Closed mic night

Via Booktrade, there’s a fantastic article at Maisonneuve about literary readings:

A poet I know likes to talk about his idea for the perfect reading. The room would be reserved, publicity done, books available, refreshments served. Everyone would come and meet and talk…but no one would read. My friend is completely serious about this. He is convinced these occasions serve primarily as social events and, deep down, everyone would rather forego the reading itself. I suspect he’s right.

I’ve been arguing this for years. Why?

[Russell Smith] captures perfectly the stifling atmosphere one often encounters at readings: the tiny, self-conscious audiences; the improperly set up sound systems; the readers who don’t know how to project or crisply enunciate; the forced laughter; the sheer tedium of it all. When readings are well-organized and the authors good performers, the result can be memorable. But this happens so rarely that I’m compelled to ask: what’s the point?

The whole enterprise of readings speaks to the crucial problem in contemporary literature. Namely, that it is an increasingly marginal activity. Writers accept the invitation to read because, in addition to maybe receiving some much-needed extra cash, it helps bolster the necessary illusion: an audience exists. The invitation itself counts for something, even if one ends up addressing a throng of thirteen. Similarly, the people who attend readings are on some level also aware that the occasion and the writer both need ‘support,’ that by being present they are involved in an altruistic act. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the people who go to readings, at least some of them, are essentially doing the writer a favour, performing an act of piety. It’s no accident that Smith’s drunken patron keeps asking the assembled listeners whether he’s in a bar or a church.

The perfect live lit event is like George Orwell’s Moon Under the Water pub; there are several preconditions that have to be met to make it perfect. A room in a decent venue, a bar that serves good draught pints and bottles. No entry fee and no poets rattling a tin in your face. A smoking area – say, a balcony (PureSpace bar in Manchester has a great smoking area).

And, as Michael Carbert’s poet says: no readings whatsoever. Live lit rarely works and, even when it does, it is rarely as good as what happens when you get writers and poets in a room, drinking and chatting.

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2 Responses to “Closed mic night”

  1. Rachel Fox Says:

    I always make sure I read poems somewhere with lots of musicians on the bill as well. Non-stop poetry…especially of the taking-oneself-very-seriously kind…? Please no! Make them stop…

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    Yeah, that’s something I’d forgotten – you need bands and/or a DJ.

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