Thursday, April 17, 2003

Had a chance to step out of the cold drizzle this evening for the cozy reading at Eastwind Books with Eileen Tabios and Rick Barot (pronouced so it rhymes with carrot). Sitting next to me was fellow Pinay poet Maiana Minahal, one of the producers of the Halo-Halo show, and currently in "InvAsian," an anthology of Asian American women growing up. There's a reading this weekend for it on Saturday in SF, which I'll post with my calendar of Asian American events soon. Also in the anthology are Pinays Emily Lawsin, Pia Infante, Barbara Jane Pulmano Reyes, Cookie Hiponia, Evelyn Rodriguez, ooh and I know there's one I'm missing.

Halo-Halo will be doing an encore fundraising show in June at Bindlestiff. Whoo-hoo! I might actually get to watch the show and not the run through!

Also there that night were other Oaklanders (Rick lives in Oakland, so do his parents), Stephanie Young, from the blog of the same name. We greeted each other by our blog names. It's always a bit of a strange twilight show feeling when you meet people you only know online. And what raced in my head was, "on Oakland and smoking cessation" to which I needed to add "flesh and blood person."

I take note of this because I attended last year a birthday celebration for Oakland, which included a poetry reading at the fabulously redone African American museum on 14th. They attempted to get readers who were of course Oakland based. Catalina Carriaga read. I do love listening to Catie read. But I sat there thinking, I KNOW there's gotta be more Oakland writers out there and particularly Oakland Asian writers out there. I make that point because more often than not, the politics in Oakland tend to be black and white, literally. And Asians, well are in their part "town" and the Latinos are in their part of "town." But that's politically, poetically and personally it's much more mixed up than that.

Anyway, back to the reading. Rick read poems from his new book, "The Darker Fall," which appropriately enough had the image of the full moon on the cover on this full moon evening. The full moon was pregnant with poetry. Rick did get caught by an audience member for changing the poem he read from the one in the book. There were a few comments about how people do, don't, did. My vote? Rick, do whatever you want. Don't do it cuz you think the audience will pick it up better, do it cuz it feels better rolling off your tongue that way, do it cuz you felt like you wanted to, do it cuz you're just a tease. Don't worry about us, the audience.

The audience frankly can't pick up the entirety of it anyway. We all sit there only really picking up and remembering key phrases that strike us. We buy the book so we can pick up all the phrases we missed. I often sit there daydreaming poetic responses to the poetry being read. For instance, tonight, there was one poem that Rick read about black stars and for the next 4 minutes I kept thinking about black stars, then brittle charcoal wood, then the question, "have you ever grabbed hold of the night only for it to break brittle into black stars on your palm?" I actually don't remember hearing the rest of his poem. But that's why I bought the book.

I listen to poets read, because I want to hear their musical arrangement of the poem. I will sing the poem differently when I get home. I do understand that sometimes poets aren't necessarily the best presenters of their poem. That's why they get actual actors to read for those Books On Tape and not the original author. (Some people say Robert Frost reading his own poems is excruciating). However, I'm hoping they give me hints to how the poem came to them in the way they read it. Eileen said someone told her that she reads her couplet poems similar to her prose poems. As a performer, this is problematic because the structure of the poem is not readily known. However, it seems to signify that perhaps the couplet poems come out in the same way as the prose poems musically, but visually, they make a different statement on paper.

There's an aspect about performing poetry that leads to a certain sense of fluidity. Poets may or may not be performers. But I believe poets can use performance to help them understand their poetry. The person I am when I perform my poetry is different from the one who writes it. When I write the poem, I am the quiet recluse with the observing eye who would rather not speak. When I perform the poem, I am the ham that loves to charm the audience and make them watch me. Those are two different sensibilities all together. In order to perform poetry, I have to guess at what my writing self intended. And sometimes even to myself that's not really clear.

Poetry on page has a different pacing from poetry performed. Unless you are hearing trained, most people gather more information visually. The words run faster on the page. Spoken, there are pauses, breathes. Some poems are better performed where the audience is enchanted, but on the page it just looks like someone didn't edit enough.

The audience came to hear whatever the poet wants to say and how they say it. As poets should we care if we are "burdening" the audience with our work? Hell no! They walked in, they want to be "burdened." Besides, they have no vote! If a poet changes their reading of the poem to the extent that it changes the essence of it, then that's a problem. Going over some of the poems Rick read, I noticed the some of the lines he omitted and they didn't change the "feeling" of the poem. Hell, I noticed lines I omitted in my head.

Yet I do understand the idea that by changing the poem some people feel it's almost disrespectful/condescending to the audience and to some extent the original work. But I believe there's a difference between when you edit it because it's what you think other people will want and when you edit it because when you speak it, it feels better and is easier on you as the reader. Let's face it, readings can be grueling affairs. If you think changing the poem will make it less painful, I'm not one to stand in the way of alleviating your suffering.

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