Who Do You Write For?
More thoughts on poetry as entertainment.
This month, I’ve been reading a book called Maximum Entertainment about magicians and entertainment. It’s by a magician, for magicians, but I’ve been reading it as a poet interested in being more entertaining.
So far, the quote that struck me hardest: “Most performed magic is weak, and is best performed only for others interested in the art.”
I think the idea carries over to poetry, as well. He’s talking about how the audience isn’t interested in super complex mechanisms, they want to have fun and be entertained. “Lay people want direct plots. Anything else is magical masturbation, done because it makes you feel good, and no one else.”
I think a lot of poets write for poets. I’ve been reading and writing poetry for a couple of decades now, and the truth is poetry is still a pretty niche art form, despite all the strides its made. I remember being at national poetry competitions just a few years ago and the majority of the audience? The poets who were competing at the festival. Who shows up most often to Poetic Underground? Other poets. Occasionally we pull in a layperson or two at the slam.
Is there anything inherently wrong with that? Not really. Well, when you need judges for a slam maybe it is a problem. Regardless, I’m interested in what poets can do for people that aren’t poets. Why did it take Amanda Gorman at the inauguration for KCUR to email me for an interview about Kansas City Poetry? Why is Netflix full of comedy specials but not poetry specials?
Somewhat relatedly, I was really excited last month because I performed a new poem I’m working on in front of an audience other than the Poetic Underground open mic, and it still did well. Granted, there were still other writers in the audience, so it’s not like I was trying to do a poem on the street. I’ve also done that, and let me tell you, different reactions (i.e. not entirely positive).
Recently, I was listening to this episode of Creative Pep Talk and Andy talks about Negative Aesthetic Reaction, a concept from Melissa Dolesse’s TED talk. The idea is about viewing your art as a method of communication with the audience.
People have negative reactions to art that makes them feel dumb or like they don’t “get it,” because the audience views art as a form of communication, but artists don’t usually. Ya know, “it’s just my art, man, get it or don’t” types. The talk is about visual artists, but I think we’ve all probably seen/read a poem (or several) that we just didn’t get and it probably didn’t stick with us as well as a poem we connected with.
Anyway, so I’m on this journey of figuring out where poetry and entertainment intersect. My blog this month is about 3 things I think performance poets do differently than “page” poets.
Not as many feisty thoughts this time, but thanks for reading along!
We officially announced this week that I’ll be stepping aside from my role as Program Director at Poetic Underground KC. I’ve been preparing for this moment for a while, longer than most people probably realize. And yet, there’s still a lot of emotion tied up in this decision, but this newsletter is not where I’ll unpack that.
I’m going to keep running my 4th Wednesday revision workshop, and I’m excited about that. I’m excited to be able to focus more energy on my own creative endeavors and be able to support my poetry community in different ways.
This photo is from my first time hosting the slam (well, as Program Director) back in July of 2019. Shout to Asia Raine Photography for giving me my main promotional photo for the last 3 + years.
You can catch my farewell feature set, along with a bunch of other dope poets, at The Poetic Underground Birthday Showcase on February 8th.
You can also catch me opening at the 3 of Hearts House Show on February 18th.
Is There A Difference Between Page and Stage Poetry?
Until slam poetry hit the scene, I think it’s safe to assume most of us didn’t encounter poetry through performance. We encountered it in classrooms, on the page, and with our teachers droning on about metaphor. You know, before Youtube…
Some writing prompts this month!
Write your own ars poetica piece! Why do you write? How has writing shaped you? What purpose do you want your writing to serve in the world? (What’s an ars poetica?)
Is there a metaphor you consistently reuse in your writing? Get meta (lawl) and write about why that is, and maybe what effect it has on you/your worldview.
A couple places to submit your work:
ps. My next Revision Circle is going to be about prepping your poems for submission. Join us at Blip on February 22nd
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