I want to thank everyone who attended my solo poetry reading at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center last Thursday evening, March 8, even those who thought about coming, and tried to come, but for whatever reason, couldn’t make it. Thank you, family, friends, students and strangers. There were many personal pleasures for me, not the least of which was the honor of reading in such a historic, atmospheric place. But something happened that reminded me of why I do this (or should be doing this) in the first place.
Moments: Laughing Like a Kid
Something I’d read the day before prepared me for my poetry epiphany. M. Scott Douglass, publisher/owner of Main Street Rag Press, wrote in his monthly MSR newsletter recently about the reason he attends the Associated Writing Programs annual conference. Even though it cost him $2,000 and 27 hours to drive from Charlottesville, North Carolina, to Chicago this year, it was worth it, he claimed, to meet people like Todd Robinson, an author MSR just published, on the book fair floor.
As Douglass tells it, “I’m getting waves of these cute little girls coming by, pointing to his book and identifying him as their teacher. Late afternoon he shows up reaching across the table with this big maw of a hand. He’s this big ol’ six foot-four bear of a guy who laughs like a little kid. And what fun he was. Those are the moments I go for.” (*see http://www.mainstreetrag.com/MSRMonthlyNewsletter_03-2012.html for more.)
Well, a similar thing happened at my reading. While I read, I noticed a woman in the back, apparently enjoying herself, who looked awfully familiar. Later at the reception, I felt emboldened to approach, her familiarity overcoming my usual shyness. What a surprise—and pleasure—to meet this interesting person, whom I did NOT know after all (I’ll call her “Molly” so as not to possibly embarrass her).
As it turns out, Molly had gone to quite a bit of trouble to attend the reading and seemed pleased that she came. And here’s the beautiful, humbling part: she came for poetry—not for me. I respect (and admire) her pure desire to hear poetry. It makes me glad I planned and rehearsed, selecting poems for their “listenability” and striving to pace myself so that I wouldn’t exhaust the audience. Molly’s presence made me feel I was serving the art of Poetry that night rather than indulging my own ambitions. I’ll bet Scott Douglass feels the same way about the hassles of small-press publishing when he meets a Todd. It’s all worth the sweat somehow.
So thank you, Molly (and Scott and Todd), for reminding me of my responsibility to you, and to any stranger, that shows up to hear my work. I’ll try to be worthy of your time and attention. Yes, I owe a debt to friends and family, too, who took time out of their busy schedules to come out on a cold, rainy March night, but meeting Molly (and reading Douglass’s newsletter) reinforces something I know but can lose track of. Poetry is about words yes, but it’s at least as much about connecting people with words (and the worlds conjured by those words) as it is about beautiful language and imagery.
After this reading, I’m encouraged to do others—and to keep what I learned from this reading to the forefront of consciousness. So stay tuned. If you’re on my contacts list, I’ll let you know of other events, and if you’re not on my list but would like to be, let me know and I’ll put you on it. If you’re a writer, let me know of your literary goings-on, too.