I am not a poet. I have never been a poet. I have never claimed to be a poet. I wrote a novel and was booked to read it last night.
Last night wasn’t the best. It isn’t that I can’t take criticism. I mean, hello, I’m a writer. I put it out there, it either gets knocked down or propped up or something in-between. Criticism is fine. Many thing lined up to make me reding at the Green Mill last night less-then-ideal and while I might be inclined to let this go and forget the whole thing, the high-volume of comments on my previous post waiting moderation in my inbox last night and flurry of emails from total stranger in support of me last night, well, it leads me to believe that I should address this en blog. So it goes.
So, a the featured performer slot was arranged and I entered into it under the impression that the persons organizing the spoken word event at the Green Mill were aware I was reading from my novel, not reading poetry. I am told that this was emphasized when this date was booked. Okay.
I am aware at this point, that many people I know, peripherally know, and a few members of the local press are in attendance, as I did make a point to invite them, or they were invited, respectively. I set up my books, my mailing list, and such at a table with two friends and get ready to listen to the open-mic entrants. Still perfectly okay.
The organizer botched my name. No biggie. Then, nobody, not one soul before or after me said anything about themselves or their work before starting. They just dove right in. Now, those of you who know me are aware that I have improv and performance art and readings and all of this sort of thing in my background. I’ve been doing things on stages in front of people for almost fifteen years, no exaggeration. So, I don’t worry about that. I just don’t. Anyway, I had no introduction, other than my name, so in hindsight, this perhaps meant there was some question as to whether I was reading poetry or a novel or a bedtime story or what. But, I wasn’t thinking that right then. I was thinking about being a little nervous, which happens from time to time and isn’t a big deal at all once I start. It’s natural, no big deal and i am perfectly content to be myelf in front of a crowd of people. I was thinking reading in a place I’ve alwasy wanted to read. What I realized was that to this crowd, “book” means something you staple together or are included in, not always but generally.
So, I keep my chatter brief. I did not talk about the strange people that have been emiling me, I did not talk about the threat of my novel being banned by the church ladies writing angry letters, I did not read any of the crazy emails they, or anyone else, has writtten to me. Succinctness was the order of the day, so I said a minimal couple of things and began.
Nearly at the end, snapping fingers began. Snapping fingers that were explained at the beginning of the show that meant this sucks, you suck, this feels like an eternity, hurry up or worse get off the stage. A couple of snapping fingers then became whispering. A few people caught on to this and started to counter-cheer and the clicking fingers stopped for the most part, though one man in the back kept going.
Look, my readings are lively, I encourage hecklers, shouting, throwing things, audience participationg, etc. It isn’t like I require, ask for, or even want a quiet little reading. No. But, this crowd was here for slam poetry where you do this sort of thng and I was struck with the realization that they didn’t think I was reading from my novel, they thought I was reading really long, disjointed poetry. Shit.
The night deteriorated from this point and the host, I feel, was condescending to me and the young poets, oh the talented, hopeful poets, they skipped right along with him, doing anything he conveyed to them, never even thinking to think against the man who invented slam poetry, never thinking it was going to far, even when he took to the stage to criticize me and my “poetry selection”, even when, in a crowd he encouraged all night to shout and stomp and yell, someone in my group said, simply, that it wasn’t poetry and was called, through a microphone, an asshole and was berated for several minutes. Even when my touring was doubted and dismised, even when I wasn’t asked but was told and had assumptions pushed on me, even when I was talked to like a teenage notebook paper poet, even when the credibility of my publisher came into question and “academics” are a fucking problem because we can’t and don’t understand poets and their artform. Even then, it was comedy to them.
The press I was aware of (other than one directly in my group) was gone, my friends and acquaintences stormed out, with the exception of the few who stayed with me until it was over. What? You didn’t think I would leave, did you? Fuck no. I sat there and didn’t pack up a single book until the band packed up their stuff.
On the upside… I feel like I read well— not read for this venue by their rules, but read my way, the way I do it, and the way my book gets read by me.
Read how Leah described the evening. She was there. She knows.
So, that’s the deal. It was what it was and it’s now over. Everyone did a nice job. I really liked a wonderfully gross little tale one fellow did about his birth on a beach with a drunk father. The guy who mentioned Catholic shool and tzittzit was very good, too.
I am still not a poet.
I have one hell of a story of Milwaukee later in the week. That’s for sure.