Hi, My Name is Kelli & I'm Here To Read...

So I've been doing a lot of readings lately because of my book and I'm realizing I am still learning how to present these new poetry children to the world.

What I mean is, when I begin reading sometimes I'm not sure what I need to say to before I begin.  Sometimes I feel I'm shoving the poem into the room when I should really be holding its hand.  Sometimes I've made such a big dramatic entrance for the poem and then the poem walks in with its hands in its pocket and its head down, sulking.

I get it right occasionally, but there have been mistakes.

I am a new mom stumbling around, not sure if I've dressed my baby for the weather.  Shoot, she's without socks again!

I'm still learning with these poems.  I'm learning how to make them better for the audience, to put on their socks, but leave off their overcoat indoors.

Listening to a poem is so much different than sitting with the poems in your lap.  When you own a book, you can return to a poem again and again. I love that about books. But at a reading, we are in the air and we must find a place to begin together.  I don't just want to start off reading without helping the audience get to that grounded place.  I want them to have just enough information so the poem makes sense.

And because I feel the book is its own conversation, its own larger letter, I've found that taking out one poem on its own and reading it is like holding a peacock feather-- it's lovely, but the feather is so much a part of something and you can see even more of its beauty when you see the bird strutting its tail feathers.

I never felt that about my first book.  My first book felt very much like a table of appetizers, have one thing or sample a bit throughout.  It didn't matter.  Those poems didn't seem to get much power (or lose much power) whether read together or not.  I'm surprised to find that these new poems are a little bit stronger when read from front to back, in the way I ordered them and to read all together.

So when I give a reading, I'm struggling a bit with what to read and where to begin.  I am learning all over again, wearing my poems in a Baby Bjorn and heading to the podium.  They are teething.  They are crying. They are trying to walk on their own.  But I'm still not the confident mother yet, so I stick a pacifier in their mouth until I'm ready.

I'm trying, in that new mom place observing them, seeing who plays well with who.

I don't think I know yet.  But I'm learning and thankful for warm, easy audiences who allow me to trip over their toys on floor, who allow me to show the baby photo of even my most ugliest duckling as she too, may go on to be a swan.



  1. Your charming account of the dilemma of reading aloud will help us all handle it, too. Thank you.

    I'm very interested in that poem-that-stands-alone vs poem-in-a-context issue. Seems to relate to Susan Rich's narrative arc answer in the Poet Mom interview, too. Whether its a narrative or a context, the poem is a little different in a set.

    And reading aloud/hearing the poem, as you say, sets up its own quandary. I love it when the poet gives a little context for hearing the poem, which also provides a break between poems, allowing each to sink in a bit. A wee bit of silence helps, too--just a wee bit, as often the host is hoping poets don't go over time!

  2. It always seems like by the time you decide the best order to read in, you are then ready to move on to the next project!

  3. I also think the audience is a keen animal that can sense hesitation and lack of confidence or enthusiasm. So it can be helpful to think of yourself as one of the most important members of your audience. There might not be a "right" order to do things for every reading; it can change from place to place.

    I have a feeling that if you are able to keep yourself interested and excited (which may mean different approaches at different readings), then it is bound to shine through for the rest of the crowd, even if it's only on a subconscious level.

  4. Kelli, what a great metaphor this post is. I think you should consider sending it out as an essay to places where poets will find it and take heed.

  5. Kelli,
    I disagree that Small Knots was not stronger read together. After I read it in a single sitting, the logic and reinforcement of the pieces lent a strength to the mss that a fragmented or individual effort could not provide.
    Paul David

  6. Lovely post, great extended metaphor.


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