I went to a poetry reading last night and my class was assigned to reflect upon its effect on us. So here’s mine:
Before attending Li-Young Lee’s poetry reading, the only exposure to a similar event that I had in the past was in eighth grade when we studied the 1950’s: during the class’s final week we all dressed up as beatniks, wrote beat poetry, and read it to the class while drinking Cokes and coffee. Needless to say, I did not enter Li-Young’s poetry reading expecting it to resemble that event at all. I imagined a small crowd situated about a stool at the front of the room, where Li-Young would read his work from copious sheets of paper, his speaking unaided by a microphone. I imagined the audience’s immense enjoyment in the subject matter and a profound, personal connection between them and the reader. However, I feel that my experience was nothing like this. There was a poet, yes, but I did not feel that personal connection. I experienced difficulties both paying attention to his words and bonding to his presence. This, of course, was not helped by the fact that it appeared that many of the hundreds of students in attendance did not want to be there at all. As I walked to the Globe Room, I felt surrounded by alternating choruses of, “It’s just some lame poetry reading” and “What a waste of my time!” Although not wholly taken aback by these remarks, it did annoy me that they continued all the way up to—and during—the reading itself.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love poetry. I embrace everything it has to offer and yearn to experience a deeper meaning and truly sense what the poet is attempting to get across to his or her readers. If anything, I felt more detached than ever during this reading. Although it was convenient to hear the poems as they were meant to be delivered, I felt an obvious difference between this reading and my own reading of his poetry. I felt like I was being dragged by the poet’s mundane tone of voice and was ashamed to see that the people around me seemed so disinterested that they were letting themselves be dragged along as well. I wished to be free of this, but I could not. I could not connect to the aural manifestations of the poems because I knew that had I read the majority of them beforehand, I would have felt something completely different. In essence, it was the overwhelming apathy of those surrounding me coupled with my allowing of the poet’s voice to drag me through the otherwise brilliant work that led me to have an unfavorable experience.
I am aware that poetry readings are ubiquitous in modern society and that people generally attend them by choice and are not forced to do so. This is not the end of my encounters with auditory poetry, though I cannot identify which of the variables of this event disinterested me the most between the overall carelessness of those around me, the combination of the poet’s voice and his presentation of the poems, the lack of a personal setting, or the poet himself. In order to fully grasp the satisfaction that I have heard arises from a successful poetry reading, I will have to experiment. I love poetry enough to continue this and believe that I will unearth a pleasing combination of the setting I seek. Although some may view this as an unfair judgment, as this is my first real poetry reading, I do not believe that a person must appreciate an event for the sole reason that it is their first of its kind. My first poetry reading was wholly an experiment: I successfully identified my major likes and dislikes and will apply them constructively to future readings I attend. At my next poetry reading, I will not enter expecting it to follow a certain set of guidelines; I will instead sit comfortably and wait for the environment to demonstrate its full potential.