Sunday, November 16, 2008

When you feel free, it’s contagious

Today I gave a reading at Robin's Bookstore with the poets Brian Brodeur and CAConrad, and it was a really enjoyable event. And it was even better that it was pretty well attended. I think the audience came out for the other guys, mostly. One of my students from West Chester University came too, and she brought a friend. A long-ago past student and present friend did the intros.

As usual, I said a little about Many Mountains Moving and presented the latest issue and the MMM Press books to the audience and mentioned teacher discounts and review copies etc.

Not long ago, I heard Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche over a world-wide webcast talk saying that we all needed to embody the changes in the world that we would like to see.

I think about the most sane people that I have known in my life, and I know that this must be true. Sakyong Mipham has written about how even a small amount of sanity makes a big difference in the world.

I was a little under the weather, fighting a cold since I woke today. So I knew it might be tough to keep the energy up. But Brian’s and Conrad’s readings were very solid, entertaining, and inspiring. Brian's work was very beautiful and insightful. He had a deadpan sense of humor and irony about himself that was nice. Conrad’s reading was very funny, raw, angry and edgy. A lot of very deep, raucous and cathartic laughter came from the audience.

(Conrad’s humor reminded me of something sort of like an early Lenny Bruce but without the undertones of optimism. I still think of Lenny Bruce as one of the true and great comedians who could have moments with a power like poetry but with jokes that made you laugh so hard it hurt.)

So Conrad actually helped me pick myself up.

It was very surprising and wonderful to see an old acquaintance in the audience as well as to see many new faces out there. It was also great to see a few old and new friends out there, including a few who actually helped me to revise a poem that has just been an albatross around my neck for years.

I knew things would be okay when the audience started laughing right away during the first, lighter piece that I read, "The Poet's Mother's Deathbed Conversion." I read five more things, most of them pretty short and upbeat or elevating: "Sex Ed Blues," "peace valley elementary school during the vietnam war," "fluke exposure to another eastern meditation tradition in 8th Grade," "Kindling Hope, Incidentally, in South Philly," and "The Path." I could feel that connection subtle, electric, elastic dance with the audience throughout most of the experience. After it was over, many of the people remarked to me how it was a great reading and so on. I’d actually had a longer line-up of work in mind but switched to a shorter list as the reality of my struggle with a cold reared its head.

I have read with a lot of great readers, and I know that this is a good thing to do for many reasons. The best reason is that it forces you to bring your game up to par. If you read with people who are mediocre with the audience, then it’s easy to get lazy and go for the easy hit.

There is an even better reason to perform with people who are great; it is sort of an exercise in staying on center and in focus instead of feeling jealous and insecure or whatever else people can do to stop enjoying the experience. You have to—in a way—forget your ego and your sense of competition. Then you can feel free to just put out there whatever you have. Then the work can speak for itself, and then the audience can enjoy whatever it is without having to feel any pressure.

When you feel free, it’s contagious.