I enjoyed Katha Pollitt’s memoir of Elizabeth Bishop very much [“Miss Bishop Says So,” July/August 2009], at least until I reached its final two paragraphs. Pollitt writes:
whatever way a poet reads his or her own work is fine, is, in fact, perfect, because the way they read is part of their sensibility, their own personal expression of their poem . . . however I perform is all right, I tell myself, because I am the writer reading my own work.
As someone who has run a poetry reading series for the past ten years, I can state most assuredly that Pollitt is wrong. I have watched countless poets—deeply talented, even brilliant poets—utterly wreck their readings and bore the audience nearly to tears by committing the most obvious errors in public speaking: mumbling, stammering, never looking up from the page, losing their places, apologizing, shuffling endlessly through their papers. The fact that the poet wrote the poems does not necessarily mean that the poet is capable of a competent oral presentation of them.
All poets planning to give public readings should, at the very least, complete Public Speaking 101 or its equivalent at their local community college. It would save countless audiences from painfully awful presentations which are less interesting to listen to than a dial tone.
silver spring, maryland