Monday, September 12, 2005

poetry readings

I chuckled when, after taking part in one of these myself on Saturday, the Sunday issue of The Writer’s Almanac (Sept. 11) contained Charles Bukowski’s poem "poetry readings."

There is a lot of truth to his rather biting assessment of these gatherings. On Saturday at the Abbotsford reading, for example, the audience was small, there were tapes, books and other poetic nicknacks for sale and all in all, the tone was hopeful. I doubt, though, that any of us who read has illusions of fame or are looking for that New York publisher.

I like being a part of poetry readings because they give us writers of this somewhat odd genre, a place to share our handcrafted pieces with others who understand or enjoy the craft. We can demonstrate to our hearers/readers, the way we, the creators of the poems, mean for them to sound. We can invest them with just the right cadences, at just the right speed and get practice in gestating those pregnant pauses for just the right amount of time before delivering punch lines (oops! :). It is also a very efficient way to get to know people.

Because good poetry is often personal, listening to someone else’s poems is a bit like peeking into rooms of the heart. On Saturday, for example, I saw that Alvin is still harvesting a healthy crop of humorous verse from his prairie roots (with even one about an outhouse), that Shelley has had experience in some way with depression (her poem "Depressionville" rang true and was very clever), that Paul struggles, like many of us do, with obsessions, that Jaye has been betrayed, that Hernan clings to predictability so tenaciously, he doesn’t even like the river beside which he walks to change course, and that Stella has empathy with new Canadians, evidenced by her poem – in Polish – about a family in Warsaw who has filled out the exit forms for the fifth time and waits now for an okay to board the boat to Canada (in fact when she read it, even though I didn’t understand a word, she spoke it with such care and love, I couldn’t help but feel moved).

Mr. Bukowski, maybe I’m just naive or not yet jaded enough, but I think poetry readings are fun. Though they are typically poorly attended and everlastingly optimistic, I would submit to you, they do serve more of a purpose than to suggest that poetry is irrelevant and poets are a deluded and pathetic lot.

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