Donald Hall’s excellent and funny piece(s) on poetry readings reminded me of a reading I did at a festival in Eureka Springs, AR in ’92 or ’93. The festival was held at the historic Crescent Hotel, and the readings – a lot of them, anyway – were held in the hotel’s many suites. I got my suite number and went upstairs to find approximately 6 or 7 people seated in one room of a not-very-large suite. The lectern was perhaps two feet from the people seated before it. Directly behind them was a bearded, 400 lb. man reclined on the bed. Eating.
The half-dozen poems I brought were part of a series I was enthusiastic about at the time. Inspired, in part, by Catullus and featuring a cast of licentious characters, the poems were, if not exactly pornographic, at least lurid. I’m pretty sure I informed the small audience of this before beginning, but it didn’t matter. They hated me.
It wasn’t completely their problem. I had only read a few times prior to that and never those poems before, so it’s probable that I didn’t deliver them in the best possible way. That said, a hotel room with half a dozen strangers, one of whom is eating on the bed, was probably not the best atmosphere. When I finished, I said thank you and sat politely while the next poet (read: local character) played a guitar and sang horribly. When we filed out of the suite, the host for the room said, “Can I give you some advice?” “Sure,” I said. “If you’re going to offend everyone, do it with a smile on your face.”
I went back downstairs and caught the tail-end of Jay Prefontaine‘s reading. He and I and Graham Lewis and Bob Zordani and Gerard Donovan (I think) regrouped in the lobby, compared notes, and agreed unanimously to leave the hotel that minute and not come back for the rest of the festival. Or ever, for that matter. I don’t remember their accounts, but I wasn’t the only one who had some kind of issue. We went into town to get that picture (don’t know where Gerard was for that), get thoroughly drunk, and offend people there instead, though perhaps not in that order. And it’s been my experience ever since that the best part of going to a reading is what happens after.