Monday, January 19, 2009

Of Kill Fees and Presidential Musicales

How many times is a poet paid to NOT sing for her supper? In fact, how often is it that a poet gets her dinner when she goes out to do a reading?

On January 18, 2009, this poet was invited to do a seven-minute reading at 3:30 pm in celebration of Gival Press’s new anthology Poetic Voices without Borders 2 in A Sunday Kind of Love poetry program at the 14th & V Street Busboys & Poets restaurant. What this meant to this poet was writing a new poem to present, selecting the poems that would be read, deciding the introductory remarks, practicing the reading several times, inviting friends and family to the reading, and getting myself to Busboys on time. All this cost me time and money and I had no expectation of getting anything except a copy or two of the new anthology as total payment.

My husband Jim Rich decided to go with me because he likes Busboys and so by some miracle we got there just before 3 pm (Jim wanted to have lunch ahead of the poetry reading). By miracle, I mean the roads leading downtown were packed with cars headed into the city for a pre-inaugural event. At Busboys, we headed straight back to the Langston Room and found one unoccupied table that we claimed. What we realized straight away was that president-elect Obama’s musicale was being broadcast live from HBO on the big screen in this room set aside for poetry in honor of Langston Hughes. The people assembled were vocally reacting to the performers and Barack Obama and his family.

About 15 minutes later, Melissa Tuckey, the current host of A Sunday Kind of Love, and her husband Dave appeared and we all started conferring about what a tough transition it was going to be when the HBO broadcast got turned off at 3:30 pm. Being first on a list of six poets, I said I would dedicate my first poem to Michele Obama.

Then the other poets started showing up Yvette Neisser, Patricia Gray, Joe Ross, and Sydney March. Only Christopher Conlon didn’t make the event since he had alerted me he might not, due to succumbing to a cold.

Last came Robert Giron and his partner Ken Schellenberg with a box of books.

When the assistant manager announced to the crowd that there would be a poetry reading starting a little late at 4 pm, the crowd voiced their disapproval. So he called the Busboy’s owner Andy Shallal and Andy said, “Go with the most popular program and offer the poets dinner on the house and a kill fee of $25.” So there you have it, in a room bearing a poet’s name, poets were paid off not to sing their lyrics.

Nonetheless, I went around to each table of folks and gave them literature from The Word Works and everyone apologized and took my poetry propaganda. Two tables of people were disappointed and said so. Pat Gray and I gave one table a private reading of one poem each. Seeing Obama did remind me that when Martin Luther King delivered his “I had a dream” speech at that very same memorial, my mother refused to let me attend. It also reminded me that having grown up in a family of six children, I don’t like crowds and what could be better than to see the musicale from the comfort of Busboys?

Next time I do a reading, I’m inviting Barack and Michelle.


JosephRoss said...

Very nice, Karren. It was a funny evening. I have to admit that "kill fee" is a new term for me. I'm not sure I care for it. Looking forward to seeing you again soon. Joseph Ross

Anonymous said...

Hello Karren, I am one of the ladies in the picture who was at Bus Boys and Poets that day. I thank you and all of the other poets who were so gracious in allowing the concert to go on. Peace and Blessings Cassandra (Mableton, GA)