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