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?
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!)