Flipping old-school Poetry Readings

Poetry readings were pretty bad when I was younger – the ones I went to, anyway.  I remember going to a few random poetry events in my late teens.  I convinced myself I wasn’t cultured enough to fully appreciate them and kept going. By mid-university, I wouldn’t go to a poetry reading unless a friend or I was reading.  I needed to be friendly or at least a compassionate fellow writer to sit through these things.

Photo by Ellwood jon.
Photo by Ellwood jon.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if the writers were better public readers. Or there was something else at the event to break up the rhetoric.  A reading could go on for an hour or two, with an intermission in between, much like a theatre play.  The stage directions were: stand or sit there and read.

I remember one lady who read poetry like a monastic chant.  She completely spaced me out; I have no idea what her poems were about.  I was no better.  I would shake like a leaf and bury my head in my piece of paper.

Poetry, like Shakespeare, is often read in the most grim and joyless manner even by some famous and well-established actors – regardless of whether the poetry is tragic or not.  I think this is due to English classes that teach poetry as something very serious and important.  It wasn’t until I studied Shakespeare in university that I had a great teacher who deconstructed the human passion out of our academic studies.  Poetry and Shakespeare was not written to be bitter medicine for my intellect but because it was printed, performed, or whatever to be experienced – be an experience.

A couple of years ago, I had a great idea.  I clearly lack the connections and charisma to pull it off, so this idea is free to be taken by anybody who does – and has interest, of course.

My idea was to make poetry readings into theatrical spectacles — though more like a little circus than a play.  The writers would collaborate with a small theatre group and have the poems performed at a small, cozy venue like a café or bar.  Three or four small stages or platforms would be scattered throughout the venue.  A few times throughout the evening, there would be a pleasant call to attention and the stages would be used to perform a series of poetry that ran for no longer than 15 – 20 minutes, alternating stages per poem.  The stages could also be used to showcase other live talent between poetry sets.  The audience could sit but also move around and mingle.  And there could be themed parties! Like a masked ball, disco-nite, a Brazilian carnival, a Mardi Gras party, etc.  Lots of possibilities, no?

So that’s the brainstorm.  I haven’t done disco in decades and never with poetry.  Maybe somebody can do something for me.

Thanks for reading this blog and please visit our latest link and video to the lyw YouTube channel, promoting poets and poetry through online media.  This week’s selection is written by me from the poetry chapbook, ya helu.  It’s a funny poem about a dedicated but struggling runner:


* Photography “Ghost Light on Stage” by Ellwood jon – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

ya helu, a poetry chapbook by lyw

book cover jpgya helu is a collection of poems that I wrote as a poetic self-portrait following the past few years since my mother passed away.

While writing, I didn’t want to be too self-centred in my approach to these poems. Instead, I tried to write about the people, ideas and activities that I gravitated towards during this time; I wrote about what I found most engaging about them as a way of painting a picture of myself.  The indirect approach to self-examination is sometimes more accurate and appropriate.

The book concept was also influenced by recent studies in classical painting.  Most students of this art usually attempt a self-portrait at some stage in their development.  I wanted to attempt something like this in a poetic form and as a progressive stage in my development.  Thus, my approach to the poems was also very visual and mostly in the third person.  Unfortunately, there is nothing classical about my written form even in literary terms. I haven’t any talent for iambic pentameter.  I also indulged in more humour and absurdity than would be typical of a classical self-portrait.

There’s a great scene towards the end of Virginia Woolf’s novel, Between the Acts.  In this scene, actors performing a festival play turn upon the audience with pieces of reflecting objects such as tin cans, mirrors, candle-stick holders, etc., ‘Anything that’s bright enough to reflect, presumably, ourselves?’[1]  The audience, while watching, suddenly become part of the last act of the play as characters watching themselves in fragmented pieces.

This is a lovely metaphor for how to piece together a temporary sense of identity with a limited human perspective.  In ya helu, I looked at the lives and activities that drew me when I found it difficult to be drawn — from the gruelling desk, the heavy bed, the funny moods — to reflect back to me interesting pieces of myself.

Thanks for reading this blog and please accept the below invitation, welcoming one and all to check out the book as it is introduced through various social media channels:

Please click on this link for a PDF version of your invitation: Ya Helu Invitation

written by lyw

[1] Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts, Grafton Books. 1978 ed.