Just got back from the "Variations on Funk" reading, sponsored by the Indiana Review and the IU MFA program and some other folks. All I can say is ... WOW! This was one of the best readings I've seen here in Bloomington in quite a while. After terrific introductions by Cathy Bowman (chair of the MFA program), Abdel Shakur (editor of Indiana Review's upcoming funk issue), and Ross Gay (MFA program faculty -- and can I just say, I would love to be introduced by him at a reading someday; this is the second time I've heard him introduce poets and he comes up with some really lovely things to say), the four poets --Aracelis Girmay, Tyehimba Jess, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Patrick Rosal -- each read for 15 minutes, then each one came up and read one last short poem.
The room was totally packed, and there'd been some funky music from a couple of DJ's to set the atmosphere, so things already felt pretty high-energy. And I have to say, all four readers absolutely rose to the occasion. It seemed like they all loved listening to one another and fed off of one another's energy; and it was a particularly well-chosen group, with a fair amount in common but with a wide range of voices and subjects and styles -- they complemented one another nicely.
What struck me most was that none of them did that "stare down at the podium and mumble" thing that you see at so many poetry readings. All of them were very aware of their audience and projected, not just their voices, but their spirits (is that too hokey a thing to say?) back to the very back of the room. They weren't just presenting their poems and hoping the audience picked up on them -- they were actively giving their words over to the audience. Does that make sense? It was just so joyful (Patrick Rosal was practically jumping up and down at the podium as he read, though I get the sense that he probably doesn't spend a lot of time standing stock-still anyway *grin*) and high-energy. For sure, nobody in the audience was remotely close to falling asleep! And you know that happens at poetry readings sometimes.
Seriously, if you've been to a lot of poetry readings, you understand me when I say with amazement and glee: Nobody mumbled! Nobody took five minutes between poems shuffling through papers trying to figure out what they were going to read next! Nobody went on and on twice as long as they were supposed to! I came away from it thinking, DAMN, I love poetry. So, you know, that's about the best thing you can hope to walk away from a reading thinking.
What a great reading, what a fun evening, what a pure celebration of funk and poetry.
Also: a "free poetry reading" with a table full of books for sale outside the room? Yeah, that's free as in free kittens, not free as in free beer. Since I already owned both of Aimee's books, I bought one by each of the other poets, and got them signed like the poetry fangirl that I am. Because my house needed more books in it! (Kind of like a New York subway at rush hour needs more people in it!)
P.S. It was a crazy, high-energy day in Bloomington in general, not just in the poetry corner. In the morning, actor Jeremy Piven was at the student union and a couple of fraternities, stumping for Barack Obama. In the afternoon, Bill Clinton drew a crowd of several thousand out at Assembly Hall, stumping for (I'll let you guess who). And also in the afternoon, the Obama campaign announced that Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds will be on campus Sunday, giving an acoustic concert in support of Obama, and several thousand people (mostly students) lined up outside the Obama office to get free tickets. They started lining up when the announcement went out mid-afternoon, and there was still a line down the block when I drove past at almost 9:30 tonight after the reading. Oh yeah, and apparently IU has a new basketball coach now, too (that's huge news in a basketball town like this). Crazy, crazy day!