Here’s a small heartbreak of mine: too many people, at least in America, are turned off by poetry. We practicing poets are sadly aware that, when we step up to a mic, when we publish our poems in magazines, anthologies, or self-authored books, our audience comprises mostly other poets.
I can’t say I blame the poetry naysayers for, well, naysaying. Many a child’s natural love of poetry is killed off in a high-school English class, and—yikes, I can’t be the only poet who thinks this—poetry readings aren’t fun. Enriching? Sure. Engaging? Sometimes. Inspiring? Occasionally. Fun? Nope.
To play this poetry-biz game with resilient agency, I had to admit and accept this: poetry isn’t relevant in most people’s lives. And if I don’t think a poetry reading is a good time out, why would a nonpoet? And why would a nonpoet consume poems-on-the-page if they don’t connect with poems-from-the-stage?
Uneasy with this fact—and with my complaint about this fact—I knew I had to be, as the saying goes, part of the solution lest I remain part of the problem. How, then, do I turn folks back on to poetry? Because I can’t rewind time and teach their teen selves how to read poems for pleasurable gestures of music, image, and phrase, I figured I must hack their adult pleasure centers through positive association.
In April 2019, just in time for National Poetry Month, I started videotaping myself reading poems aloud while drinking beer in craft-brewery tasting rooms. I launched a YouTube series called MASH: Beer-&-Poem Pairings to—per my catchphrase—“make poetry hospitable for everyone.” Thanks to the boundless creativity of craft brewers, it’s pretty easy—and fun!—to find a poem that, language-wise, pairs with my chosen beer’s flavor components or quirky name. Despite the opportunity for deeper inquiry, my MASH videos do not include wonky descriptions of the poems or the beers. Instead, by design, each video is a low-key hit-and-run: Click the “play” arrow and three minutes later…A poem? Raise your glass! That wasn’t so bad!
A month later, May 2019, I launched a second video series, BARK & BARD: Poetry Readings for Dogs, in which I read to dogs a poem that pairs with their personality or name or breed. I’d been wondering, for quite a while, how to combine these two things I’m passionate about—dogs and poetry—and then I heard, like an oracle, Billy Collins say in a Masterclass ad on YouTube, “Dogs are very good to read poetry to; cats, not so much.” Again, click the “play” arrow and the poem does its good work on the ears (and heart and soul) of the viewer, transfixed by the dog’s unpredictable dog-ness. Some dogs need time or a tasty persuasion to settle down for a poetry reading, so I also have an Outtakes playlist!
Lastly, I launched a third video series, DISTILL: Spirit-&-Poem Pairings, for the rare occasions when I pair a poem and a cocktail featuring a craft spirit. When I post the DISTILL and MASH videos to my Facebook page, I thank the bartender by name and I tag the local craft establishment, feeling a kind of solidarity in our shared commitment to artistry and community. I always give the bartender a heads-up that I’ll be doing that, after explaining just what I’m up to, right before I go sit somewhere alone, prop up an iPhone tripod, and read a poem out loud. Rather than think I’m a dork, every bartender has been delighted by this project—“That’s cool!”—which makes me wonder if our poetry readings belong in craft breweries and distilleries. After each poet’s turn at the mic, we’ll clink our glasses and, instead of Salud!, we’ll shout Caesura! We’ll applaud, not politely, but rowdily. And the nonpoet patrons will wander over to find out just what fun they’ve been missing!
In celebration of National Poetry Month 2020, I’m offering a FREE webinar, “Poet as Witness of a Moment,” on two consecutive Sundays, April 5 & 12, including an open-mic session on Sunday, April 26, to share our work generated during the webinar. All three sessions will be held at this time: 6:30–8:30 PM (Eastern) / 5:30–7:30 PM (Central) / 4:30–6:30 PM (Mountain) / 3:30–5:30 PM (Pacific). For the webinar blurb and to register: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_tP1A8VolS4O3F4GzwAaFPg
Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? TrishHopkinson.com is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts.
Marj Hahne is a freelance editor and writing teacher, and a 2015 MFA graduate from the Rainier Writing Workshop, with a concentration in poetry. She has performed and taught at over 100 venues around the country, as well as been featured on public radio and television programs. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, anthologies, art exhibits, and dance performances.
YouTube channel: https://bit.ly/2LxHUG2