Woke up bright and early today (with coaxing from Bernard who has been keeping me on point with getting up for things) and headed down for work shopping. We all ate breakfast first (I had some very old crunchy biscuits with gravy). We stayed in the lobby and critiqued one another’s works, which we had printed out. Crystal came after the first critique, and had a Facebook poem that was really novel, something I’ve never seen done before. The strangest part about the critique was when it was Frank’s turn, because I refuse to back down from anything this tour, but critiquing my own former professor/mentor was a strange thing. Not uncomfortable, just interesting. The poem I had critiqued was the Mulatto Robotto.
We got on the road then and drove toward Marshall University in West Virginia. It was a relatively short drive, just about an hour. We went into a comic book place, then ate at a Chinese food place that was decent. Crystal came with her two kids and after we were done eating, we went to Marshall.
Marshall was by far the smallest crowd of any place we went just a handful. We were in the basement, and there were no flairs anywhere, and all kinds of other things gone awry, but I won’t focus on any of that. We were all exhausted anyway. I was interviewed for a student media thing, and I think it went fairly well. We answered questions at the end, Ricardo arrested the attention of a small group of students, and eventually we were able to pull ourselves out of there so we could get on the next leg of our trip, which was to get to a place called The Rudyard Kipling in Louisville where Mitch was reading to promote his new book.
On the road. It was awesome to listen to and speak with Bernard and Frank. Frank was his own name sake today, because he was up front and honest the entire way. This isn’t really unusual, but he was very forthcoming with critique and general observations which was all really helpful and enlightening. I mean, I learned a ton of things, not just about poetry, so many things and so valuable that I am afraid (almost certain) I will forget much of it. Haha.
Bernard and I reflected a little about how fewer people came and spoke with us after we read at any place, and Frank critiqued our presentation abilities. I think I’m fairly good at taking critique, but this one was particularly easy to take because he was so honest and non-judgmental about it that it just seemed obvious. I won’t go into all the details (not because I am ashamed, but because there were a LOT of details. Haha) but some of the things he mentioned were that I read all my poems exactly the same (which is true), that I seem to think my work should stand on its own and therefore might not necessarily devote enough energy, or the right kind of energy, into my reading (which is true), and that I need to know how to read and work a crowd.
Also, I don’t know what the top 5 pieces I have are, and that’s a hindrance for me, and I see this now. I’ve never had to ‘work’ a crowd before; in Kentucky I just read all my new pieces with no real concern over presentation or cohesion because I am testing the waters and getting used to being in front of a crowd. But here, on this tour, I can tell that even when a crowd is digging what I’m putting down, that it’s on a lesser level than Frank or Bianca. I mean, our material is different and there will always be varying qualities of the material itself, but there is clearly something gained from knowing the audience, knowing what poems you can pull out to regain their attention, and reading what they may like to begin with, as well as mixing up the poems so that they don’t get nothing but race poems like I’ve been doing pretty heavily.
I think a part of my problem on this tour was my mindset which was as much about having the other poets hear the variety in my work, or the strength of my political pieces (Which I think are tighter or more finished than many of my other pieces) as with the audience. A rookie mistake, and one I never need to make again, for sure, but now that I’m surrounded by veterans I felt the need for a validation I don’t often get in Northern Kentucky. We have some poets, but I don’t get to spend much time with them.
We arrived at The Rudyard Kipling, which was a very shwanky (as Bernard would say) restaurant and poetry house. Apparently it’s booked for an entire year it’s so popular with readers. We stood at the doorway (Bernard, Frank, and I. Ricardo and Bianca were in another car which had made a couple of stops along the way). When Mitch finally looked up, the look on his face was hilarious, and he stopped a moment to explain who we were before moving on with his poetry. I bought his book and had him sign it afterward, and Frank’s wife took him home, while Ricardo drove back to Georgetown and Bianca went back with her husband Hendrick. Oh. I had a sausage pizza which was the size of a Totino’s party pizza and was delicious as hell. So delicious, in fact, that it coming super late because they ran out of cheese and didn’t even tell me what the holdup was? Forgiven.
Frank left us the car keys, so we did donuts in parking lots and taunted cops into high-speed chases. That, or Bernard called his girlfriend who found us a hotel about 15 minutes away at a super nice hotel. It’s got the biggest TV I’ve ever seen in a hotel room, a big open space, and modern furniture. I’m sleeping on the couch, but it’s a huge couch. Haha.
I have a lot to reflect upon. I learned more on this trip about what it is college should have prepared me for than college did, and more this day than any other. I even asked Frank his opinion about going to school far away, and he said that after this fall, I will have learned all he can teach me. And strangely, I think he’s right, because at that point, I’ll know everything, it’s just a matter of practicing it. I’m tired. But I also have two writing prompts to write.
Who knows what we’ll do tomorrow, Bernard and me. We shall see.