February 8, 2008KR BlogReading

Read to Me

This post is designed (perhaps not well) to be an “idea share,” so once I am done seeing what suggestions I can pull from my brain, I hope that you all will maybe yank out some of your own.

I’d estimate I attend between 3 and 5 readings a month, on average, mostly poetry, but with a few fiction readings strewn around for good measure. And I have to express my gratitude to all the organizers out there, as well as, of course, the readers, most of whom are performing for little or no money. Thank you!

At the same time, however, I find myself increasingly interested in readings that break the following mold:

1. Audience slowly fills, or partially fills, rows of metal folding chairs.

2. Organizer steps up to lectern, issues thanks to those who need thanking, introduces reader.

3. Reader steps up to lectern, thanks organizer, usually expressing some kind of modesty re: organizer’s introductory remarks. (“That was quite an introduction. I hope I can live up to it.”)

Side-idea: I was thinking someone should modify some podiums, so that mega-poets-laureate could zoom around them, like Arrested Development‘s Gob on his Segway.

4. Reader shuffles papers, then, depending on personality, may offer a mini-lecture on everything that currently interests her and how it relates to the poems or stories she is about to read.

5. Reader reads first piece. Reader reads title of second piece. Reader explains what second piece is about, going into so much detail that second piece is ruined.

6. Reader repeats step 5, occasionally veering back into step 4.

7. About 2/3 of the way through, reader may stop and say “I just realized, all of these poems/stories are about X. You must think I’m Y.”

8. Audience begins to feel reader is Y and also possibly Z.

9. About 3/4 of the way through, reader says “I’m just going to read N more poems/stories.”

10. Reader reads N more poems/stories. Asks “How much time is left?”

11. Reader says “Okay, this is the last one.” Reader reads last one.

12. Audience applauds. (Variation: If sitting in an auditorium, rather than on metal folding chairs, audience gives reader standing ovation.)

13. Q&A.

Now I have complained too much and have to hurry back into happier territory. I have seen wonderful deviations from the norm. A list of possibilities follows. This is where I need your ideas. (We will all benefit, no?)

The Eugene Ostashevsky: Reader incorporates mad rhymes and madder singing. Reader is very loud. Reader leaves audience with no doubt he is Z. (You have to watch the video–skip the Robert Hass intro and get straight to the magic.)

The Dorothea Lasky: Reader invites audience to her bathroom. Reader is very loud. Reader records everything for the internets.

The Say Anything (obscure): Reader writes synth music to accompany story. Reader plays music on boom box, adjusting volume according to intensity of dramatic feeling.

The Russell Edson: Reader is married. Reader’s spouse sits in front row and offers candid reactions and suggestions re: Reader’s material. Reader’s spouse leaves audience with no doubt she is Z.

The Major Jackson: During Q&A, reader asks audience a question. Question is “Where is meaning in poetry today?” Answer is unclear.

The Panda in the Audience: Audience includes one member dressed as a panda. Reader is Ron Siliman.

The Missoula Oblongata: Reader steps up to podium. Reader is interrupted by delivery of pizza she ordered several weeks before. (Scroll down on that link.)

The Tao Lin: After reading poem or story, reader shows audience his illustrations of characters from poem or story. Reader is Tao Lin.

Help me make this list get better? By better I mean longer. And more populated.

The Kenyon Review was founded in 1939. The resources for the new literary journal were provided by Gordon Keith Chalmers, President of Kenyon College, while the inspiration to establish the journal and raise the national stature of the institution had come from his wife Roberta Teale Swartz, herself a poet and a friend and protege of Robert Frost. Frost encouraged the idea and visited Kenyon more than once. The poet and critic John Crowe Ransom was recruited to Kenyon by Chalmers with the express purpose in mind of his launching a distinguished magazine. During his 21-year tenure, Ransom published such internationally known writers as Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, William Empson, Mark Van Doren, Kenneth Burke, and Delmore Schwartz, as well as younger writers: Flannery O'Connor, Robert Lowell, and Peter Taylor, to name a few. It was perhaps the best known and most influential literary magazine in the English-speaking world during the 1940s and '50s. In 1969, discouraged by the quarterly's financial burdens and sagging reputation, Kenyon College ceased publication of The Kenyon Review. The journal was revived in 1979, and in June 1990, internationally acclaimed poet and editor Marilyn Hacker was hired as the Review's first full-time (and first female) editor. She quickly broadened the quarterly's scope to include more minority and marginalized viewpoints. In April 1994, the trustees directed that The Kenyon Review be continued, but with significant cost-reducing and revenue-enhancing initiatives. Hacker left and David Lynn (acting editor in 1989-90), Kenyon English professor, was named editor on a two-thirds time basis. The magazine's financial picture has since stabilized and improved dramatically. The creation of a Kenyon Review Board of Trustees and a renewed commitment by Kenyon College combined to guarantee the financial health of the Review and to free its editors to pursue increased excellence. Such is the status of The Kenyon Review today.