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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tampa, Difficult Subjects, Pride

Friday night I drove all the way to Tampa to read some poetry in an open mic at Jake's Java Joint. Performers included a mix of poets and musicians and they were very friendly. The venue looked like an office supplies store by day/ nightclub by night. They had couches, a black backdrop with shimmery lights, smoothies, snack food, espresso and many pieces of office equipment piled up in stacks along the back half of the space. I couldnt help feeling we were part of some underground arsty employee heist of an unsuspecting office supply chain. Kudos for making the most of your day job, you overworked xeroxing artiste!

Ava (my publicist) and I arrived very very late and thus missed most of the other performers but the audience was quite forgiving. I read two poems, "We Are the Women" and "Purple People". "We are the Women" is about survivors of child sexual abuse and as such is a risky choice. Are they gonna cry? Tune out? Walk away in horror? One never knows. I got lucky (if such a word can ever be appropriate given the subject matter) --nobody stood up and walked out.

I have had the simultaneously fortunate and unfortunate experience most of the times I have read that poem of having a large number of audience members respond to the piece by looking at me with looks of unexpected but frank recognition. They KNOW what I am talking about even if they wish they didnt. For most poems, such looks would be entirely gratifying but seeing these looks in response to a poem about survivors and incest is bittersweet. Looking into their eyes makes it difficult for me to finish the poem without crying even though I recognize with some satisfaction that such responses mean I am speaking FOR as well as to many people with this poem. It is my hope that when I read it I am speaking for those who cannot or will not speak of such things. Why should they? Living through it is enough.

The people loved Purple People but then they always do. What's not to love about a poem about loving yourself? Loving your mixed self when people want you not to?

I got to talk to a number of poets after the event and found out that Tampa is boiling over with poetry venues. I will be back!
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