I had a wonderful time in Richmond. The space was unexpectedly grand--a quiet sunken courtyard, surrounded by marble and classical landscapes, several hallways into the heart of the museum. I'd chose the types of poems one would read in a bar, expecting the blues band would be within earshot, and so I had to do a quick reshuffling of my set list. The ode to ass-slapping no longer felt apropos.
Kazim Ali once claimed, at the beginning of a reading, that the pleasure of having books in print was that you could read the pages straight through; you'd already gone to the trouble of perfecting an organic order. I disagree. I consider different things when reading aloud. Sometimes you need to sink the hook with a short, funny poem. Sometimes you have to skip a poem rife with visual puns or wordplay.
The audience was attentive (almost to the point of being stone-faced, though a few much-welcome bursts of laughter assured me the poems were finding their mark). Some folks stayed for both the 6:30 PM and 7 PM sets--that's a lot of poetry!--and I sold a few books. One man touched me by bringing copies of poems he had found on the Internet, in hopes he could follow along. I had two requests. Afterwards I was treated to a lovely dinner at Can Can by one of the hosts, her husband, and an editor of Blackbird, a Richmond/VCU-) based journal that has been incredibly good to me. I'm usually wary of French restaurants, but they did a great job. Scallops with diced squash, bacon, Brussels sprouts and currants; perfectly rare salmon over kale and tomatoes, in a cider broth. A little lit gossip, a lot of laughter.
It felt like a lucky gig, even if it was a day that included six hours of driving, in the icy rain, even if the radio stations between Amherst and Richmond are of no use, even if it was all for the honorarium of....a water bottle (minus the cost of parking). This is an important part of why I'm a poet: nights like this.
I particularly like the excerpt from Nick Flynn's The Ticking Is the Bomb that is the current top feature at the Poetry Out Loud blog; it makes me want to read the book. Go check it out.