“There is no one to save us/
because there is no need to be saved./
I’ve hurt you. I’ve loved you. I’ve mowed/
the front yard.”
Last night I attended a reading by famous NW poets (and twin brothers) Matthew and Michael Dickman. What was supposed to be a funny and joyous reading on the home turf turned out actually to be an experience of emotional succubus. It was utterly exhausting. Both brothers read elegy selections for their older brother who commited suicide 6 years ago. The first three from Matthew had me in tears– after those, I felt gutted and wretched. I had no energy left over for Michael Dickman’s calculated, methodical meditations. and I certainly did not have energy left over for a finale reading from their gimmicky collaboration,” 50 American Plays (Poems)”. (This collection is a fun little thing they did together– a single one page play poem per state plus puerto rico and guam.) (Sarah hates it because she thinks its too gimmicky, but I think, WHY THE HELL NOT? and if someone wants to publish it, WHY THE HELL NOT?)
But my point is: I can’t listen to more than 3 poems in a row about suicide before feeling utterly defeated by a poetry reading. No more energy for you poets. No more. Sad books are one thing, sad books of poetry and sad books of literature, I can do those because I can pick them up and put them down and pick them up and put them in the freezer and cry and watch an episode of the vampire diaries, then pick up again.
but ….an hour and a half long reading dedicated to the suicide of an older brother?
and I don’t think it’s fair to the audience and I don’t think it’s a productive use of time. I’ve never read a truly and genuinely sock knocking poem that is 100% happy, and I am certainly not drawn to cute or simple prettiness, I like the grotesque and darkness and sadness and wildness and rawness and artful-ness and sad charms and absurd jokes. This is my taste and my style. SO obviously I am not looking for a dick sucking poetry reading. Nor do I respect the poet who suckles the toes of an audience just for the attention and immediate popularity. I think it’s cheap and cheating.
BUT AN ENTIRE READING OF SUICIDE ELEGIES?
I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
this brings my thoughts back to performance in poetry readings and uncertain discomfort with slam poetry. The performing of a reading depends on the style of the poet and the needs of the poem. Some books of poetry should be read alone in silence and such books call for a very particular style of reading in a public setting. Some poems or entire books of poetry have their own unique, demented, sing-song voice…and a reading should reflect this. But you could SHOUT A COOKIE RECIPE IN THE GERMAN TONGUE and it might sound like a nazi salute (I always thought this was A Perfect Circle’s singular moment of genius).
But anyway, Eric played for me some hip hop or rap thing (and my memory fails me on the name of the dude, as it usually does, but maybe it was MF Doom?) and I could see the blank spaces on a page as this dude’s voice boomed out of the speakers. And it occurs to me, this may be the ultimate litmus test for discerning the good slam poetry from the bad.
If a slam poet’s poem doesn’t communicate the spaces and the structure and some sort of thoughtful dynamism within itself as it is performed, it is a piece of shit that’s being shouted at the audience with wild eyes, and that is that.
Point is, returning to the original rant, performances can be cheap and cheating: an illusion of talent by pleasuring the audience. This is NO GOOD.– but also, don’t be some cum sucking asshole and make your un-expecting and innocent audience want to collectively melt into the floor. This is also a cheap play. if not cheap, then indulgent. Such readings are indulgent on the part of the poet.
I think a reading should be more like….
as lady gaga once said, “This time I baked some cakes with medicine in the center”
or, seeing as I am addicted to metaphor (and addicted to extending them), why not serve a full course meal with the best and healthiest ingredients that is decadent only because it plays the taste buds like a symphony?
That’s what Louise Gluck did when she read here at the Benaroya.
Maybe I stopped making sense a while ago. But I am ok with that– this blog does not have a captive audience.
It’s just that life is short, or love is short and life is long, so why waste either by subjecting yourself to bad art and self indulgent or egotistical poets?
Disclaimer: I love the Dickmans. But their reading last night really took it out of me after a very hard two weeks– and all I wanted was something beautiful and not something meant to hang, draw, and quarter my soul