I headed for the podium. The audience fell silent, all eyes pivoting toward the front of the room where I stood. Working up the courage to face them, I pulled my shoulders back, stood tall, and recited the words I alone had to hear.
Hello, my name is David, and I am a poet.
I mention this because National Poetry month has come and gone and despite having more than two decades of annual appreciation, and would you believe some people have never heard of it, ever picked up a poetry book, or even attended a reading? Some even snort and ask if it was all just an April Fool’s joke. A few dare to scrunch up their faces and mutter something like, “A whole month?”
Yes, it lasts the entire month and nobody needs to pretend dealing with the thought of poetry for that long is any worse than a lethal dose of March Madness. People don’t realize how millions of poets suffer for 11 tedious months trying to find an audience willing to listen. No pharmaceutical magic bullet exists that can be swallowed as an antidote. We poets have to deal with it, each in our own way.
Shakespeare suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous poetry, and somebody burned down his theatre. I’m certainly not recommending arson. I would, however, like to see more people cultivating a glazed expression which could be mistaken for a passing interest.
It’s nearly impossible for aspiring poets not to end up at open mics. Either a metaphorical arm reaches out of the cosmos and places them there, or news of an upcoming event surfaces and inspires a fresh avalanche of white notebook paper. Poets are attracted to these gatherings like moths drawn to an old sweater. We can’t help it. We’re addicted.
But there’s nothing worse than sitting at a literary event where a moderately receptive audience suddenly cringes, their faces contorted into an expression of WTF was that? I sympathize. I’ve wondered too. Somebody responsible ought to say something.
Obscurity has long been the demon of poetry. A gentle audience, genuinely trying to follow the figures of speech along a narrow path running treacherously close to an unfathomable abyss, hopes the poet will lead them to safety. But no, the reader reads on, long past the recommended two or three minutes until the crook of a cane reaching up from of the abyss is all the audience can hope for.
Maybe you’ve listened to unseasoned readers who hardly practice their delivery before reciting. The mumbling monotoned meter, sentimentalizing, or unleashing such outrageous emotions they ripple the listener’s scalp. Be forewarned, poets: the words themselves won’t work like an elixir if administered like castor oil.
Poetry is my Nemesis too. So many poems stay confined to my notebooks. They are not – and should never be – released for aural consumption. They keep too intimate company with the spirits of depression, the statues of ego, or like an internet god they seek to sell my personal information to perfect strangers.
If people show up to listen, what a blessing! No performer should ever take such a gift for granted, even if the audience is packed with readers anxiously waiting their turn. Once I was graciously invited to a reading and the only person who showed up turned out to be the librarian who organized the event. We waited. We laughed. We justified. Eventually we headed back to our respective homes. The memory still humbles me. I keep it close and protect it like a candle flame.
The literary establishment never got around to crediting a founder for Poets Anonymous.
I nominate Emily Dickinson. She wrote over 1,800 poems, published only ten (anonymously) during her 55 years on this planet, and to my knowledge she never read before an audience other than her family, never stood at a podium to introduce herself, never heard the applause she deserved. Despite a total lack of recognition for her powerful and beautifully rendered poems, she still possessed the resources to imagine her listeners as she stood at her Amherst window, staring out at the world, shaping words to fit so perfectly inside a stranger’s heart.
While Poets Anonymous will never preach abstinence, its mission must stay focused on advocating sober preparation. Ask poets to stop writing? Impossible. And poetry is unlikely to destroy any other life than the poet’s. It has, however, turned far too many listeners away. Like secondhand smoke, a room filled with what amounts to jibber-jabber endangers the health of our future audiences. Maybe by next April we poets will earn the opportunity to stand before a room filled with enthusiastic patrons, not just a few people to bolt and reconvene at the nearest saloon.
David Feela is a retired teacher living in Cortez, Colo. He recently placed second in the “personal/humor columns” category in the Society of Professional Journalists’ four-state Top of the Rockies competition for work done in 2017. See his works at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/