In an earlier post, I mentioned seeing Dana Gioia, editor of many literature anthologies, poet, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and currently the California Poet Laureate. I was inspired by his talk and poetry reading, and later by his book of essays, Can Poetry Matter?
Gioia talks about the value of poetry readings as part of his larger goal of restoring the place of poetry in American culture, instead of hiding (burying it?) in academic zones. He suggests multiple ways that readings can be enlivened to interest general audiences. Poets should recite the work of others when giving public readings, celebrating poetry in general. They should mix poetry with other arts, such as music, visual art, and theatre arts. (18 – 20).
Cindy Rinne’s recent reading in Sierra Madre, California fulfilled Gioia’s goals. I have written about her before in another post. You can find her books, Spider With Wings, Speaking Through Sediment, Quiet Lantern, and Breathe in Daisy, Breathe Out Stones at Amazon. You can also see my review there of Quiet Lantern and Doll God by Luanne Castle.
Rinne’s setting in Sierra Madre, California, at the home of warm and wonderful people, Krishna and Eva Malhotra, was beautiful. The expansive terraced gardens provided an excellent atmosphere for the reading, attended by a host of poets, photographers, and visual artists.
We chatted around the table before the reading, sampling the appetizers, finger sandwiches, fruit, and pastries. The reading area was on a large landing between two staircases leading up to a large patio, and the grounds were part of the allure of the event, having lush greenery, extensive lawns, and a concrete stage area, prompting us to discuss future theatrical events that could be held there.
The dappled light added to the ambience as Cindy read from her several collections. A visual artist, Cindy also displayed her work with textiles, and you can see more of it at her website.
She used props, including three Vietnamese dresses she found at a thrift store; the find prompted her idea for Quiet Lantern, a novel in verse, about a Vietnamese family.
Rinne encouraged audience participation also, having a Spanish-speaking couple sing lullabies in Spanish at the appropriate junctures in specific poems, and passing out gifts of “ghost money,” her own handmade paper crafts; ghost money, as I discovered, is money offered for a good afterlife of a departed loved one or as burnt offerings in many Asian cultures.
Though I tend to get a little nervous, which Rinne does not, I love giving and attending poetry readings. Recently, Tim Greek and I participated in a reading sponsored by the Collaborative Arts Collective in Redlands, California. Instead of each of us reading our work solo, we decided to read one or two and then switch back and forth. We spent time orchestrating the progression of poems based on theme, imagery, and tone. It seemed to work out well.
Typically, though, my own have been the straightforward read-a-poem types of readings. I need to experiment with new things! If you are a poet, where do you do readings? How do you determine what you will read? The setting? Any props? Please comment on your experiences!
Gioia, Dana. Can Poetry Matter? Graywolf Press, 1992.
Rinne, Cindy. Breathe in Daisy, Breathe Out Stones. Future Cycle Press, 2017.
—. Quiet Lantern. Turning Point Books, 2016.
—. Speaking Through Sediment. (With Michael Cooper) ELJ Editions, 2015.
—. Spider With Wings. Jamii Publishing, 2015.