I love reading poems to people. I'm not sure if they love being read to, but I'm a poet, so I only consider my audience in the abstract. And in the abstract, my audience is really into my poems. Moreover, they're really into hearing my poems, into feeling those poems thrown over them like hot blankets straight from the dryer, into feeling those hot-blanket poems press down on them in a way that is both comforting and strangely sensual. My abstracted audience writhes under the wool and chenille of my phrasing. The listeners snuggle in, but maybe they sweat a little, too, and when, after several minutes of unexpected intonations and dramatic pauses at key moments, I rip the warm layers of artistry from them, they are shocked by the sudden rush of cold air and a mundane world subtly changed.
That's how it works in my head. So it's always a little strange to look up from the podium and see only a bunch of my politest friends gamely fulfilling their obligations, though perhaps wishing they had grabbed a few more brownie bites before sitting down in those hard folding chairs. That's if I'm lucky, of course; I've had a couple of readings where the audience consisted mainly of homeless men who would much rather have had a literal warm blanket, but were making the best of the situation and the tea crackers.
It doesn't really matter, though. I'm grateful to both my indulgent friends and the indigent, as well as those folks who actually set out to hear a stranger read poetry. I'm just happy to have faces out there looking up at me when I look up from the page. It's what I think about when I write the poems; it's why I write the poems.
My new book is just coming out, and in a few days, I'll be flying to New York City for a launch reading. It's the first of several readings I have booked or planned over the next six months. Some of them, I'm sure, will have audiences that could easily fit into a family sedan. Some, though, will have row upon row of folks ready to listen to me melodramatically intone my silly poems about horror movies and late-night commercials. Either way, I'm grateful. You let me do something I really love, and you let me think I'm good at it.
Enjoy the light refreshments, folks.