May 28

Blue Material

cabaretPeople said hello and I briefly replied and excused myself to the rearmost room and its rearmost booth, where I sat quietly alone and ate a mozzarella stick for fuel to get through the 25-minute reading for Chance Operations last Monday night. The Chance Operations series run by St. Louis artists/poets Tony Renner and Chris Parr just celebrated its second anniversary. I had read there before and loved it; anything goes. So I had some risky / risque poems to read, work that, shall we say, painted with a broad brush, poems that normally would not see the light of day nor be aired. I didn't do "blue" material just to do it. The poems had actual content, and I am also interested in literary expectations and the boundaries between what is and isn't acceptable. Also at this point I have nothing to lose and for an artist this condition is ideal.

It went well. This entry is not about the work or how it was received (just fine!) but on the exceptional demands that "blue" material makes on the speaker. First I had to slenderize the poems so none of them sounded blue for blue's sake, making sure each line carried genuine content. At Chance Operations delivery really counts: Entertainment is valued. And real entertainers don't falter, shuffle through papers, get self-conscious, apologize for their material, mumble or mess up, and they care about timing and shadings in volume, speed and tone. They can't be worried about their clothes or looks, so I wore the simplest possible thing. I wanted first to have no patter at all before and between poems but saw I needed to give context at least twice but kept it very short. While rehearsing I kept revising, so the poems were not completed until the day of the reading. It was evening and I knew I would be physically tired before I even started, so I asked to "go first" and carefully geared myself up with a cup of coffee and protein, and sat alone to get focused and centered. It was going to take enormous confidence. I have never disciplined myself so severely for a poetry reading. The preparation paid off, though. Entertaining is no joke!

My co-readers on that evening were Eileen G'Sell and Gabriel Fried. The photo was taken by Tony Renner. Thanks to Chance Operations for the chance!
Jun 27

Gigs, a.k.a. Literary Readings

To get literary "gigs" -- invitations to read one's work to an audience -- you circulate, belong to clubs and groups, know people, pass on the names of underappreciated writers, and stay active on the local literary scene, whether publishing, editing, teaching, or being in the audience. I'm preparing for three gigs: November 14 (poetry), Regional Arts Commission, across from the Pageant Theater, 7 p.m.; November 19, UMSL (prose); then another on December 13, Black Bear Bakery, 2 p.m.

I love gigs because I write to communicate, and they give me a chance to air favorite works that for whatever reason aren't published: because they're new; because they're risky or offbeat; because I haven't a clue as to who'd publish them. A poet is a one-man band -- has to hold the audience as Aerosmith or an opera singer would hold it, without any of the instruments, props, amps or roadies. Just a voice and words on paper. This is one of the greatest challenges anyone could ever face. And one of the most rewarding to ace, whether you get money or not (mostly not). I strive to give a polished performance that offers a few twists and shocks.

You'll see and hear what I mean.
May 08

The Easy Public Reading

At a poetry reading this past week, the poets got to sit down while they read their work. Normally, solo speakers of all sorts, like stand-up comics, must stand, or -- we were offered this -- perch on one of those high bar-stools that intellectual-type comedians such as Dick Gregory or Mort Sahl used to use, back in the day. Well, the stage was elevated and I was wearing a skirt, so that was not a seating option.

The other poet on the bill, Rebecca Ellis, had learned ahead of time about the customs of the venue and brought a pretty cloth to dress up the table. That way any reader could be comfortable -- and the audience stay focused on our upper halves.

This was the first reading I have ever given while seated. The manuscript pages lay flat on the table in front of me, no chance of dropping them. A cup of water didn't have to balance on the lip of a shaky podium. I didn't have to worry whether my knees were knocking, or if I was too far or too close to the mike. Freed from all that self-consciousness, my energy flowed instead into the audience and the poems. And afterward I didn't feel drained. Instead I felt very good. I have said for years that reading one's own poetry in public (like, for 40 minutes to an hour) is very hard work. Well, just this week I learned that it doesn't have to be so hard!