Thursday, July 17, 2008

Poets Are The Freaking Best -- Updated!

Tuesday night Scott and I went to a poetry reading. He was a little unsure about it, but he was willing to go.

I showed him this and this told him the reading would probably be similar in tone, just to freak him out. Disclaimer: I think these clips are hysterical, but don’t watch them if profanity or angry rants at nuns bother you.

The reading was great. Frankly, I envy the poets their chosen form when it comes to a reading. There is something about seeing and hearing a poem read out loud that brings it to life in a way that is much more powerful than reading an excerpt from longer forms.

Scott loved it.

If you’ve never attended a poetry reading or seen someone read, check out these two videos. Billy Collins is a former US Poet Laureate and his poetry is particularly accessible. This poem written and read by Maya Angelou and read by the poet is a magnificent example of how powerful a poem can be when it is performed.

Poets rock. I don’t write poems and I don’t understand half the poems I read or hear, but I love them anyway. Of all the artists in all the mediums, I think poets are artists in the purest sense of the word. A passion for and love of the form are the only reasons to write poetry.

Think about it. There’s not a poet on the planet who is deluded enough to think he’ll ever get rich, or even make a living writing poetry. But they do it anyway. They do it because they’re meant to do it. I think about how exciting it must be for a poet to actually see her work in print, because the odds are that it will never happen. For a poet to have a book published is nearly unheard of and even when it does happen, how many copies could it possibly sell? 50? 100? Denver’s Poet Laureate was one of the instructors at the retreat and he made the comment that getting published is extremely difficult, but being read is even harder.

Even the most successful poets live in relative obscurity and have to teach or chase grants and prizes in order to survive. Does anyone know who the United States Poet Laureate is? I didn’t know either. It’s Charles Simic. Here’s a list of all the past Poets Laureate. I recognize less than half of the names.

Now contrast my vision of the poet with the kinds of things we regularly read from fiction writers, both published and not published. For the most part, there is a chasm a million miles wide between the mindset of poets and of fiction writers. No poet ever fantasized about the New York Times Best Seller List, book tours, book trailers or movie options. No poet would ever complain about being a mid-list author.

Perhaps I’m a romantic. There’s nothing wrong with hoping to make a living from writing, but how delightful it has been to spend time with people who do what they do simply for the love of it. The notion that financial reward, critical praise, fame or even the likelihood of being read by more than a few people doesn’t much enter into the thoughts most poets have about writing seems somehow liberating to me.

We all have reasons for writing and the truth is that we ourselves are the only ones who truly know what they are. For most of us, being published so that people will read what we write is part of the vision. Recent observations lead me to believe that poets seem to be much more at peace with their art than aspiring and published novelists do and I attribute that to the differences in expectation.

The other night we watched a DVD with some stand-up performances of Richard Lewis from the mid to late 1980’s. In an interview afterward, he talked about how he was broke and living in crappy apartments for years and years, but that it never bothered him because he was so happy to be living as an artist. He said his pet peeve is hearing other people whining and complaining about show business because they’re lucky to have the chance to work in it at all. That comment really struck a chord with me.

I hope there are more poetry readings and I hope we’re invited back. I’m not inspired to write poems, but I do appreciate hearing them.

Are there any poets out there? I know Charles and Billy write poetry. Am I deluded, or do poets look at what they do differently than fiction writers do? Has anyone participated in a poetry reading on either side of the stage? Have you hugged a poet lately?

Important updates: Poets and dirty talk (thank you Electric Orchid Hunter!)

And if this topic has sparked your passion, link over to see Riss for some more thoughts on creativity (thank you Riss!)


CindyLV said...

I've never participated in a poetry reading, but last year I bought a book about liberating yourself to write poetry. I think it's called "Poem Crazy." While reading it out on the patio one day, I made a list of words, just whatever flashed through my mind at the time. The words bumped into other words and all of a sudden....I wrote a poem. It just fell out onto the page completely intact. The poem is bizarre, totally unlike my face to the universe, but it captured the prickly feelings I had that day. I guess I was feeling like I wanted some space between myself and the rest of the world! I remember feeling that the first line would fit right in with a Dr. Seuss book:

I do not wish to share with you my underwear today.

I love that feeling of words sliding around inside my head, crashing into my thoughts. When I can actually pry a few loose and coax them onto the page to share, I get high.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana hugged a poet this morning. I don't understand half the poetry I hear or read either, but I feel, and that's what is most important to me with poetry. You're certainly right, there are no dreams of large sums of money to come with being a poet. But there is a very rich satisfaction in the creation of it. AT least to me.

