Susan Schultz has a really good blog post on readings, a poetics of audience. Here are some excellent questions she presents:
But, having just returned from doing readings in Vancouver and Boise, my question to myself is: what does the writer want from his or her audience? Is there a poetics of audience? How could such a poetics bring the poet and her audience closer? How can we measure such intangibles as engagement, as warmth (or coolth), as exchange? What does the poet stand to gain from giving readings, aside from a modest honorarium and a cv reference? Why go out there and read? And to whom? What purposes are served beyond poetry itself?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot myself, given this recent rush of events I’ve been doing. I’ve been fortunate to have read to a lot of students lately. Indeed, for my TAYO magazine sponsored reading at USC earlier this month, both students and fellow authors had excellent questions, both cultural and process-wise. For my City Lights Books reading with Camille Dungy, the place was packed. Some of Camille’s SFSU students were there. devorah major brought her (I think) CCA students, and Heather Woodward of SF School of the Arts’ Creative Writing Program, an arts high school where I will be a writer in residence in January 2011, brought her students. Afterward, I had some good, informal and enthusiastic conversations about students from diverse cultural backgrounds writing poems from their creation mythologies.
What I would like to do more is to dialogue with audiences. I like questions, and conversation with writers and non-writers alike. Too often, readings are set up as one-way flow/performances, that acute focus on the front and center podium at which we’re accustomed to standing, rather than publicized as a dialogue. For PAWA readings, I invite and book readers, draw up the e-fliers, and always forget to present (in publicity materials and to the writers) the idea of having a dialogue, such that introducing to the audience the opportunity to ask has the potential to be awkward. So yes, I’m guilty of perpetuating the one-way flow, as oversight, and also because I (wrongly) assume that more writers want to be Writers in formal reading/presentation spaces.
My own preference as an author is this; I like talking directly to audiences and not at them or above them. I generally want to know who is sitting in the room, why they are there, given there are so many other places to be. In other words, what do they need from me? As Susan writes, oftentimes, audience members’ questions are self-centered or selfish, meaning the questions for other writers come out of questions they have for themselves, whether writerly, or personal, political, cultural. And this is a good thing. I like that my work, and the issues I struggle with in my work, content and craft-wise, can serve to inform others in various ways, poetically and practically. As well, and this is more selfish motivation, I appreciate the opportunity to refine how I represent my work. I told yesterday evening’s audience at Moe’s that Craig’s visit to my class, his talk on Pacific and indigenous poetries has clarified more for me how to talk to audiences and readers about Diwata’s non-linear, spiral/spiderweb narrative structure.
I should also say that while yesterday’s audience was small, from where I was standing, folks’ facial and vocal responses were very much appreciated feedback. Finally, reading with Javier Huerta made me so chill, very comfortable, and allowed me some chatty and still professional informality on the mic. I have events this coming 11/01 Monday at UC Berkeley, and 11/02 Tuesday at Mills College. I look forward to the opportunities to dialogue.