can do this ridiculously fast 360 from pee-your-pants-funny standup comic to some really searing, powerful poetry; the reading was definitely a roller coaster ride. During the Q&A he pointed out that all the poems he'd read used rhyme and meter; he said he got fed up with writing in free verse when he realized his poems were just becoming a series of tics, like whenever he got stuck he'd just put in a salmon, like poetic Tourette's or something -- and that working in rhyme and meter has enabled him to work with material he hadn't tackled before. He said he is reading a lot of Richard Wilbur lately.

There was a funny moment during the Q&A when he was talking about MFA programs, and how he kind of envied the MFA students (the MFA program was the primary sponsor of this reading, so there were lots of those folks in the audience); he said that as an undergrad it didn't even occur to him to do an MFA, and anyway his first two books had already been accepted by his senior year -- this caused an audible intake of breath from a number of aforementioned MFA students, which cracked him up and he imitated what must be going through their minds -- "fucker!" -- then mentioned that before he graduated he'd also learned he had an NEA fellowship, so of course there was that $20,000 waiting for him; at that point he just... stood... there, looking at the audience like "yeah, you got a problem with that?" without cracking a grin, as the MFA students just moaned. Then of course he cracked up again. Yeah, he's got a sizable ego, but he also pokes fun at himself a lot. For all I know he could be a real jerk in everyday life, but behind the podium he's one of the more likable readers I've ever heard -- engaging, polished but not too polished, pee-your-pants funny a lot of the time but also deadly serious sometimes, and he seemed to enjoy being up there as much as the audience enjoyed listening.

So, a thoroughly entertaining reading, as I knew it would be. I've been reading him for years and love his work, so I'm glad I finally got to hear him read in person, and get a book signed and stuff.

* * * * *

Missed my second NaPoWriMo poem yesterday, dammit. In my defense, I was coping with a yucky cold and spent several hours completing a big old application for a thing, which included a personal statement -- so at least I was writing something, eh? As penance, I'll post a draft from a few day ago (it will disappear in a day or so):

[and, it's gone.]


ka (Leo) said...


Thank you for that. I'm a huge SA fan. I appreciated reading this and could fully imagine it.


Jessie Carty said...

I like how you pull the image of the bees throughout the poem. The cohesiveness seems to fall off a little at the end. I think you should considering ending w/ "pollinated heart." I love those two lines!! :)


Radish King said...


Sandra said...

Good show, all around. I'd like to see more thorough accounts of readings on blogs, since I'm unlikely anytime soon to secure an NEA grant for travelling to them all. = )

Rob Kistner said...

Wonderful poem!

It is amazing how important the honeybees are to our ecosystem. I listened to a report on OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting) explaining just how devastating and far reaching the impact might bee (pardon me) if they do not recover.

--and so it goes--

Anne said...

Thanks, all!

Kel - wish you could have been there! This was my first time hearing him read, and I'm an even bigger fan now than I was before.

Rebecca - I hope that's a good "oh"?

Sandra - I agree! I love hearing about readings people have been to. Plus, if I've heard that someone is a really good reader, I'm far more likely to drive an hour or two to hear them if I have the chance.

jenni said...

liked the poem a lot. the whole story kind of freaks me out. i spent hours last weekend reading about the bees. weird.

Anne said...

Thanks, Jenni! I think the bees are a warning sign, myself. Not good.