Riss said...

Have you been to The Mercury Cafe? It's a cool venue and they do a decent poetry slam on Sundays I think (?) 22nd and California downtown if I'm not addled. It's been a few years. They also do swing dancing on Thursdays which is fun to watch and do (free lessons!). Anyway-I haven't hugged a poet recently I don't think. And while I enjoy poetry, I'm an asshole and I only like "good" poetry. I know. I know. It's art. It's subjective. I'm picky and opinionated. I've written "poetry" in the past but it's all been crap. I got one published on once but that's because they'll publish anything hehe. (c: I admire writers in general because for my opinion, good fiction writing reads like poetry. It may not have the same form exactly but good word choice, the ability to capture beauty or fear or hatred or whatever through a perfect word choice in a succinct manner...those are all things that I associate with good writing and poetry. I am fairly cynical for being 25 so it's hard to impress me when someone says they're a poet. I tend to go, uh huh-that's nice. And then wander off. I do the same thing when I hear myself say "I'm an artist" though so I think it's tied to a whole complex I have with being creative etc. Maybe I should listen more closely next time. I feel passionately about, of all things, stand-up comedians. Good ones at least. ;)

Seachanges said...

Lovely post... Yes it's great when people are working on expressing themselves and scraping the bottom of the barrel to just do that, to do that well..
No, I haven't hugged a poet lately, but I am touched many a time by what they are able to express that I just cannot!

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

Poetry slams are fun, where you get drunk in these tiny nightspots and spill your soul over the mike to anonymous persons. Several years ago, I was invited to partake in a poetry reading, thinking I would share the stage with some others. But no - it was all organized just for me! I had the whole evening and could read my work unhurried, the way it was intended to be heard. It was great. I stopped writing soon after that and science took over...

So. Have you ever, erm... fucked a poet?

Patti said...

i won two poetry contests, but don't consider myself a poet...but i think we all have the makings of a poet...poetry is our lives offered to others with our hearts undone.

Melissa Marsh said...

I think I've only been to one poetry reading. I liked it - should go to more.

I haven't written a poem in ages - I used to write a lot of them in high school, usually when I was in agony over some boy.

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

Wow, Patti... "poetry is our lives offered to others with our hearts undone". That sure is damn poetic. Nicely done. I would consider you a poet based on that finely turned phrase alone.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Doesn't it seem like the best thing to write. You can linger over every word and still be finished by 9:30 am.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I come across a conversation about poetry, I think of two quotes:

1. I'm a failed poet. ~William Faulkner


2. A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits. ~Robert Heinlein

Lisa said...

Cindy, That sounds like a lot of fun. For some reason I am totally inhibited when it comes to poetry. I didn't even write it in high school (which I think puts me in a very small minority -- doesn't almost everyone write poetry in high school?). I really do admire it and I think my "no thanks" aversion to writing poetry has everything to do with my enormous need to only attempt to do things that I feel like I can read up on and learn to do with a certain level of confidence. Poetry completely baffles me, only because I have an inability to read it without wanting to know whether it's "good" or it's "right". Kind of dumb I suppose. Maybe that's what I needed to learn from this post today.

Oh, and I want to read the rest of that poem.

Charles, I was pretty sure that Lana had hugged a poet today :) I love this: "I don't understand half the poetry I hear or read either, but I feel, and that's what is most important to me with poetry." See? You're one of the reasons I think poets are so freaking great!

Riss, No I haven't -- although I have heard lots about it. I think you should hug a poet soon (you sound like you could use a hug after all that travel!). Now see? I would probably be that way about poetry too but honestly, I don't know good poetry from bad. If I trusted myself I suppose I could instinctively figure it out. I'd just need to read more of it (like long fiction). I was pretty lucky with the poetry reading the other night because everybody who read had some kind of "credentials" that led me to believe that whatever they were reading was probably ok. Full length fiction -- whole different ballgame and I think there is a separate set of rules for each genre that determines whether it's a "good" romance, thriller, or literary fiction novel. I read your post and will have more to blah blah blah on it soon...

Seachanges, I feel the same way. I also think poets seem willing to allow themselves to be more vulnerable and exposed with their work than fiction writers do.

Electric Orchid Hunter, I'd never have guessed! You should share some of your work with us. And as for the question...HAHAHAHAHA! Love the video! And -- I actually do have an old green spiral notebook in a box somewhere that belonged to my very it is filled with his poems :)

Patti, WOW! What beautiful prose! See, that's why I can't/don't write poetry. I'm not willing to offer myself up like that.

