Friday, April 19, 2013
BPR LIT TRIP 19 with David Kirby
More prose than poetry, “The Poetry Reading” by David Kirby is like a Spaulding Gray or Garrison Keillor monologue. The Steiny Road Poet chooses this twenty-quatrain poem with deeply indented second and fourth lines as her 19th Lit Trip through the Birmingham Poetry Review volume 40 because it gets to the bottomless pit about why poetry in America is a hard sell.
.......... and there they are, your audience.
And who are they? Well, there’s the girl who isn’t scowling,
..........exactly, doesn’t appear unhappy—
she’s in Intro to Poetry, after all, has read Frost, Williams,
..........even a little Hart Crane, so she knows what
to expect, kind of—so let’s just say she concerned, worried
..........you’ll do something not even Hart Crane did,
and she won’t get it. …
So, Kirby is in front of a college audience to give a reading of his work and he is watching audience members fret, interpret, squirm, and rudely get up and leave …but then come back because they left something behind. Meanwhile his host is also suspect as a poetry un-appreciator who is reacting with forced laughs and sad faces depending on the poem read. The Steiny Poet is most concerned about the girl who isn’t scowling in the quotation above. She is the one worried that she won’t get the poem being delivered. While she is trying to understand, her worry is palpable to the poet who can feel that anxiety and this worry transfers to another couple of students where a male student seems to translating like some interpreter at the UN to his girl friend something as simple as Kirby’s words of thanks. Of this couple, Kirby writes that the intensity of the translation is such that if the boyfriend fails to make what Kirby is saying understood then there will be war.
What redeems the occasion are five young men who stay and ask questions, saying they have formed a club, which Kirby thinks might be called the Dead Poets Society. Also there is a girl in a tight sweater who beams at the poet, which sends Kirby as narrator into a riff on whom else the girl beams at and how her beaming is contagious since it spreads to his host, the host who has finally remembered where his check is for having done this now decidedly worthwhile reading.
Generally, this is the story of what happens in this narrative, unrhymed poem that uses repetition as comic insistence as well as a modicum of cliché (Dead Poets Society and that girl in the tight sweater who seems to hit on him). If one were to read only the lines that are flush left with the margin and then read all the indented lines, one would still get a pretty good idea about what’s happening and have a good time with this poem.
While the narrator might not be its author David Kirby, the Steiny Poet would be hard pressed to think Kirby hasn’t had the experience described in this poem. As in the review of Carrie Jerrell’s poem “Before Being Euthanized, Barbaro Speaks to His Trainer” (BPR Lit Trip 6), the question arises in Kirby’s poem (i.e. the girl who is afraid she won’t understand the poetry she is hearing) about how much tolerance audience members have for challenging poetry. The irony with Kirby’s “The Poetry Reading” is this is a poem extremely easy to understand, a poem that goes over well as an ice-breaker at a poetry reading.