A few weeks before Christmas, when neither DP nor I had any idea really when our spring semesters started (I didn’t even know I was going to have a class), I told him that I was invited to Amazing Location to read in an anthology I was published in last year. We idly looked up ticket prices, and a few minutes later we had a trip to Amazing Location and Christmas presents for each other.
It was 70 degrees when we landed, and it is now 50 degrees and raining. This location is so great I can’t even complain. And, lord knows, I love to complain. I had pork grillades over cheese grits Wednesday night and fried chicken last night; biscuits and bourbon, I am a happy Clause.
I read in front of a crowd maybe a couple times a year. I have read in front of crowds (small crowds mostly) a couple times a year for the past (god) fifteen years, ever since I was a wee-twenty-nothing Clause and used to slump into poetry readings, pull a battered poem from my back pocket, and read at open mikes. I get nervous, but not very nervous.
This time I was very nervous. I flew down from the Northeast with my husband to read as part of a Queer Southern anthology. You can begin to see why I was uneasy. But what did I imagine? People throwing tomatoes? Laughing in my face? Being physically kicked out?
None of these things happened. I read first (eep) and I read well. I did not overexplain my poems and you could hear me in the back of the room. I kept my voice pitched low and did not fall victim to poet voice. A lot of other people read from a lot of different perspectives. There were some good poems, some very good poems, and some mediocre poems. There was even prose.
People said nice things to me, but everyone was mostly talking to each other, clustering around the wine. A black man (the star reader) shouted up to the balcony as I went in, asking if he was at the right place. The locals stared blankly at him and me. Finally, I shouted down, “Yes, I think so. I hope so anyway.” I was pretty sure he was the star reader. But even so. (His poems were really good.)
“Do you want to stay and mingle?” DP asked after the reading. I looked at the tight clusters of people talking to each other not looking around.
“No, let’s get the hell out of dodge.”
The funny thing is that the last time we were in this town, DP had won an award and we went down to the lit mag launch party and had a great time. This lit mag was launching their newest issue that very same night in the bar down the street.
We walked in and immediately I got hugged by Cute Boy from my home state whom I had talked to the year before. The drinks were cheap and the music was good. Four people apologized for not coming to the reading. The editor of the magazine hugged both of us.
People near the bar were talking about how well or badly their writing was going. There was fierce competition around the raffle. Everyone talked tough but clearly adored each other. Prizes were given, the DJ was tipped, issues of the lit mag were hawked. The women all danced together the way I used to in college, friendly sexy and gender unimportant. If I had known them better, I would joined in.
DP and I left reeking of smoke but feeling happy and loved. That is how you run a literary event. The presenters need to be prepared, warm, and supportive, and the audience will follow.
And now I’ve got go hunt and kill some more biscuits and gravy.
What makes a literary event work for you?