Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fenton on Professionalism

Paul Vermeersch points to this article by James Fenton on poetry readings.

Fenton's one of the foremost living poetry critics and it's wonderful to see him turning his attention to poetry as performance and not just as text. I agree with most everything he says here, but it smacks of wishful thinking; I have to wonder where the impetus for these predicted changes is supposed to come from. In order to have better reading series we need to have better impresarios. And the job is a pretty thankless one and certainly not a remunerative one, which makes it unlikely that the best possible people might step up. As it is, most hosts are pretty indiscriminate, and many will host readers whose work they don't even like. In my 6 or so years of doing readings, I think I've only actually been turned down for a reading I've asked about/applied for twice. It would be nice to think that this success rate is a reflection of the quality of my work and/or my rep as a reader--but it would also be false. It's just really easy to get readings. Which has been of some benefit to me personally, but on the whole it's led to the poetry reading being a rather dubious form of entertainment. Most funded series are little better than open mics.

There are a few ambitious and highly selective hosts out there. David O'Meara is one. Dave's a very smart guy and one of the best poets in the country, so that's no big surprise. But I bet that part of it is that he's an employee of the Manx Pub, where he hosts his readings. This has to lead to a heightened sense of accountability, I would think.

Failing the emergence of a guild of great hosts, poets themselves can do something about this. Being better prepared and more organized is something that anyone can do on their own. But how about replacing some of the multitude of poetry writing workshops out there with poetry reading workshops? I don't think I've ever seen such a thing. Maybe it's time for it.

1 comment:

Brenda Schmidt said...

Me again... There have been a number of workshops in SK on giving readings. I've attended a couple of them and they were well worth my time.