On Choosing What to Read: the Playlist
A bit of navel-gazing. A bit of angst.
Next week I’m going to be doing a reading as part of the Stonecoast Alumni Association program at the winter residency.
I earned my MFA from the Stonecoast program of the University of Southern Maine, graduating in January of 2005. In the interim I have published two chapbooks of poetry, and numerous pieces have been published in magazines nationwide, as well as in Canada and the UK. It was my most recent chapbook which earned me the spot on the Alum program, where I’ll be appearing with Libby Cudmore, Reza Jalali, Bruce Pratt and Matthew Quinn Martin. Quite frankly, this is a reading that’s giving me more of those proverbial butterflies than any other I’ve ever done, primarily because I feel as though I have to prove myself. Great. You graduated five years ago. What have you done lately? What if I get up there and am under-impressive? What if some of my old teachers come by to listen and wonder: I put all that
effort into teaching her, and this is the result? In my semesters in the Stonecoast program, I had some magnificent mentors: Gray Jacobik, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Baron Wormser and Ted Deppe: I don’t think I could bear to be a disappointment to any of them.
Terrifying, to a relatively shy person.
Thus I’ve been agonizing over the past couple of days, as I realized that the 13th is creeping up. What should I read? I sent a frenzied e-mail to the women of Simply Not Done, asking for their input. I threw out an all-call to my Facebook friends, asking for suggestions. I’ve been trolling my files, looking at titles, wondering: is this one good enough? Is this one?
Of course, I always over-plan. Have I been given fifteen minutes (my fifteen minutes of fame!)? I’ll fill every single one of them! Twenty? I can do that. Invariably, I have too many pieces to fit in the time allotted, and find myself doing the final culling while standing at the podium. Nah. I’ll skip this one, then. Once, I was offered twenty minutes in a reading program, and found my time, once I’d arrived, to have been slashed down to five. Heck–nervous people like myself can fill the first five minutes–or in this case, the only five minutes–by babbling incoherently before ever getting to a poem.
(As an aside, this is always why I enjoyed the participant readings at MWPA’s Fall Writing Retreat at Haystack on Deer Isle: I’d just pick one poem, and not worry about length. Zip: up there. Zip: back down again.)
Meanwhile, Alice Persons, publisher at Moon Pie Press, suggested I read Moon Pie poets, of which I am one…so I’ve gone through the first chap and tentatively chosen a couple of older pieces. One was “Catherine Blake, Alone,” a persona piece in the voice of William Blake’s wife; this choice was seconded by Katie Chilton, who was in the program with me (and who came out with me for one of the nicest lunches I’ve ever had, in Paris–but that’s another story for another time): she wrote that I should read “the one about Mrs. Blake!” Okay. I think ol’ Catherine has made the cut. I’ve taken another couple from that book under advisement.
As for the second book–the “award winner,” as Alice refers to it…I’m very partial to the title poem, “The Beauty of It.” That’s probably terribly bad and wrong to say, rather like telling people you like one of your children better than the others. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s my love letter to the world–and all the kind and laughing people who wander about in it (there are quite a few, if you’re willing to look for them).
Depending on the audience, I usually throw in one or more of the funny ones: the pieces that are, to use Christian Barter’s word, “rollicking.” There’s the one about trying to learn to play the ukulele. Or the one about the heathens playing basketball. Or the one about my love affair with the dictionary (Samuel Johnson’s, to be exact). Or the one about tattoos–people always laugh about the tattoos. In the past, I’ve opened readings with a funny one, then moved on to the more serious pieces, and ended with another funny one, just to make sure people remember me. It’s my goal in life, after all: to be remembered. If you leave ’em laughing, it’s all to the good.
Of course, there’s all the new stuff, as well as older stuff that didn’t make it into either chapbook. I was thinking, perhaps, of reading a newer poem called “One Day, One Wish,” which is a piece I wrote after a girl in my sixth period class, Alix Rudzinski, gave me the title (as part of a writing exercise where members of the class wrote down titles of pieces they might write one day–and then we exchanged them). This poem appeared in Maine Taproot, the recently published anthology of the Maine Poets Society, along with the dedication to Alix–giving her a copy, with her name in print, was one of the high points of this week. As far as she’s concerned, she insists that I read it, so that her fame will spread.
Among the new stuff, I also have my 45 anti-sonnets: the Elizabeth Barrett Browning project I’ve been writing and revising for the past while. My friend Brenda Prescott suggested I go right for the jugular, as it were, and read the “cold shower” poem. I had to laugh at that. I can just see myself, leaping up vigorously in front of the grad school crowd, and launching into a poem about sex. Right. Remember, I’m a relatively shy person. But I am toying with reading some of those anti-sonnets anyway, because I’m very pleased with how the story-in-poems came out. The problem there would be choosing pieces that could stand up on their own–rather than being so interconnected that their meanings rely on hearing the other poems as well.
Obviously, this is going to take a lot more thought. Fortunately, I have until the 13th.
I have read with Bruce Pratt, fiction and poetry writer, before. Several years ago, he and I did a reading together at Lippincott Books, in downtown Bangor. We were on from eleven to midnight on New Year’s Eve. It was cold, snowy, and the crowd who came to hear us, fitting as best they could among the shelves and shelves of used books, was a curious lot. Still, it was fun, and I sold a couple of books. I look forward to reading with Bruce again.
P. S. 2:
Strangely, I knew Bruce before I knew him, if that makes sense: I even have a poster with his picture on it in my computer room at home. Way back when he was a musical performer, I saw him at the Grand Theater in Ellsworth, on a bill with the folk singer Greg Brown. When Bruce and I ended up in grad school together, I kept looking at him and thinking I know this guy. How do I know this guy? Ah, coincidence.
- Posted in: Poetry ♦ Reading ♦ Writing
- Tagged: Alice Persons, Baron Wormser, Bruce Pratt, Catherine Blake, Gray Jacobik, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Libby Cudmore, Matthew Quinn Martin, Moon Pie Press, MWPA, Reza Jalali, Simply Not Done, Stone House, Stonecoast MFA, Ted Deppe, The Church of St. Materiana, University of Southern Maine