Asheville Wordfest – a reflection and a video

Asheville Wordfest – Reading at The Altamont Theatre, May 4, 2012

It was truly an honor to be invited to read a few poems at this year’s Asheville Wordfest. When I received the invitation I thought it was a mistake. So, I direct messaged the director using Twitter saying: “my twitter acct is wonky today. i received something from you re: wordfest… how can i help?” Previously, I had helped with audio during a previous Wordfest featuring the poet Li-young Lee. She direct messaged me on Twitter with a note of confirmation. So, I began selecting poems for the event.

Since I haven’t read my poetry publicly in more than a year, I was a bit anxious about the invitation to read at this year’s Wordfest. Last year was a busy year of readings at bookstores, [1] a literary salon, [2] and a featured guest at the Mountain Xpress poetry show. [3] Then employment for me became tricky and I endured the challenges of a transition to a new job, lay off, unemployment, and another job transition with a three-hour round trip commute. I kept writing new poems, but the new out-of-state job prevented me from participating in the active literary scene here in Asheville.

There were more than a hundred new poems I wrote last year to consider for the Asheville Wordfest poetry reading. I selected four or five new poems, but I didn’t feel confident enough in their craftsmanship to read publicly. One manuscript I have been developing for awhile had the strongest work that best fit this year’s Wordfest theme, “HOME: Place and Planet.” I started it when I took a writing workshop taught by Ashveille Wordfest Director, Laura Hope-Gill, a few years ago.

Two practices help me decide what poems to read. First, it is my practice to put a poetry manuscript in a presentation book with sheet protectors. That way pages don’t fall to the floor during a reading. You can usually purchase presentation books of that nature at office supply stores. I select a variety of poems on various subjects or themes. Further, it is my practice at an actual poetry reading featuring multiple poets to listen closely to the other poets. While the reading takes place, I select poems that speak to other poets’ work as a way to have a literary conversation. So, I brought four working manuscripts hoping that I might find a poem that might play off a poem read by Ronald Reginald King, DeWayne Barton, and Katherine Soniat.

As I walked to the podium after a very generous introduction by Laura Hope-Gill, I still hadn’t decided what poem would complete my reading. I knew the poem I would lead off with and I knew the one to follow, but the third and final poems I hadn’t quite decided. Improvisation is something I am developing in public readings, because each night the audience is different, with individual needs, interests and mood. A bar room poem might work in one setting and audience, but not work another night with a different audience. So, after I clumsily introduced myself, I knew by the time I finished reading the second poem where the narrative of the poem selection would lead. For better or worse, the reading was videocast and a recording is available. Here’s a link to the video [link here].

When I sat down next to my wife after completing my reading, I noticed a couple mentions on Twitter regarding the live videocast. One person [4] tweeted, “Goosebumps: poem dedicated to Jenny.”

NOTES: [1] As a member of the Rooftop Poets, I read with Barbara Gravelle and Brian Sneeden at Accent on Books in February. Barbara Gravelle and I read at the May 2011 Poetrio at Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café. That was my last public reading until last Friday night, May 4, 2012. [2] After a very successful book launch and poetry event, the Rooftop Poets presented Poet’s on the Roof: A Literary Salon. [3] The Mountain Xpress invited Brian Sneeden and myself to read on behalf of the Rooftop poets as featured poets at the 2011 Mountain Xpress Poetry Show [4] @anorawrites