I can’t say I know all that much about poetry, although I was once in love with a poet. Does it count that I love the old song, Poetry in Motion? I’ve been around poetry. Or, rather, poetry’s been around me.
Even so, I don’t know a quadrille from a sonnet, a pindaric ode from a rondel. Sometimes, I read the poems in New Yorker magazine and can only wonder, WTF? But I know a good poem when I hear one, or at least I think I do.
Maybe it’s more accurate to say I know a bad poem when I hear one.
The other night I was lucky enough to attend a poetry reading during which I heard several poems from someone I’ve met whose poems have been nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. He read beautifully and his poems were powerful. And understandable. I could see how, by anyone’s standards, these were excellent poems. Even my husband commented on how good they were and he is no poetry fan. Another new friend read a poem in a style I like. So, all good.
Ah, the “Open Mic”
Yes, the “Open Mic” opportunity. That’s pronounced “mike” by the way, and is short for microphone. In case you didn’t know. Anyone could sign up to read their own poems; no prize nomination required.
Now, I’ve written a few poems in my time and once submitted a few to a poetry chapbook and promptly forgot that I had. Later that year I received a manila envelope in the mail. Inside was a cute little chapbook. “I wonder why I got this,” I mused, paging through it. Until I saw my own poems on a page; they had been accepted. I have no confidence that these poems are any good and probably they aren’t; my poet ex-lover evaded any comment back then. I have no idea if the chapbook had any prestige. I mean, really, poetry is not my genre. I am an essayist, through blood, sweat, tears and, I believe, by birth.
Anyway, back to the poetry reading. Maybe a dozen people or maybe more got up, one by one, to read their poems. And as good as our acquaintance’s poems were, most of these others were, well, they were… noteworthy.
What would possess someone to get up in an English speaking country to a random, mostly white-bread audience and read their poems entirely in Spanish? What sense does that make? By sheer luck, we were with a friend who was fluent and who told us that the poems were simply a “this happened and then that happened” list. Which is how many untrained writers write anything, including stories. She also said they were terrible.
Yodeling and lip balm
A woman who looked like an aging “Heidi” complete with dirndl dress read a lengthy poem about chapped lips and lip balms. She held a box of different lip balms–Carmex, Chapstick, Burts Bees and more–with which she dramatized each stanza. Each stanza covered a particular balm, and as she held each balm up, she described the packaging colors and read the promotional material. I don’t think Yoko Ono has a thing to worry about.
Two young Sylvia Plath wannabes read their dark poems about (what else but) suicide from their smartphones, a trick I could have never pulled that off. First, I can’t see the small type on my own phone and my screensaver comes on about every five seconds, blacking out the screen. But these young women’s readings were flawless, at least as far as their phones went. And dark. I’m sure the excellent and intellectual Sylvia Plath rolled in her grave during those performances.
A young, handsome biracial man was the crowd favorite. He had memorized his lengthy poems and stood up to perform them. I had to admire his memory, since mine can no longer pull off such feats. I wasn’t quite sure what made him the crowd favorite; his poems may have had promise but he was badly in need of learning to show, not tell. That’s a lesson all writers must learn and some finally do and some have a hard time with it. Listening to him, I wished he could work with a good poetry professor to become worthy of his position as crowd favorite. Note to crowd: you’re doing him no favors.
Making it rain
But really, no one was as memorable as the older woman sporting long straight hair and a wrinkled t-shirt who sat in a corner polishing her nails with gold glitter polish, oblivious to the noxious fumes she was imposing on the small crowd. When it was her turn to read, she warned us that the poem would be “risque.” Ok. And then she read. Her love poem had a repeating line: “And it rained.” I wasn’t really sure what all that rain had to do with anything until she uttered the final line of her poem:
“Make it rain between my legs.”
I glanced over at my husband, whose eyes widened even as he stoically looked forward, avoiding making eye contact with me. Across the room, my girlfriend looked at me, her eyes frozen on mine, silently saying WTF?
Poetry is hard. I was well into adulthood before I learned that poets edited their work. I was shocked to find it didn’t emanate perfectly from their pens on first draft.
Here’s the hard fact: Not everyone can write good poetry. And this is the reason I wouldn’t ever read at an open mic and why I won’t include any of my poems on this post, although at least one is on this website somewhere. But still, I know it’s probably not very good. I couldn’t bear to receive polite applause for crappy writing.
Or for making it rain.