Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Special Reading

I usually look forward to giving a poetry reading. But as we all know, some are more equal than others. I had one of the good ones last Saturday. It was the culmination of a service project I did with four students from Caldwell College.

I became involved last November when I went to poet Charlotte Mandel's book launch reading in a nearby town. I sat next to some young people taking copious notes. I asked if they were doing some kind of assignment. They said yes and told me their teacher's name. Later, I went to the college's website, looked up the teacher's email, and offered to visit her classes. Instead, she asked me to participate in her next semester project. Since I really liked that the teacher required students to attend area readings, I agreed to participate. As Whitman said, "To have great poets there must be great audiences too." I admired the teacher's goal of getting her students to become part of the audience.

Students in Dr. Mary Ann Miller's Introduction to Poetry course are given the option of doing a traditional research paper or working with a poet on some kind of project. In the past such projects have included helping the poet select poems for the journal she edits, helping the poet select poems for a chapbook, or organizing a reading for the poet. The last possibility was the most appealing one to me.

My students were four soccer players, not a poet among them, but I think they are now real friends to poetry. They were a complete pleasure to work with. Since the students are required to put in a minimum number of hours, we met twice in the local library. During the first session, they each bought my book, What Feeds Us, and I asked them to read it cover to cover for our next session two weeks later. We talked about what makes for a good reading and what doesn't. Part of their job was to select ten poems they wanted me to read. I asked them to do that individually rather than collectively. I also asked them to prepare some questions about the poems.

My four guys: Bryan Broderick, Steve DeAngelis, Kevoi Walters, and Robert Arena

During our next session, we compiled a list of the selected poems, then chose the ten most often selected. I suggested that we might begin and end with more "up" poems. And I suggested that we should vary the topics, create some variety. So with those principles in mind, we next created the order in which I would read the poems. We also divvied up the pr, revised the flier they had created, and went over what goes into a press release. We also planned who would do the introduction, who would handle book sales, and who would lead the Q&A that they'd opted for instead of an open reading. Their questions were terrific but would get asked only if no one in the audience asked questions.

Then came the reading. All the pr paid off as we had a terrific turnout. Even had to bring in more chairs. The audience was a great mixture—some more students, some older folks, a few pals. Fellow poet and blogger, David Vincenti, brought his 10-year-old daughter for her first ever reading. She brought her poetry folder to show me. How lucky she is to go to a school (Montessori) where poetry is a regular part of the program and is taught frequently. How lucky she is to have a father who brings her to a reading.

And Charlotte Mandel was there which was so nice as she'd started the whole thing. She met the professor whose students had months ago gone to her reading. What a nice way to close a circle. What a nice way to widen the audience.

The whole experience was terrific. Now if we could get more teachers to bring their students into contact with living, breathing poets, wouldn't that be nice! If more students had an opportunity to hear the poems in the poet's voice, to sit in the audience, wouldn't we be building the future audience for more poetry?

The whole gang: Robert, Kevoi, Bryan, Steve, Me, Mary Ann Miller

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  1. Hi Diane,
    I much enjoyed your account of this very inspiring experience...congratulations on getting
    poetry out there amongst the people.


  2. As a high school English teacher (12th grade) who is constantly injecting poetry into every possible lesson, I congratulate you on working with today's youth. It's always a pleasure to see how naturally poetry comes to young people and how much they really do like it, but I'm even more stunned about how much they're not taught. Bishop, Lowell, W.C.W and even Ginsberg should be names just as available to them as Shakespeare and Poe, but sadly they're not. Keep up the good work.

  3. It was a great event, a suitable one for my daughter's first "grownup" poetry reading. I'm almost sorry that the Q&A was so lively; I'd like to have heard what interested these young men, newly revved up on poems.


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