A Brief Rant on Readings

It’s AWP this week. AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Program conference. It’s the big, and I mean BIG conference for writers and teachers of writing. This year it’s in Boston, which has a great literary history. There are tons of writers and lit-lovers that are at these events. So as someone who identifies as both, I just have a few things I want to bring up.

I’ve been to many fiction/poetry readings as well as open mics. Hell, I’ve read a few of them, whether it be a magazine launch or doing a reading of my own work. I’ve noticed a few things about them that I feel are unspoken and should be general knowledge.

For Writers:

  1. Please, please, please, please, PLEASE take a speech course, improve course, or acting lessons so you can actually perform your work. Yes, I understand that the written word tends to be read silently, but especially with poetry, there’s a performative aspect to it. No one is going to appreciate your work if you’re going to mumble it through.
  2. Be organized. Know which poems you are going to read before hand. Nothing kills interest more than seeing you shuffle your papers or try to find your poems in your book.
  3. Tell me something about the work. Tell me an anecdote before you start reading. Why did you write it, is there a story behind it? Is there context? If not, then why are you reading it?
  4. Speaking of reading it, PRACTICE. If you stumble over your own words, what makes you think people in the audience are going to want to read your stuff? Make sure you are comfortable with reading.
  5. Take a deep breath, drink some water (don’t down it. It’s a sign of anxiety and makes the audience wonder about why you might be anxious), and offer to answer some questions after your reading. Let us into your world and process.

For Audience Members:

  1. Be polite. Reading and performing in front of a live audience is nerve wracking. So that means turning off your cell phones, not talking (loudly) during the reading and most of all not looking bored.
  2. Don’t be a dick. This is a slight variation from the above. If you are asking a question during a Q&A, non-sequitur questions are not cute. I went to a reading where a poet had a poem about breakfast. Read a bunch of poems after that that dealt with angels, theology and grief, but a student decided it would be cute to ask “how do you like your toast?” And tried to bullshit a reason saying, “ever since you read that breakfast poem, that was on my mind.” Really? Really? So after all those other poems, you’re thinking, “Gee this poet is talking a lot. I wonder how he takes his toast. Does he wipe his ass with it?” It was obnoxious because he was clearly doing it for a laugh and it threw the poet off. DON’T BE A DICK. IT’S NOT CUTE.
  3. If you don’t have any questions, DON’T ASK ANY. Let the Q&A run its course and let the audience leave. If you want to talk the author after, you can approach them during the signing or try to catch them before they leave. Don’t waste everyone else’s time.

This might just come off as angry and anti-social, because it partially is. I mean, we have to connect with people to create a community, but dealing with some of the asinine ass-hattery bullshit that happens at these things makes me want to reconsider being a member of a creative community. What is it about the arts that entitles some people to act like complete fools and assholes, especially when they get to interact with the creators/writers/artists?


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