I confess to having mixed emotions about performance poetry. I have on several occasions attended a performance poetry reading and been captivated by the singing and the physical presence of the poet or poets. But then when I took the poetry home and sat down to read it, I've been disappointed to discover that the poetry on the page didn't measure up to the poetry on the stage. So it seems to me that the music and performance can sometimes cover up a lack of craft. I've also sat through performance readings where it seemed that the poetry consisted largely of screaming, pacing the stage, and hurling obscenities.
But I've also several times been really taken with a performance reading. For example, I'll never forget hearing Patricia Smith read in Paterson, NJ, several years ago. Take a look at her amazing delivery:
And then when I later sat down with Patricia's book, with her words on the page, I was just as riveted as I'd been when she'd stood before me.
So I never know what to expect when I attend a performance poetry reading. I went to one on Saturday, December 1, again in Paterson. The poets were Charlie Rossiter and Al DeGenova, a duo, and Kurt Lamkin. I've known Kurt for several years. I first met him when I brought him in as a guest poet at the high school festival I ran for seven years when I was teaching. Then I had him back again. Later, I ran into him yet again when he first was featured at a Dodge festival. I'd never met Charlie or Al but knew their names.
I had just returned from the poetry retreat so really had to drag myself out, but I was very glad I did as the reading was just wonderful. Here's Charlie posing for my camera:
Charlie and Al went first. Their reading was full of music and instruments, singing, and wonderful poetry. Two gentle souls.
Click here to hear some of Charlie's work:
Then Kurt performed and as always was wonderful. He played a kora, a 21-string West African instrument which, by tradition, must be made by the performer.
I went home with Back Beat, Charlie and Al's co-authored collection; AvantRetro, their CD; and two CDs by Kurt, Magic Yams and String Massage. I look forward to the reading and the listening.