Reading with Will Alexander at the Poetry Project recently was a fabulous experience. One of the layers I walked away with was his between-poem chatter-as-parable. I'm more from the camp of letting the work explain what it has to, so I almost never say a word between each piece—the entire reading being one performance—the weave of narrative / abstract / performative / traditional being enough of a dynamic filter for me to let the work speak for itself. But that's also a cop-out, I'm not the best storyteller in the traditional Hemmingway sense, my stories find themselves in the lines, stanzas, and liminal rhythm of the poems. I get hung up on arc / structure / sentence, so I make sure my comfort zone doesn't get infringed when I don't have to actually 'speak' at a reading. I'm exaggerating a bit, I'm not a robot and do 'talk' to the audience every now and then, but it's just a signpost along the way.

When I do come across the 5-10% of poets who know how to illuminate their poems at a reading, without getting in their own way...I'm grateful to have been a witness. Creeley was an amazing between-poem talker, and Will's mantle, functioning as sage-storyteller...showed me another side to the fine art of settling into your work. I felt it was a master class in astral projection, in accepting density as lineage. The operative parable for me, how poetry is a difficult art form to listen to, maybe related to his particular work and its wealth of trajectories...(the word-scapes in his new book, The Sri Lankan Loxodrome, the seepage that drenches the poet during the poem's genesis, is incredibly rich)...but I imagine he meant poetry in general. 

And so he says, his solution at a reading is to contain the work. To frame/re-frame its context without giving it away. To sort of create a buffer between the intensity of the work by talking about the one plane of reality, before diving into the next.  Aware of each plane equally, the challenging one, shifting...depending on alignment.

 And I realized that's something I attempt when I spend hours preparing for a reading, choosing the trajectory within my time slot, the vibration of material being the dynamic that drives the reading. But a speaker in touch with his many hemispheres can perform that sort of delicate dance without losing focus. I felt he was determined to impart on us a deeper, fluid note beneath his tone. His drive, mesmerizing, as poem gave way to filter.

 But maybe this cushioning relates to a more mystical writing, one that knows body as vehicle more than witness. Anyway, just a thought about getting lost in preparation when the work tells you what you need...and when the need speaks louder.

Originally Published: November 6th, 2009

A self-proclaimed “lingualisualist” rooted in the languages of sight and sound, Edwin Torres was born in the Bronx and is a longtime resident of New York City. He is a poet whose highly acclaimed performances and live shows combine vocal and physical improvisation and theater. He is the author of...

  1. November 7, 2009
     Jessie Carty

    Interesting post. I need to pick poems for two readings next week and I always try to way how much to "say" versus just reading the poems themselves. Now I have some more to think about it putting together my presentation :)

  2. November 9, 2009

    David Shapiro is excellent between poems. I don't think he so much contextualizes as explodes. You can't tell what's a poem and what's banter, but it isn't a disservice to the poems to say this!

  3. November 16, 2009

    I was there and just wanted to say I enjoyed both readings very much! It's a pleasure to hear two poets whose work is so different and yet quite complementary, each doing his own thing...