Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Difference Between Performance Poetry And Written Poetry

So earlier tonight I was at the Iron Horse to take part in the latest poetry reading by the Raving Poets. The last time that I was in front of an audience was late June. I was really excited to have another chance to perform because opportunities to have captive ears are fewer and farther between than they used to be.

Now, if you remember back to my last post I was commenting how I want to get away from censoring myself as a poet. The sad part for me about tonight's performance was that it was very much a regression for me and after it was over I felt bad. Why was it a regression, you ask? Well, the poem I read for the crowd at the Iron Horse was from the Sometimes Sinister series I mentioned last post.

I guess that first off I should delve a little bit into what Sometimes Sinister is about. The series of poems that I am working on revolve around a clean cut man who falls in love with a woman who has substance abuse problems and a lifestyle that is, for all intents and purposes, bent on self-destruction. The man still goes forth with his courtship of this woman on the belief that he can turn her life around and change her ways. However, as the relationship blossoms the protagonist finds himself struggling to hold onto his own sanity and sanctity, finding himself getting into fights with her friends, doing everything in his power to protect his lover, and generally having delusions of grandeur. Without giving away the whole story I thought that it would be pertinent to give you a synopsis of what I am working with here.

But back to tonight's performance.

The poem I read was titled "Question" and it will have a place later on in the plotline. In the poem, the protagonist and his lover are holed up in the bathroom of his house because he has become quite paranoid of her friends who don't seem to ever leave. In the poem the lover asks our hero if he would marry her and the poem focuses on the hero's thoughts regarding the marriage proposal. So to get myself back on topic with regards to the regression in my work, I actually omitted a stanza from the poem consciously as I reading it for the audience. In essence I censored myself and what made it doubly bad is that I had almost just finished posting on my blog that I wanted to stop censoring myself, or that this whole exercise in being sinister with my work was an attempt at freeing myself as a poet. I felt very hypocritical after I sat down again. I really don't know how to explain it.

Maybe I should post the poem here so you can see what I did. It might better illustrate my point.

Maybe the whole moral of the story
is that nobody is meant to be saved,
nobody is meant to be changed;
we’re all more static than we’re willing to admit.

Superheroes don’t exist in the real world.

The comic book writers failed us in that regard.

With you laying in the bathtub beside me,
sheltered by my duvet,
nesting on layers of blankets
to make fiberglass just a little more hospitable,
I can’t tell if you’re talking in your sleep
or if you’re gripped by drug-induced hallucinations
or if you’re talking from some other subconscious place
when you say:

Will you marry me?

And when I whisper to you, “yes.”
it seems too loud in these shitty bathroom acoustics.

But you say nothing else after that.

Maybe you are asleep.

I can almost sense the way your body is positioned;
in my mind I see you draping your arm over the side of the tub,
reaching out for me in the pitch, trying to touch me.
Giving up, you slump back down.
I hope.
Or I see with my bat’s sense of sonar.

And I bide my time sitting on the toilet
in the dark facing the one point of entry into this,
the safest room lately,
by carving K.H. + T.C. in an arrowed heart
on the front grip of ole Double Barreled Redeemer
with the tip of a bowie knife.

I wonder if it’s all subconscious really, your question
And I wonder if my answer is just as illusionary.
I wonder if the real us is somewhere far off,
picket fences and wildly fertilized lawn
that needs mowing twice a week.
If we’re hammock naps and picnics in the park,
parents of happy children who are as bright as they are beautiful
instead of shotgun bathrooms and withdrawal jitters.

-Michael Appleby
August, 2005

So, then, the part that I omitted was the stanza that starts "And I bide my time sitting on the toilet". I suppose I did that because I was really worried about the audience reaction to the implied violence inherent in the imagery of the double barreled shotgun. Before I started reading this poem I did throw out a bit of a disclaimer that it was all strictly fiction, but I found myself really worried about what taking this poem out of the context of the whole plot of the series of poems would mean for the presence of a shotgun and a bowie knife. So I omitted that part. I think it took one of the more sinister images I have planned for the whole series and I think that's kind of why I feel as badly as I do about my reading tonight. The whole point was to be sinister and I couldn't bring myself to do that in front of tonight's audience, even after a disclaimer. Ugh. That's bad.

For those of you reading this and wondering about the specifics of the poem you can ask me anything you want. I will tell you this right off the start though, this is still an early draft and I do intend to tinker with it some more. The only other thing that I can offer you before I go hang my head in shame is that I can't quite remember what I have the characters named, but that when I drafted it I gave them the initials K.H. and T.C. arbitrarily. So if you know people with those initials and you're about to give me an earful of your verbal vengence save yourself the effort because I haven't actually given them names just yet.

But I'll leave you with that for now. Feel free to berate me in the comments all you want for being a great big hypocrite. I deserve it.


Anonymous said...

C'mon Mikey, don't be so hard on yourself. As an audience, we're not familiar with the work so we wouldn't have any idea that you censored yourself. I missed half the poem at the reading, but it sounded fine to me. Don't sweat it man. Plenty of time to be sinister.

Adam said...

Honestly, I don't think that line would have shocked people too badly. And, if it had? So what? Basically, my advice, if you can call it that, is to try and forget about how the audience will react. Read, and let them react as they will.

But, easier-said-than-done advice aside, I'm going to agree with Gravel on this one..

Michael said...

Yeah, I think you guys are right. I think too much about how the audience will react and even if they don't react favorably, so what? It's art. I'll have to keep that in mind from now on. Thank you.