At their worst, literary readings can be lifeless and boring, a plodding chore for both audience and authors. Even when the work itself is fine and worth reading, not all authors do justice to the performative act, though it is true that to some degree a poem is best realized in the accent and tone of its author; it's just that one might not want to sit through 40 minutes or so of it.
But when the work and author are totally in synch, and the audience is receptive and eager to hear what the author has to say, readings can be a totally different matter. Last night, the little room at Golden West College that has so often seemed dingy and unwelcoming lit up with the 1000 watt talents of readers, featured and open-mic alike, each very different from the others, most eminently worth hearing.
Tamara Madison was the first featured reader. She read from her new book Wild Domestic, published by Pearl Press, with its wonderful cover featuring an old vacuum cleaner stranded in a field. The poems ranged from lyrical and emotional to heavily cerebral, focused on linguistic nuances, like one pun-heavy poem examining the difference between "lay" and "lie."
Clearly, she is very comfortable with live reading and with her material.
She was followed by Daniel McGinn, a long time local poet, whom I have managed not to meet before, probably because he haunts north county readings, while I, still hampered by an inability to fly the freeways as easily as I might, generally go no farther north than Golden West College. Apparently I am missing a lot.
McGinn is a masterful, practiced reader, who just returned from a reading tour to promote his new collection 1000 Black Umbrellas, which has been nominated for a National Book Award.
His work and his presence was very different from the delicate Madison's. A great hulking man who writes poems that would be easy to identify as coming from a man, his poems were open and moving, wildly imaginative and imagistic.
The open readers, which included me, I confess, were enjoyable too. They created an experience that showcased what is best about poetry, the notion that a room can be filled with 50 different voices, each distinctive, each representing a unique experience in the world.
I am very glad I drove those many miles of night-time road to be there. It was a wonderful experience being part of this evening. I recommend these writers and these books to you. Both will be at the Long Beach Poetry Festival on October 15. Sadly,
I will probably not be able to be there, since I am signed up for a pranayama workshop that day, but the festival is an all day affair, and I may manage to get there for a while. All the same, I recommend it to you. Check it out.