Having been recently informed that over 90% of BYT visitors are in fact literate, I thought it might be helpful to put together some tips about how to enjoy poetry readings, since I have been to more than most human beings can stand in a lifetime. Some may say that the contemporary poetry scene is a squirming morass of lecherous old drunks and self-involved fuddy-duddy catwomen battling over the high ground on a desert island and feeding off the hot blood of their ambitious MFA larvae, but I’m sure that’s been true for at least the 400 years since Cavalier poets started writing odes to various Duchesses and snubbing metaphysical guys for being too churchy.
So say you have to go hear some pomes—you want to broaden your horizons or are a glutton for punishment or you’re dating a 19 year old GW Creative Writing major who insists that you celebrate National Poetry Month even though she thinks Rimbaud is a sweaty war movie—how can you pull this off without being endlessly tortured by horrible singsong sleepytime grandmas or drama-nerds with soul patches spitting political indignation like tobacco juice into your burning earhole? Chances are you can’t. The fact is poetry is meant to be read by yourself to yourself, not pumped up in the club or whispered at you from a podium in a ratty dank library by a shambling academic corpse. Of course nobody will notice if you just read some great poetry in quiet celebration, so here are some choices over the next few weeks that, if you have exactly three glasses of wine beforehand, might actually stir a little something in that loose grey flesh you keep under your emo haircut.
Wednesday April 16 7pm
Politics and Prose
Sarah Arvio, Joseph Harrison, Mary Jo Salter, Mark Strand and Greg Williamson
This is probably your best bet all month. In a small but professional environment a decent variety of poets who write cleverly but about discernable subjects read from their vibrant new work. Mark Strand is sort of an amazing scary old wizard and Mary Jo Salter is more contemplative but charming and uses rhymes and meter sometimes which is vital for staying awake. Joe Harrison and Greg Williamson’s poems both sound so much like they’re telling you a riveting bar tale over a couple of beers that it takes you a minute to realize they write in almost impossibly complex meters and rhyme, and I’ve never heard of Sarah Arvio but she had better BRING IT, because the rest is going to be awesome.
Thursday April 17 7:30-9pm
Greater Reston Arts Center
Art…WITH A TWIST: Kyle Dargan, Susan Tichy and Melissa Tuckey.
I’ve got no clue what any of these poets are about but they are all Against The War, and cocktails will be served and it’s billed as “Reston’s premier art happening!” wherein you are supposed to mingle with youngish single lefties and talk trash about Bush before sobering up during the poetic dissenting long enough to remember to get that blond NIMH intern’s number, so who cares? An old poetry teacher of mine once said it was a good thing to daydream during readings, but she wore dark glasses inside and cried during workshops so perhaps I should claim that insight as my own instead.
Thursday April 17 8pm
Big Bear Café
Caroline Knox, Dorothea Lasky and Dara Wier
Wave Press, the people behind the hipster Poetry Bus, continues to send their authors out on tour like punk rockers to play in hole-in-the-wall cafes and bookstores. I’m guessing they’re going to cover a bunch of Bob Seeger, and though I haven’t read anything by the first two I stumbled on Dorothea Lasky’s first book a while back and liked its sneaky conjoining of LANGUAGE non sequitur and confessional romantic musing. Plus she is a possible hottie, based on this picture from an interview with Kicking Wind. More incentive to go!
All The Time
All Over The Place
No. Don’t bother. No amount of adderall could make you focused enough to care about the drivel most people mistake for evocative sentiments. I don’t care if it’s at the local B&N or the Smithsonian, you will be trying to pry your still-beating heart from its flimsy cage before the first kid gets done cooing his Charlie Parker tribute. Unless you are a poet yourself and you’re reading, in which case you’ll be riveted while trying to determine exactly in what specific way you are better than everyone else. So if you find yourself forced to attend anything with an open mike portion immediately sign up and spout off the first thing that comes into your head. Bonus points for imitating a Dracula.
Friday April 18 8pm Sign Up
Bethesda Literary Festival
Poetry slams, however, are a fantastic train wreck. At this point I think it’s safe to say that they bear no resemblance to the fine art kind of poetry and are more like amateur hip-hop exhibitions by dorks who can’t freestyle. You may be less mortified or annoyed down the street where ubiquitous DC godfather E. Ethelbert Miller and Stanley Plumly (whom some say was consumed by the cynical spirit of Robert Frost in 1963 and is currently looking for a new host body) but you are certainly not going to be bored by the deep-rooted cultural tradition of street poetry from Bethesda.
Saturday April 19 7-10
Barrelhouse Authors, Will Eastman
No, Will isn’t reading, but apparently some sort of writers will be. Is it fair to squish poetry into a bar between DJ sets and those bombastic short story authors with their cool haircuts and five figure book deals? No it is not. But Barrelhouse really is one of the four consistently not-boring US literary magazines that even bother publishing verse (cf. the Bathing Ed Asner poems in this year’s Best Non-required Reading anthology) so come on out and cheer the loudest when someone squeaks out a villanelle about Furries or some other cute ironypuff.
Monday April 24 6:45
Library of Congress
Charles Simic introduces Mark Strand and Charles Wright
Here’s Mark Strand again with his creepy parables, but Charles Wright is the real star in the room. He’s got southern mystic, he’s got affable resistance fighter, he plays tonsil hockey with Buddha’s girlfriend behind the Tastee Freez and he made David Berman into whatever that guy is today. His voice off the page can be a slow cicada burr one second and a hard icicle in the eye the next. This should be pretty great and you can get out in time to catch How I Met Your Mother. Willow-ogling on all accounts.
Wednesday April 26 2pm
American Poetry Museum
Deaf Poetry Jam
This might be better if you know ASL, but who am I to judge? I may learn just so I can go and figure out how to rhyme something with the sign for orange. Not to mention that you have to love the idea of a museum devoted to works of art that probably don’t look so great in a frame and can be safely housed in a tiny oral tradition.
Sunday April 27 1pm
A Walk Into the Past: Illuminating the Invisible
For the past few months the Goethe-Institut has been putting German, Chinese, and English poems up in store fronts around Chinatown. No, I haven’t noticed them either, any more than I realized there was a new batch of Moving Words out this month, but the idea of wandering around listening to poets read and translate them on a Sunday afternoon sounds pretty pain-free, especially if we get to duck into RFD and chug a Trippel or three along the way.
OK, that’s it.
If I haven’t totally dissuaded you from wanting to go to a poetry reading you are officially either a failed poet or a dirty masochist. Either way, I hope to see you around somewhere over this cruel cruel month. Enjoy