Not that long ago, I performed at a reading for National Poetry Month. I love readings. I love going to readings and being able to read some of my work at them. However, there are a few things that I need to get off my chest about them.
Let me set the stage. A poet had pulled out of the reading, so the organizers decided to incorporate a “Q & A” portion. The reading was small and intimate, I enjoyed two of the readers who read with me. However, I found the audience to wear under my skin. I know, I know. To write is to be open to criticism, but this wasn’t criticism, this was rudeness.
I love readings, but I feel like there should be some decorum. This isn’t someone’s living room. I understand that poetry slams call for an active audience, but I also feel you need to understand your audience. Not ever movie is Rocky Horror Picture Show.
I opened up my reading stating that I don’t write confessional poetry (this was after the poet before who was grilled as to why she felt the need to write about her abortion. She explained that it was a piece of her). I told them that everything I write is a story.
I read three poems from my current collection, my novel in verse that talks about a family grieving after the only son’s death.
Right away, I was asked “why do you write about YOUR brother?”
I explained, “I don’t. He doesn’t exist.”
The person scoffed, “I know that. He’s dead.”
I rolled my eyes and gave an answer about honoring tradition and giving voice.
I don’t have a brother. As I said, everything is a story. I repeated that after my answer. I said specifically, “I don’t have a brother.”
The person asked me another question asking if I write about my brother because “[I] failed as a man.”
It took everything within in to lecture him about that question, to tell him, why does manhood or masculinity matter? It’s so fucking fragile that brushing up against femininity destroys it. Instead, I told him, I write not because of manhood, I write for womanhood. I write for people of color, I write for the queer community, I write for voices not given voice and for those who clearly aren’t being listened to.
That man LOVED that answer, which is funny because he wasn’t listening at all.
The man went on to heckle the emcee and I just couldn’t take it. I got up and left. I had never left a reading because the audience before, but I couldn’t stand it. The man was there because of the last person reading, and I felt that if his audience wasn’t going to respect the other readers and the organizers, then I had no reason to respect him and his work.
The writing community needs to be a community. There are already so many people who are in love with the idea of writing, but don’t write. This is something I don’t understand. People don’t hang out in courthouses and pretend to be lawyers. They don’t hang around kitchens and tell people, “I’m a chef.” What is it about writing that has a mystique that often borders on disrespect?
So I guess with this rant, I’ll end with this: if I meet someone who introduces themselves as “The Poet” or some variation of that, I’ll be suspicious. You aren’t Walt Whitman. You aren’t the self-named writer. There’s a difference between writing and being a writer. I would prefer to meet someone who is writing instead of calling themselves a writer.