literary gatherings: a schmoozer's guide
The literati are like aliens. Some are cute. Some are hostile. All talk funny, and all require diplomatic outreach. (Daniel Nester recently described this phenomenon in his riotous, depressing takedown of the New York poetry scene, "Goodbye to All Them.")
I here present the strategies I have observed and developed at literary gatherings, in hopes that you, reader, will not someday find yourself lying on a couch in a grungily chic neighborhood of San Francisco at 4 a.m., claiming, along with a bald, 13-year-old Norwegian you've just met, to be a Macarthur Fellow.
1. Describe a poet as "entirely disreputable." Utter the judgment with sorrowful certainty. Utter it knowing full well that your interlocutor adores this poet. Observe her grow dubious—is anyone "entirely disreputable"?—and then uncomfortable—what does it mean for her to adore an entirely disreputable poet?—and then tragically determined—she understands her mission will be restoring faith in aforementioned disreputable poet. Express your solidarity with her cause. Then get her number.
2. Demand whether something even EXISTS anymore. This trick works equally well for concepts (i.e., patriotism) and objects (i.e., peanuts).
3. Variation: Demand whether something—patriotism or peanuts would be appropriate here—isn’t just BEGINNING, whether what we’ve seen thus far isn’t just the PROTOTYPE of what we THINK we’ve been seeing.
4. Clarify that you’re totally ignorant of something. Just make sure it’s nothing important. Declare your ignorance in a confident manner, so as to seem rakish.
5. Shock and allure interlocutor from (1) by quoting an entire sonnet from the supposedly disreputable poet. Quote it really loudly, so that the entire party pauses to observe you.
6. Err in your quotation. Err in an embarrassing yet metrically impeccable fashion. This will disorient your audience such that no one will dare correct you. Consider replacing two consecutive syllables with "pizza" (“My heart leaps up when I behold / A pizza in the sky”), four consecutive syllables with "hurdy-gurdy" ("I think that I shall never see / A hurdy-gurdy, or a tree"), etc.
7. At some point in the recitation—a point no sane person would consider touching—start weeping. Be sure interlocutor from (1) is standing nearby so she can comfort you if she is so inclined.
8. Exit, very slowly. Continue weeping for the duration of your exit, even if you must utter uncharacteristically banal comments ("Is it still raining?").
9. Leave an ethereal reminder of your presence. A skull will do.
Abigail Deutsch, the winner of Poetry magazine's 2010 Editors Prize for Reviewing, lives in New York. Her criticism appears in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Village Voice, n+1, Bookforum, and other publications.