Graywolf Guest Post: The Poetry Reading
...is a very distinct animal. A decade or so ago, at a celebration of the poetry reading series at the Blacksmith House in Cambridge Askold Melnyczuk (then editor of Agni magazine) drew both horrified and gratified gasps when during his tribute he dared to claim that, “Most of us do not like poetry readings.” Was he right? In part, I fear he was. Below are my top five warning signs that a reading might get into trouble.
- Hair awry—you end up being transfixed throughout the reading by the constant dance between hand, hair lock/s, and head toss.
- When the poet talks about how little time he/she has, it is a sure sign they will run over. “Just six more,” they say, as if to reassure us.
- The throat clearing that presages multiple water gulps throughout the reading; exacerbated by water being placed in an inconvenient spot so the poet has to disappear from view (behind lectern) to retrieve it.
- The unprepared reader—papers all over the place, multiple copies of books toppling off the podium, which leads to a painful running commentary on the progress in finding the next poem, or worse, an awful embarrassed silence during the frantic search for the poem.
- Poetry voice—why, when it comes to reading poetry aloud, do so many poets adopt a pseudo-religious incantatory voice that actually serves to flatten the meaning into a single-toned chant that numbs the senses and the mind?
Fiona McCrae is the director and publisher of Graywolf Press.