When a friend and her boyfriend invited me and Steve to see the Pixies on their reunion tour, I declined, not saying why. After all, moms don't get out much, no excuses necessary. And when they do get out, or when I do get out, I stay in the neighborhood (every 45 minute ride on the F is another $10 for the babysitter). And when I do stay in the neighborhood, I don't attend loud shows full of 20-something hipster snots (like me 10 years ago, but without the pushing to get to the stage). My last such show was The Mountain Goats, and I nearly burst into tears when the opening act pushed on past 11 pm. I wanted to get home and go to sleep.
But the reason I didn't see the Pixies was because I was never enough of a fan to know all the songs and lyrics, and shows aren't fun for me if I don't know the songs. That's why it's doubly wonderful, since I love poetry about twice as much as I love music, to go to a poetry reading where I know the poet's work very well. I get rapturous. This week I downloaded mp3s of James Schuyler reading -- a rare and gentle thing -- and downright wept for joy. They are available at Upenn Sound. (Thanks to blogger Laurable).
There are plenty of living poets I feel this way about, but with everyone reading so often in New York not only is it less imperative to go out and hear someone (hell, they'll be reading again next season, so what's the rush?) but without the raison d'etre of a new book to orient and prepare the listener, one ends up hearing a lot of "new work" whether it's ready or not -- and whether the listener is ready or not. I cannot possibly be the only one who feels that this is a problem. I can hardly be the only person who thinks that reading series more often than not serve the curator, not the poets, and that implicit debts are bought and paid by participating in various series both as performers and listeners.
I say this both as someone who has read a lot in NYC myself -- feeling ill-served by many of them, to tell you the truth -- and a person who constantly feels she has to apologize for missing so much (parenthood or no parenthood, I'm not upholding culture!), and a person who hates when non-literary people sneer at readings. Like I say, they can be rapturous events.
In fact, I am going to make a special trip to Chicago in May just to see a reading by one of my favorite poets. I've been a fan of Connie Deanovich's for 8 years and have never seen her read, so when I found out she is scheduled to do so at Columbia College, I vowed I would be there. This must be the first time I've bought a plane ticket to hear a poetry reading. But the rarity of the occasion gives it urgency, makes it special.