Sunday, May 2, 2021

Tips for a Successful Reading: Stockbridge Library Reading

 On April 28, 2021, Stockbridge Library featured Karren Alenier in a solo program that included interview, 30-minute reading and a Q&A.



The interview included questions about current themes—she said she was writing about breakables, everything from a plaster ceiling falling to the mental health of Marilyn Monroe; the influence of the pandemic on your themes—love and loss were already themes Karren had been writing about but it made her stop and think about her great grandfather who died during the 1918 pandemic; and poetic process—she described writing right out of sleep into her daily journal the poetic letters to her great grandfather, which are published in her new book how we hold on.


Poets rarely get 30 minutes to read. The assumption is that the audience better tolerates half that time. So longer readings need to be carefully planned and practiced. Karren’s rules for a successful reading includes picking a poem to start that is fairly short and memorable either for its sonority or levity. “the funny guy and his origins” has a fair amount of rhyme and dark humor. Introducing the poems helps orient the listener to the reader’s voice and gives breathing space around the poems. Karren read ten poems, making sure to include only one long poem and that opening and closing poems were on the short side. Pacing is also important. Rushing through poems shows nervousness and hints that the reader might not have practiced enough or that the poet chose too many poems for the allotted amount of time.


After the reading, it’s helpful to find out from attending friends if they thought the reading was rushed or whether it dragged. Additionally, it’s good to know what poems stood out in the listener’s memory. That can help with planning the next reading.


Many questions were asked after Karren finished the reading. The one that stands out is how does the poet decide to use a form. Karren read a villanelle entitled “all America girl,” which deals with a cousin who was dying and who told her son she didn’t want to be buried or cremated. Karren said she picks a form when the subject is hard to handle and can benefit from some limitations. In the villanelle, there are a set number of stanzas and a fixed pattern of repetition and rhyme. The form concentrates how many details can be told.


Part of the success of any reading is the audience. Karren managed to attract over 20 people to this afternoon reading done in the Eastern time zone. She was thrilled to have three European-based friends attend. They came from Paris, Berlin and Athens. Moreover, the hosts for this reading John Gillespie and Wendy Pearson were located in Massachusettes, while Karren was located in the Washington, DC area. Other friends and colleagues attending were hearing this program from their locations in New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Florida, Texas and Karren’s tri-state area known as the DMV. Of course this was a virtual reading done on Zoom. While it was disappointing that the recording of this event failed to render properly, the good news is that Karren has a 30-minute reading at the ready should another opportunity like this arise.