Open Mic Blues

I was reminded last night, sadly, why I should avoid the April Poetry Month Open Mic event—at least the most local one—which I generally forget, from year to year, how generally disappointing I find it.

Twenty-one poets signed up to read, so individual reading time was limited and, frankly, in all but about 4 or 5 cases this was a blessing. Not that their hearts weren’t in the right places, but I found most of the work tiresome at best, and downright squirm-in-your-seat annoying far too often. Much of the work was predictable and uninspiring, at least to my taste. The authors may have been inspired when they wrote it, but the product itself didn’t spark much excitement in this listener.

Because it was a generally older crowd, there was a prevalence of “antique” subject matter and overly rigid construction, specifically rhymed iambic tetrameter quatrains such as:
We sat and sat and watched the snow.
Upon the ground it grew so deep.
The windows shook, the wind did blow
And all that night we did not sleep.
You get the idea. Twenty five or thirty verses, each more soporific than the last, with no real narrative beyond telling you that the weather was fierce, but the old farmers were resilient and, come morning, ready to marvel at the glistening pastures and to shovel the sparkling snow.

Just once, I wanted the snow to merely be on the ground as opposed to be lain upon it; just once, I wanted leaves to be green instead of verdant, for the sky to be blue instead of being an endless expanse of azure (or, if we have to be told it’s blue at all, at least be told that it’s something other than robin’s-egg blue).

Don’t get me wrong. I know there’s a place for this kind of cliché mongering, but it’s just not for me. Anytime somebody refers to writing poetry as their “hobby” or they tell me that they do it as a form of therapy, I want to run away, covering my ears until I’m out of earshot altogether. Hobbyworks and therapy sessions, I think, are generally not for public consumption. Buy a journal and have at it, but stay home.


On the brighter side, there were a few poets I could have sat and listened to forever. One of these—one of my favorites—was Martha Zweig, who, in my opinion, is one of the finest local poets (or finest poets anywhere) to have read all evening. I spotted her having a bite in the restaurant next to the bookstore where the event took place, and knew immediately that I had at least one reader I could look forward to. Her poetry is so good it could rip your head off. Hearing it makes you want to jump up afterward and say, “Wait a minute! Let me see that page! How in the hell did you do that?”

And there was this other guy—I asked his name twice, and should have written it down, my memory these days is sievish—who read a poem about wanting a woman who was like neon. Neon. Not the American Gladiator amazon Neon, or the lightbulb, but the gas. Great stuff. You had to be there.

In general, I’m glad I was there, but mostly because of the neon guy, and Martha, and only a couple others—including a poet I met in the bar before the reading, sporting an apparently new, small, heart tattoo on her high cheekbone beside her left eye.

I shudder to think what they thought of me.

I’m planning on attending the open mic in Capitol City at the end of the month. A different crowd altogether…I hope.

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