Friday, February 12, 2021

voice and the spaces between

 All day before my Poetry Foundation reading Tuesday night, I kept thinking how strange it was that I had not read poems in public, outside of recordings, in more than a year and a half.  I've had stretches like this, but usually due to my schedule and workloads and just the happenstance of no one inviting me (b/c I usually say yes.) My last public reading had been the Field Museum one, tucked in a corner of the bird exhibits and a slew of sort of depressing climate change poems with extinction event. Fast forward to this week, and I'd decided to share the tabloid poems, some unseen, some just beginning to make their way into journals. Initially, they seemed a perfect choice, since so much of what I've written recently has been a little dark and glum (which is saying a lot given my whole body of As I reading them, I realized I was a fibber and actually parts of them are as dark as anything I was writing last year, just framed in a funny context. The audience seemed to enjoy them, thank god, nevertheless. 

Zoom readings are strange. I liked the ease of doing it. I found a  cozy corner in a private study room, read and listened to poems, and went right back to work til closing the library, which is the impediment to many readings I'd like to attend.  I didn't have to make a long, cross city trip on public transportation or be awkward socially and  headed for the door.  You also can't really see your audience, which is kinda freeing but also frustrating. When I came to the city, my first reading ever was after I placed in a juried contest which entailed first a finalist reading at the Evanston Public Library, which actually drew a pretty good crowd and was therefore more terrifying. I progressed, in the next few years through tiny bookstore readings with a tiny (and once regretfully  NO) audience and many raucous open mic-style nights, where I began to feel more comfortable on the stage (though no less awkward off it.)  One of my favorites included the Gwendolyn Brooks open mic at the Chopin theatre (that I had no chance of winning, but so much great energy in the performers and audience. )  So many readings at Womanmade and DVA Gallery. So many bookstores and bars and coffeeshops. Not just in Chicago, but a couple offsites at AWPs--Atlanta, Seattle. Woodland Pattern up in Milwaukee. Classroom visits with students. Nearly 20 years of sharing work in various spaces. 

Somewhere in my drawers is a tape I made circa 1995.  I was coming off my first poetry workshop in the spring and was writing and submitting work at a rate I hadn't been in a while. .  I would take my small black boombox out to the dining room table of my parent's house where I would write in the afternoons and record myself reading the poems.  Mostly, to see if the sounded good when read aloud, since so much of poetry depends on the auditory. I saved the tape and traveled with me from apartment to apartment since , though I don't even have a tape deck to play it these days.  Besides I am not sure I could handle hearing 21 year old Kristy and her terrible poems from this distance.  I do like the fact that it exists, along with cd recordings of several other radio readings preceding the rise of digital files. I also have a taped version of a reading we wound up recording in a bustling diner near Northeastern U. complete with dishes clattering and secret slot machine noise from the back. 

I have a strange relationship with the sound of my own voice, which of course does not sound anything like it does in my head when I hear it played back. Too childlike, too formal  I sometimes struggle with this when it comes to the video poems.  I remarked to a friend recently about the delight and surrealness of hearing other people's voices read your work. Hearing your words in other people's mouths and I remember the shock of the first time. Someone once told me at AWP that she had had her students read all the poems in a chapbook of mine, one poem per student, all in a circle and this felt like a ritual.  I wanted to see it and hear it all. This along with a local poet who once told me my work reminded her of a hybrid between Plath and a Davis Lynch film is one of the coolest things and highest compliments anyone has ever said about my writing. .  I want to put his on my tombstone. 

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