Two kinds of readings: a kind I call a “bento box” reading, and a kind I call “teaching a good class.”

In a BENTO BOX READING, each member of the audience is compartmentalized. The atmosphere is “quiet and respectful.” After the reading, somebody (maybe several people) might come forward and Gush All Up Your Face about how great it was—and it’s obvious those citizens had a swell experience. However, you looked right at them during the reading, and all you saw were Easter Island statues….

In a TEACHING-A-GOOD-CLASS READING, the barrier between audience members is down. Everyone knows everyone else is having a good time, and so the energy sorta swirls upward, and the reader can just hop on that shit and be lifted up like a bird riding a thermal. The exhilaration is palpable. The reader goes home, she doesn’t feel like she has ashes in her mouth….

Now what to do with this. Both readings “work”—but I think a lot of us should just go ahead and admit that bento box readings are no fun to give. We have to either develop a technology for rescuing what was going to be a Bento and make it into a Good Class, or have two entirely different sets of poems at the ready when we show up to the reading: one specifically designed to make a virtue out of any unfixable Bento situation.

• • •

—Wittgenstein says if a lion could speak, we wouldn’t understand him.
—What, not at all? My cat can’t even speak, and I understand her....
—Yeah, but don’t you get it? you only understand her insofar as she doesn’t speak. If she spoke, you wouldn’t understand.
—Well, but what if she said, clear as anything, “I want some milk”?
—Welllll…damn fool that you are, you’d probably get up and get her some milk, and she’d lap it up just to humor you, but you wouldn’t have understood.
—So…the one thing I can be sure of is she doesn’t want milk?
—No, she might want it, but her saying it has nothing to do with it.
—Wait, are you and I doing the exact same thing right now?? Saying things, but….
—No! you and I understand each other perfectly!
—I don’t understand a goddamn thing!!

[and so on]

• • •

There’s a verbal quirk I’m fascinated with, but it’s hard to explain it abstractly. I’ll just give you a concrete example.

QUESTION: Who has been on the earth longer: an old man—or an older man?

Don’t answer too quickly. Think: which is the more shocking statement: “My teenage daughter is dating an old man” or “My teenage daughter is dating an older man”—?

See? An “older” man is, like, forty; whereas, an old man is at least sixty-five. So apparently old is older than older. Taller is {more tall} than tall, but older is not {more old} than old. Which makes no sense—except it does.

It’s exactly this kind of thing that makes me worry about what’s going to happen in the year 5000 when those nine-dimensional beings made of chrome are trying to translate documents out of our language into their own spangawazmic gibberish. They won’t understand us even when they understand us!

• • •

Every poet should keep a list of favorite anti-poetry quotes. Here are two from my voluminous cache:

V.S. NAIPAUL: “I used to be very humble about poetry, I felt that because my background had been deficient there was something there that I didn’t, couldn’t, understand. Now I feel that most people called poets are tiny people, with tiny thoughts….”

H.L. MENCKEN: “The old-time poet did not bother with theories. When the urge to write was upon him, he simply got himself into a lather, tied a towel around his head, and then tried to reduce his feelings to paper. If he had any skill the result was poetry; if he lacked skill it was nonsense. But even his worst failure still had something natural and excusable about it—it was the failure of a man admittedly somewhat feverish, with purple paint on his nose and vine-leaves in his hair. The failure of the new poet is the far more grotesque failure of a scientist who turns out to be a quack—of a mathematician who divides 20 by 4 and gets 6, of a cook who tries to make an omelette of china doorknobs.”

• • •

To glamour people.—When you glamour somebody, what you’re doing is making them get off on being submissive around you. They have to think it’s Such a Big Deal they’re even sitting at a table with you. They have to strain to please—and love it.

I don’t know if the language of “bottoms” and “tops” is still current in Sexland, but if not, it’s too bad, ’cuz it’s a very elegant way of formulating what it is to glamour somebody: You bring out the “bottom” in them.

Unfortunately—and this is very important for all egotists to consider—bringing out the bottom in people is not at all the same thing as bringing out the best.

Simply look at your own experience of being bottomed. You loved it, to be sure, but look what a little idiot you had to pretend to be….

Originally Published: April 24th, 2013

Poet Anthony Madrid is the author of the chapbook The 580 Strophes (2009) and the full-length collection I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say (2012). He has written in forms such as the ghazal and rhyming quatrain, bringing a contemporary, associative, and surreal sensibility to received forms. A PhD...