Hello, from western Massachusetts. Just this past Thursday night we were entertained by notnostrums' film WHEN YOU THINK OF IT. (www.notnostrums.com) The beauty and exuberance of this 50 minute film is of poets reading where they choose to read: it turns out some poets like to say their poems shoulder deep in water (yes, the poem involves water), some like saying a poem while walking up a busy sidewalk, another it turns out wants to be on a swing, in a fright wig, one while getting a tattoo, one while cooking eggs, another behind leaves, high up in a tree, another in a laundromat, another under an electrified umbrella in a showerstall, one in a tunnel in Grand Central, others in other unlikely places. It all got me thinking more about poetry readings, in general. I'd been wondering recently, outloud and often, why poets sometimes wind up giving readings in less than conducive rooms, with unlikely acoustics and sometimes under lighting that turns us all (audiences & poets)l into neon zombies.
It's so welcoming when a venue's circumstances add to what's being experienced in it.
Many fairly funky spaces can be just right. I wonder if this turns out to be true because these places are unlikely, or at least, not predictably meant for the uses to which curators put them. Someone has to imagine how and why a reading might place in them.
Danny's in Chicago, for instance, a warren of small rooms tumbled together, some of which out of the poet's sight. But it works, one can sense the spirit of everyone there even when not everyone can be seen. KGB in Manhattanl offers a dedicated audience filled with good will toward poetry and readers. I've seen good circumstances in coffee shops and bars, and places such as The Aurora Pictrue Show in Houston, TX, or Chery's Gone at The Big Bear Cafe in D.C., or The So & So Series which used to be housed at The Distillery in South Boston, or where The Burning Chair used to be at East Coast Aiens. And plenty of others all over the country. I'm not even going to try to begin to write about Venice, California's Beyond Baroque's black floors, ceiling and walls (or the fist fight out in the hall there when James Tate and I read there several years ago).
The poets and the poems in the notnostrums film are definitely placed smack center in the middle of the world. This makes for us a very good case that we have the ability to be attentive to poems even in the midst of distracting and sometimes really exciting situations. The disconnect/connect between the tattoo artist and the poet stuns one into a kind of disbelief that these two (& the work they're doing) are in direct physical contact.
Here's an outdoor installation being considered for some kind of literary action or convening:
This is a spot at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle where recently Wave Books held a four day event in which the 16 or so guest poets were given the broadest mission to be in the gallery for three days, spend that time looking around, especially noticing where and when language is employed, whether in brochures, wall plaques, exit signs, signage of any sort, words adjacent to other kinds of work. There were no lectures, no panels, no more determination than that we were to explore juxtapositions and potential additons of language in the Henry spaces. We read there, in an auditorium, at night, and during the day in a James Turrell skyspace, the ceiling of which you can see here:
This space, an oval room paralleling the oval cut-out in the ceiling holds maybe 30 or so people who're seated in the room, one row deep. The intimacy this creates is spell-binding. The sound, of course, is perfect, the combination creates instant access to a poet's poems' tones and moods. It's a magical place in which to read and to listen. Well, not all readings can be in such perfect spaces, and not all readings are by design for such a small audience.
I'm interested to hear news about reading spaces and situations you've found to be especially inviting and especially suited to contribute to an audience's experience. I'm especially interested in reading situations you feel combined circumstances (a prepared or chosen setting, a time of day or night) particularly conducive to what we might call other worldly, awesome, mind-turning, soul-stopping or otherwise remarkable encounters with poetry.
Here: http://kenyonreview.org/blog/?p=764 Heather Christle has some good, interesting thoughts about readings.