12 February 2006

I read for free: what a mook I am

My weeks are getting full again.

Wednesday night I read as part of the Draft reading series, out in the east end. The venue, I think it's called the Actors' Play Studio, is fantastic. Had a very New Yorky feel to it. Couches and chairs forming a semi-circle around the "stage" -- well, not a stage at all, just a cleared space with a mic. A clothesline strung behind the reader holding about a dozen hats; the reader is to choose one and wear it for the reading. I declined, claiming that I have had head lice since Grade 1, when I kissed a girl in school who had head lice.

Anyway, six of us were reading. Will I say what needs to be said? Daniel Bradley would. I don't know that I can. Let's just say it was a bit of a mixed bag, quality-wise. But there was a huge audience, 40 or 50 people. They all paid $5 to get in, and they received a copy of a small zine called Draft, containing a page or two by each of the writers. They were a really attentive, expressive audience, too, and it was a pleasure to read for them. I knew very few of them.

Well, my reading went over very, very well. Which was nice, because I deliberately read some very difficult, not easily accessible poems, and I read them in a sort of subdued tone (to provide contrast with the spoken-worder before me). But my reading didn't sell a single book. I mean, two of my books on the book table sold before I read, and then one sold after (though after I inscribed it, the guy realized he was broke and has promised to send me the money; might be a long wait). But to get such a good response from such a large group and to sell almost nothing: it was disappointing.

Also, I assumed that because there was a $5 admission charge, the writers would be paid. We each got too booze tickets and a copy of draft, and a coupon for something called Feldenkrais, which sounds like a guy my grandfather played pinochle with. Kevin heard an explanation of it and thought it sounded like masturbation. But look: they took it $200 to $250 and we read for free. I'm sure the organizers didn't take a cent, but the money must have gone to the venue. Wouldn't it be better to get a free venue, somewhere that would appreciate having a roomful of people, and be able to give the writers a little bit of money?

My rule is to not read for free at an event that charges admission (unless it's a fundraiser). That's why I wouldn't read at the Pontiac Quarterly, even though it's supposed to be a great series. I've got to be more vigilant about my rule, though. I mean, am I supposed to be *grateful* that I've been given the opportunity to read? Did I read to support a venue?

Thursday night I dropped by Toronto Wordstage at Cervejeria. Gawd, musta been a hundred people out for this series! I didn't catch much of the first reading, a slot reserved for a young, emerging writer, but it was a girl reading the kind of very saucy, confident poetry that often gets written at 22 by people unlike me. Next up was Steve Venright, who gave a pretty unusual reading: not his best, but fascinating and quirky, and imbued with surrealism. His novel-in-progress was hilarious: deeply surreal but also deliberately bad at times. Went over very well.

Ronna Bloom gave a good reading and got through to the audience on a more emotional level. It was good to see and hear her.

And then David Gilmour took the stage and read from his first novel, as opposed to his most recent. Said he didn't want to bum people out. He's recently won a bunch of prizes for A Perfect Night To Go To China, which I think is a brilliant book, destined to be a classic. Gilmour took on the persona of the great artist imparting his wisdom on Thursday night, and if he weren't a great artist, it would have been disgusting. Very entertaining, educational Q&A after his reading. I was also relieved to hear him admit he is ashamed of his novel An Affair With The Moon; says the editor said it didn't need any work and it got published pretty much as it was submitted. The book is horrible, and I'd always wondered how such a good writer could stand behind something like that. But he doesn't.

At Toronto Wordstage, which has no admission price, a hat is passed and the money goes to the writers.

That's more like it.

Over and out.


At February 12, 2006 1:57 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

soooooooooooooooooooooooooo agree with you here stu. poets won't get any respect until they start charging, but how can they charge when the masses don't value poetry? about time someone goaded oprah into a poetry book of the month club. if all poets demanded a poet union scale, would poetry simply disappear, or would the true patrons of poetry step up and foot the bill until the masses catch up with the magik uv th werd n ear? hear here! more respect for the poet and less respect for the space!! rage on stu.


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