15 May 2006
Imperfect poetry person that I am, I'm really not all that crazy about getting up and reading my work (photographic evidence of me at Austin, Texas' Residencia Bookstore at left notwithstanding). I'm much more comfortable playing host (as I did for sessions at the library's recent CityLit festival), or else being part of the audience. The thought of reading makes me nervous, causes my stomach to churn, my hands to shake, and I always feel, "Thank goodness that's over!" when I'm done.
On the other hand, everyone tells me that I display none of these jitters when I'm on stage/at the mic. I come across as relaxed and in control. This could be a result of having to teach a large number of introductory computer classes over the years, so I'm somewhat used to flapping my jaws in front of a group of people. Either that or I missed my calling as an actor. And in fact, in some ways I do look at poetry readings as a kind of performance. That's not me up there, it's this 'poet' persona I put on that's singing out words. That face and voice you see is a mask I put on, the poem a text for me to hide behind.
After not reading in public for a long time, I've had two readings in the past two weeks. The first was with the wonderful Esther Iverem of Seeingblack.com, at Johns Hopkins University, as part of their 'Telling our Stories our Way: African American Book Festival', put on by the Johns Hopkins University
Black Faculty and Staff Association.
Just this past weekend, the Other Half and I traveled to New York City, where I read at the Bowery Poetry Club, as part of a 'Baltimore Invasion' reading with two other poets, Chris Stein and Barbara DeCesare, which was put together by Baltimore to New York transplant Rita Stein. It was great to be there with Chris (who I'd seen at readings but had not heard his 'L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poetry'-influenced work) and Barbara, who I've known for years and whose work I've always enjoyed. A great plus to the reading was to have folks I hadn't seen in a looong time, like 'Baby Dave' Moore looking wonderful, friends and blog-masters John (thanks for the photos!), Bernie, and Steven in the crowd, Carolyn Micklem of Cave Canem, and poet David Mills. David and I had a mini-workshop session on a poem I'd been working on and had sent to him and others for suggestions before the reading, and I was glad to incorporate some of his fantastic suggestions when I read the work a few moments later.
Overall, it wasn't too bad: in both cases I read a mix of older and new works. And people seemed to enjoy it, which makes me happy. I stumbled a bit at both readings (I only worry if I don't make at least one mistake!) and at Bowery forgot to mention that I had copies of my book 10 Tongues, with me if people wanted to sell (did I mention I'm a lousy marketer as well, as are so many writers? Shoot me an e-mail if you'd like to buy a copy...), but otherwise I'm pleased...and glad it's over!
One more reading to go -- Friday May 19, in Washington DC, with a group of Cave Canem poets to celebrate Book Expo America and Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade. I'll be hosting along with The Folger Shakespere Library's Teri Cross, as well as reading. After that I think I'll take a break from reading and put my butt in the chair to put some finishing touches on my next manuscript....so I can then go out and do more readings!