(Guest post by Kristin LaTour)
I am pretty naïve about some things. And I assume that if I, who am generally behind the curve on most things, know about something, then most everyone else probably knew about it way before I did. But here’s something I know. It’s good to hear someone else read your poems. It’s good in workshop when you already know how you want your poem to sound, to hear how someone else reads it. It’s good when you’ve read a poem 50 times and can’t think of anything new to do with it. It’s good when you’re revising. It’s good when you need a laugh. It’s just all good.
I’m part of a group that calls itself the Waiting 4 the Bus Poetry Collective. We’re a very eclectic bunch of poets who don’t really workshop poems, although we do ask for help now and then, but who perform poetry. We perform our own, but we have a lot of fun performing each other’s work. The group holds a twice monthly open mic with feature, and the features tend to be area poets who are pretty well known, or who have been to the open mic often enough to be asked. After a person has been coming for a good long time, we have what we call Bizzaro Feature Night. This means that during the open mic, people don’t read their own work, they read poems by the featured poet. It might be a poem they love, or one they haven’t heard in a long time. But it’s fun to hear someone’s work read by 6 or 7 people before the feature gets up to read. And it makes you think about how to read that person’s work. We also have Under the Influence Night when poets read work by a poet who has influenced them. And there’s Lyrics Night, and Bad Poem Night and other opportunities to read other people’s work instead of always our own.
When it comes to reading other people’s poems, the closest comparison I can think of is a band deciding to remake an old song. They make it so similar that it sounds just like the original, which is boring and seemingly pointless. Or they can totally rework it so the song doesn’t sound anything like the first version. The one that comes to my mind is Kiss’ “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Nite,” which was covered by Toad the Wet Sprocket for a tribute album. They took a beer-drinking, slam-dancing, head-banging song and turned it into a pot-smoke-hazed, black-light-dark room, comfy couch song. Bob Dylan does the same thing with his work, I’d guess because he gets sick of singing the same songs over and over. The last time I saw him in concert, he was practically finished with “Blowin’ in the Wind” before I figured out that was the song he was singing. He completely changed it.
I have a poem called “Surgery” where the speaker is explaining in very clear terms how to change a person surgically using basic tools one has around the house, practicing on foods one would find in the fridge. When I read it, I read it straight, seriously. I see it as a comment on what people do to each other, coldly and callously. But one night a friend, got up and read the same poem with a strange quasi-Nigerian accent. It was hilarious! It was as if the poem was suddenly some kind of strange info-mercial, or something you’d run into by accident on YouTube. I love hearing him read the poem that way. I never would have known there was humor hiding under it.
Some people might cringe at the thought of other people “messing up” their poems. What if they don’t read the line breaks how you planned? Or what if they read it with a silly pitch, or leave out a line? But that happens every time someone picks a poem off a screen or a page. If they’ve never heard the poet read, they are going to put a voice to it. Who knows how they’ll read it? And what a gift to find that a poem that was written one way has another side to it.
When I heard about this blog and the webpage that accompanies it, Whale Sound, I was so excited. I love to read aloud. I love to read other’s poems. I love them to read mine. I encourage all poets to listen to others reading their work, and to take advantage of whatever opportunities for performing other people’s poems they can get.
Kristin participates in a group-reading at Whale Sound today.