Monday, October 18, 2010

I Like Fire: Why Poetry Readings Suck.

I wrote this poem in 9th grade:

Art is a fart
that lives in my heart
and wants to explode
out my ass

This 9th grade poem was 10 billion times better than the crap I heard Monday night at a poetry reading dedicated to Jack Kerouac (On The Road) at the Laughing Goat (he would have shit himself) which got me wondering:

Are poetry readings funeral grounds for words?

I've tried all my life to get into poetry but last night I think I finally gave up. There is just so much angst, so much middle/class mockery of life. It's like these people want others to feel sorry for their decrepit lives, people who choose to make their lives decrepit just to get deeper into their own personal sorrow. They're always blaming God, then turning around and calling themselves gods. They're into gender stereotypes and crying about no one liking them. They're into self-mutilation and boring boring references to issues that have already been overly discussed (war, abortion, sex).

I used to really be into people who were into poetry. But now I'm revising that: I'm into people who can write poetry--which are not the people who go to open-mic poetry nights.

Seriously... the best one of the night was this middle aged man who kept saying, "I like fire" over and over again.

I laughed. Out loud. Really loudly. To the point of tears. And all the angry angst-filled poetry snobs glared at me. So I finished my beer and Ryan and I walked out the door, saying, "I like fire" all the way home.

I guess it's just not my scene.


  1. Poetry readings have always made me feel really uncomfortable. It is definitely not my scene either. I do like reading poetry though.

  2. I live in the small community of Floyd in rural Southwest VA. When I say rural, I mean one stoplight in the whole county--but somehow Floyd full of artists and musicians and farmers and folks seeking a simpler lifestyle, which makes this version of rural life always interesting and full of dialog. About five years ago our writer's circle began sponsoring a spoken word open mic night, and it has gone through phases of wild popularity--mainly, I think, because of its diversity. We have a core group of young people who write some wicked off the cuff emo poetry and deliver it raw and brave and genuinely. We have forensics students who are given a chance to perform their pieces outside of high school competitions. We have older, more seasoned writers who explore local--and not so local-- issues through essays and fiction. We have biker poets and cowboy poets. We have poets who have been writing for years, with various levels of training. Sometimes we even have acoustic music--lyrics being an "acceptable" form of poetry ever since Bob Dylan appeared in the Oxford Dictionary of American Poetry in 2006.

    Lately, it has been difficult to muster the enthusiasm about spoken word night that we had on and off for a long time. We are thinking about switching venues, wondering how to shake it up and keep it fresh and draw in more people. Part of why it is difficult to keep going is because so many people have a perception of the spoken word that is quite similar to yours.

    And sometimes I get it. I was a creative writing major at Hollins University--I know how to write a poem, I know how to read a poem, and I have listened to my share of self indulgent crap over the years. Just as much of it within academia, I might add, as at spoken word night. Still, I think this particular performance space is important--and there have been times when I was astounded by the honesty and truth of the work presented at spoken word night. I think that providing a safe space for people to explore the intimidating territory of sharing their own work is a valuable thing, and it can be a platform for genuine communication across the generations.

    So, my question to you is this: What would make it work for you? How would you like an evening of amateur readers to be structured? Would it work better if it were not trying to emulate a writer like Kerouac? I am genuinely interested, because I'd like to find a way to keep ours thriving, and seeking feedback from someone who thinks "poetry readings suck" seems to be a good way in which to attempt to create poetry reading that don't suck.

  3. I agree with you in that I find a space like that important. And if one, just one, person had moved me in someway other than out the door I probably wouldn't have blogged about it.

    I can't speak for the majority of people who don't like open mic poetry nights, all I can say is that for me it stems from a lack of transformation. I go to spaces like that because I really want to be moved, I want to think about something in a new light. And I got nothing from it.

    What I want is for people to step above mediocrity, to discuss these issues from fresh perspectives instead of emulation or just plain lack of education (and I don't necessarily mean that in academic educational sense).

    It sounds like what you're doing is great; I'm originally from a town as small if not smaller and it would have been nice to have that sort of space possible, but I guess the question is how to get people to realize the importance of that space and not just leave it to the amateur wannabe-starving artists?

    I can give you more solid suggestions for helping with your space...just email me if interested.

  4. There's a time and place for emo poetry and I have to agree that an open mic isn't always the best place for it- my favorite performers at open mics have always been the funny almost stand-up comedians who were overtly dramatic and made everyone laugh, and the old man who goes up and presents a beautiful simple whitman-like poem. There are enough sad angry words out there- poetry is an excellent outlet for it, but no one wants to hear it all the time.

    I say this having both participated and observed the LG open-mic :)