I haven't blushed in years. But I did last night.
I've not wanted to run in a corner or hide my face or any of those childish mechanisms to alleviate personal discomfort. Not for years But last night, right around 8:00, these visions came to me as sensible possibilities, as I stood like a frozen hare before a small audience, reading my poetry.
It's hard to express the nakedness of a poetry reading, the vulnerability and the embarrassment of sensing the body on display is flawed. The corpus - my poems - not striking a chord, not enchanting, not accessible. Oh geez and then I recalled one of those workshop digs from a year ago: "well you know your market" as if to say: if you write like that, then who will read it?
And I went prepared: off & on over the weekend, I'd picked up my poems, read them, giving a little discourse, timing it all. Never during that practice did I stop to ponder the what if of audience disregard. And I never planned on how to recoil from audience harassment. Well, not harassment really. But one old man who sat way in the back, in another room actually, and complained that the volume was too low. Then when I quipped that if the mic were any closer, I'd swallow it, his retort was "that would be good."
"What? You want me to swallow the mic?" I asked with an outward chuckle and hatred in my heart. "Yes," he says. "Well, I'll take it into consideration." And mercifully, a woman in the front row laughed and mercifully, I kept going, didn't stutter, and mercifully, he stopped his complaining.
Oh it's much ado about nothing, I'm sure. But a humbling experience. Joan said I did well, that some people were really listening to me. And yes, a couple did come to me afterward and remarked how they liked such & such a poem, it reminded them of their experience in Washington State with the apple trees or that they enjoyed listening to me, etc.
I recognize how egocentric this report sounds. Whiney. It was a personal stripping away of my own veneer, my self created approbation. But it was more than that. It was acutely sensing how narrow is my market.
How to recover? Intellectually, all I have to do is tell myself to keep writing, be my own judge, etc etc. But now yet another little censor is setting up an outpost. And in another room of my writing suite, there sits last night's audience, wanting me to say something easy and fun. Something recognizable.
I'm recalling a Lorca remark about duende. Before a reading, he says, invoke the duende. You will need it. Your listeners will need duende to make that leap of metaphor with you, the poet. And when there is no duende, then the poet is a lonely reader.