Sunday, July 20, 2008

Re-post: Reading for the Colorado Center for the Book, The Lighthouse Writers & The Copper Nickel on 03/12/05

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[March 13, 2005 * On the Reading for the Colorado Center for the Book, The Lighthouse Writers & The Copper Nickel on 03/12/05]

I was very happy to read in the Tivoli Student Union Building at CU-Denver again; I was invited back by Sara Whelan who had remembered me from the reading I gave last year as part of the Denver Poetry Festival on 04/23/04. That reading was really unusual in that I was so turned on by being in Denver and by having an audience with a large number of the CU-Denver faculty there that it really didn't matter to me that the total audience was just around a dozen people. Even though the sound system sort of went berserk at one point during that reading, it actually sort of helped to convey the theme of random urban violence in the poem identity papers, which I hadn't planned to read. I did it just because the audience said they were ready for it and really interested in it. I hadn't done any part of it in a long time, it seemed, and certainly not solo. (Usually there would have been my wonderful friend Lori-Nan Engler, the actress who collaborated on the CD, or there would have been Toshi, the percussionist.) But it went so well that after the reading Sara was really intrigued and wanted to know in depth how and why I wrote in these dialogic forms etc., and so the impression I made that day was what brought about this new reading.

I started getting ready a few weeks ago; I asked Jamie Romero, a very nice poetry student who is also an actress who had gotten some great reviews, to help out by reading the Iris character. She was happy to, and we rehearsed a few times for less than an hour the week before. We also rehearsed one of the poems just a half hour before the reading. It wasn't hard. She was very quick at picking things up, and her voice was neither too high nor too low—it was just resonant enough to cut through very clearly and with great character. It was fun to have her to play off of.

I had been looking forward to this reading for a while, especially since some unrelated things had been a major and continual drain, and those things had been so hard lately that they actually were—for a first time—interfering with my reading. I was nervous! You might think that is normal, but it is actually not normal for me because during most readings that I have given I have felt very relaxed and free. But this time I had to struggle to find any ease. The joke lines were not getting the usual laughs. My mouth went painfully dry (a very bad sign). Fortunately, Jamie was solid as a rock, and it helped that her boyfriend was clearly enjoying the reading where he was. I had to internally struggle to get myself back to the core of the poetry over and over. The thing I was there for... the thing that brought me here to Colorado in the first place—it was being edged out by unrelated problems! How awful that was.

I suspect that this struggle was almost entirely invisible to everyone except that I seemed more tense than I normally would. As the poems passed, and mostly drew applause, I started to really ease up and just let the poetry take over again. I had a plan and stuck with it, and by the end I was really "on" again, and the audience was happy afterward.

One thing I did that helped was last night I slept with the poetry audio tracks playing over and over—it actually made me dream something significant for the first time in a very long time. It also meant that the rhythms were in my subconscious pretty deeply. Another thing that helped was that I actually worked on something NEW (a promising but very rough draft that had been nagging at me for a long while), so that meant good things were simmering in the creative sphere. Another thing that helped was that I'd gotten there early, and Jamie was waiting there in Room 444 in the Tivoli Student Union. It also helped that Sara got us no less than three bottles of water for the reading. Another good thing was the big turnout (around fifty people, almost all new to me), and several familiar friends and students, which is always a great thing. Another good thing was the reporter Laurie Dunklee who wanted to write about this event for a Denver paper and ask a few questions; she asked really good questions and seemed genuinely interested. She was also the first person to tell me that she had read this blog (as research, no less!) That was gratifying. So all the little things that helped really added up to a solid success. A year ago, I think I'd have felt very pumped up by all this. Tonight I feel lucky to have survived.

The next day, 03/13/05, I got this reassuring e-mail from Sara Whelan:

"Dear Jeff,

I was very pleased with the turn-out and the reading. There are few people
who have your attention to detail when it comes to expression and voice in
the reading of poetry, which gives your poems a new dimension, bringing them
into the realm of experience beyond language. (If that makes sense). As I
mentioned before you left, there's a moment of surrender I experience when
listening to your poems read aloud—a transition where my mind lets go of
the need to decode and allows the voices to take me somewhere, from the
familiar to the unfamiliar. This is really much like the experience of
listening to music, which means, to me, your employment of musical forms and
devices in composition is quite successful...."

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