Melissa, It was definitely fun -- and it's also nice to support our fellow writers -- especially poets. I think they often don't have much of a chance to share work and they really appreciate it when people will come to listen.

EEOH -- I know, right?

Patti A, Yes! I wish I could do it. I'm thinking lots about flash fiction these days with the idea that perhaps I can get that feeling of occasionally completing something -- that feeling that perpetually writing a novel doesn't provide.

Rob, OK, so are you saying you haven't hugged a poet today? ;)

Steve Malley said...

I used to do a poetry day every week on my blog. Can't for the life of me think why I stopped...

Lisa said...

Steve, Then you should start again! I don't remember seeing that so you must have stopped some time ago...

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

Erm, thanks, but I don't suppose any of you read Afrikaans, do you? I can write anything in English, but poetry, poetry is from the heart, from the gut, from the loins, and so the only poetry I write is in my mother tongue. Expressive, guttural, resonant, elastic, dramatic, sonorous, descriptive, there is no other medium as finely suited to the poet's needs as the language of Van Wyk Louw, Breytenbach, Eybers, Marais and Jonker. Sorry to disappoint.

Lisa said...

Electric Orchid Hunter, Damn! Now if you'd said Xhosa...

Post one anyway. I always like to see (not read) the comments at your place that are in Afrikaans. It reminds me of Dutch, which, when I've been in Holland and parts of Belgium made me think I could ALMOST understand it because it was a little like German, but not really. INTERESTING! I didn't know Afrikaans was your first language. Does that mean you have that very cool accent that throws everyone because it's hard for us to place here?

CindyLV said...

Maybe a YouTube video of a know, for the full effect? :-D

Riss said...

You should's a fun time. Make Scott take you. Or, since you (and steve technically but he's a little far away), followed my rant, we need to get coffee. I know, I know..I'm in Germany. But I won't be in Germany forever. Though they may try and keep me here...Alex tonight says "go home? Why would you have to go home?" Hehe. Anyhoo-I do need to hug a poet. I agree. If you know of any around, send 'em my way. (c:

And Patti-really, truly well said. :D

Hehe...I should go dig up my old "emo" High School poetry and, if I can manage to not puke on it first, post one for a laugh. Oh dear. Look what you've done.

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

I get asked if I'm British/Australian/Kiwi on an almost daily basis, so I guess it does throw people a bit. I can read/understand Dutch, but my understanding of German is as rudimentary as my understanding of Xhosa! ;)

Usman said...

Here is something Vonnegut says, that expresses the thoughts better than I could:

"You practice an art to make your soul grow, not to make money or to become famous. And this would include singing in the shower or dancing to the radio or also drawing a caricature of your best friend, or whatever—all this makes your soul grow. And you meet a person who's done that, whether successfully or not, and you sense a larger soul." —Vonnegut

Lisa said...

Cindy, Yes! YouTube is the answer.

Riss, We will definitely have to go for coffee when you're back in September.

Orchid Hunter, I did understand German pretty well at one time and despite a few similarities, it didn't help me one bit when I tried to decipher Dutch, even on a menu!

Usman, That quote is absolutely perfect. It expresses exactly what the poets make me feel. Bravo for finding it.

Karen Carter said...

...and for sharing it, Usman! One for the fridge. KV was a poet in so many senses of the word.

Lisa, who read at the reading you attended? I've read at one poetry reading...when I got a poem published in Wazee many years ago. The hubby was happy to attend...and was relieved to see not one black turtleneck or beret in the audience. :) Never been to a slam, though. K.

Sustenance Scout said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sustenance Scout said...

Woops, I was signed in with my other, "corporate" account on that last comment.

debra said...

I am so glad you had the opportunity to go to a poetry reading; there is nothing quite like hearing the poet give voice to his/her words.
Years ago, we knew a lovely man who was a poet. His beloved dog, Truffaut, had died and Daniel could not afford an urn for the ashes. We made an urn for Truffaut, and Daniel wrote a poem for our first daughter. I had thought it was a lovely poem. Daniel was part of a poetry reading in our Village, and he read our daughter's poem.
He made the words sing. I will never forget it. Sadly Daniel died of leukemia. His words, however, are always in my heart, where they continue to sing to me.

Lisa said...

Karen, I'll bet you know Roger, the poetry editor for Wazee. He was there and also J. Diego Frey and Ginny Hoyle from Lighthouse. All three were at Grand Lake. There were more, but I can't remember their names.

I'm not quite sure I'm ready for a poetry slam ;)

Debra, What a beautiful story. It's just more confirmation that no matter what happens to us, our words really can and do live on.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf