Some Thoughts On Poetry Readings: Part Three (Legendary Gigs)
I was there at the Six Gallery in San Francisco where Allen Ginsberg read Howl for the first time. (I suggested the venue.)
And I was there at that baseball stadium in Minneapolis where T.S. Eliot spoke before a crowd of 14,000 strong – or so the pundits who still dream of a general audience for poetry like to remind us. (Eliot came on stage late, to ensure a riled-up crowd, a showman’s trick I suggested, a trick later mastered by Led Zeppelin.)
And I was there at the Margaret Atwood reading where Irving Layton fell asleep. (He didn’t really fall asleep; he reportedly yelled at Atwood, “Your reading is so boring it’s putting me to sleep!” I write “reportedly” because I was the one asleep; that’s me on the recordings, not Layton, snoring through the tape hiss, the bootlegged room tone.)
I was there.
I was not there when Bob Dylan went electric at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. (As a result of not being there, I didn’t get to hear first-hand the folk purist in the audience, who, feeling betrayed by Dylan's aesthetic shift, famously cried, “Judas!”)
But I was there when Robert Lowell went confessional (I cried, “Satan!”, cleverly evoking his Miltonic stuff) and I was there when Adrienne Rich went free verse (I cried, “‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers!’”, hoping she would read her early stuff).
And I was there in 1911 when Pound presented some of his poetry to an audience of one - Ford Madox Hueffer - causing the audience to roll on the floor in mock dismay, a roll, Pound later claimed, saved him three years of artistic development. (I suggested the roll.)
So which famous – or maybe not so famous – poetry readings do you wish you had attended? And what advice would you have offered the reader(s)?
(This post is dedicated to, and after a song by, LCD Soundsystem.)
Jason Guriel is a poet and critic whose work has appeared in such influential publications as Poetry, Slate, Reader's Digest, The Walrus, Parnassus, Canadian Notes & Queries, The New Criterion, and PN Review. His poetry has been anthologized in The Best Canadian Poetry in English, and in 2007, he was...