Poetry readings are like attending Sunday Mass. You attend out of obligation and hope for grace. The grace received from a poetry reading helps you move up in the purgatory that is poetry and hopefully up to a place of respect. If you are not invited to read then your ego takes a hit and you feel that you are wasting your time with poetry and you are not part of the 'in' crowd. But like a good Catholic your continue to go to the waters and hope for Grace.
Last year the MLA (modern language association) was in Chicago and Patrick Durgin and Robert Archembeau organized a marathon reading of40 poets two minutes each. The reading was kind of like speed dating. The lineup was wonderful- Barrett Watten (Homo Tweedius Poeticus), Kevin Killian (Homo Radicalus), Harryette Mullen (Homo Marvelousus) and big fat me with this company of bards;(over 40) on and on. But after about 20 minutes all the poetry kind of ran together as one big noise.
Marathon readings are not for the attendees. Marathon readings are communal exercises like going to Mass. Those who are in communion are invited to read and the communal song, like the daily office or the liturgy is conducted and grace is spread around. I have been in many marathon readings. One in Texas during AWP a few years ago went on for hours as we read outside with a nightstand as our only light in a back yard of a bar- I am sure that this year at AWP here in Chicago there will be a cacophony of readings. I am not demeaning the reading but for what purpose does a reading with 30 or 40 poets serve. When I lived in Dallas we did marathon readings for fund raising- these I understand- but who except for our loved ones really sits through a marathon of 30 poets?
During AWP 2004 in Chicago Kerri Sonnenberg did it right at her late Discrete Series. She had two nights 8 poets each night with breaks. The readers were stellar, Jen Hofer, Charles Bernstein, Pierre Joris, Cole Swenson and many more. The readings were a real celebration of the artform without the rush of 30 poets in two hours.
Having written my critique I hope you all go to the SPD Marathon in San Francisco. The reality is that SPD is sponsoring it and they need all the help they can get in this economy. But, I wonder what is the future of the reading? A few years ago the reading started to revive poetry but now in the age of the ipod and internet does the reading have a future as more than a vanity exercise?