On a recent Thursday, I went to a poetry reading. Then on the following Saturday and Sunday, I went to see some bands. Here’s what I noticed.
At the poetry reading, everyone stood in small groups, generally talking and introducing themselves.
There seems to be a more seamless reciprocity between the artist and the fan, the lines blur. A person can go back and forth easily between being the “artist” and a “fan.”
At the music festival, this line is more stark. These were not extremely popular-Katy Perry-level people I was seeing, so though the line is more fluid than super celebrity-driven fests. Still the artists had different wristbands, etc., and sometimes it was funny to see members from one band I like watching a more popular band, and becoming the “fan.” I’d say, too, that being recognized or something at one of these festivals is probably odd for the bands involved, since they were very recently fans and are not normally “recognized” outside of their daily life.
I am not here to belabor the concept of the micro-niche-celebrity, but instead let’s talk about a poetry reading vs. a concert. Which one would you rather go to?
“Well,” you say, “it depends on the concert and who’s playing.”
Yes, of course. In the same way, your interest in the reading should depend on who is reading the poetry. Because–surprise!–I like some people’s poetry more than others.
Who is reading matters. A good lineup is essential.
I don’t think readings take this into consideration too much. At least not the smallest ones. Too often, it’s let’s throw a reading together with our friends and then you totally disparate styles and subject matter that doesn’t make any sense.
Just like there are genres of “rock” or “rap” or “music,” and subgenres within those, the same goes for poetry, too. And this has to be thought about before putting a reading together.
If you’re the headliner, then make it worth your headlining slot. Actually think about what you’re going to read and the jokes you’re going to tell and the random anecdotes you have.
Create a plan, because you’re creating an experience. Is that joyful? Meditative? Explosive? A circle pit of physicality?
So…what can you do?
Explain your thought process without being prompted by an audience member to do it. Talk about your inspiration. Refuse to answer questions about how you became a writer. Bring a prop. Have people move. I don’t know, you’re a creative writer, get creative.
The format of smart author reading and then doing a boring Q&A has got to die. We’re the ones that must kill it (or at least ask better questions).
If I ever became a semi-popular author and have to answer questions about my writing ‘process’ from people that will never write, then I will kindly decline to answer or demand they be barred from the rest of event.
Also, at a concert what is everyone doing?
Circle pit? Maybe…
Singing along to every word? Absolutely.
As writers, we’ve got to find a better way to foster and create this. I mean, we’re writers. People should know our words.
How do we make it easy for our “fans” to learn it?
How do we make it easy for them to recite it and yell it back at us during a reading?
How do we steal back words from music and return them to literature? I don’t have all the answers, but let’s work on it together.
Pretty sure rock n roll killed books not the internet, FYI
— Josh Spilker+ (@joshspilkerplus) August 8, 2015