Against the Open Mic

Today I’ve given up attempting to read at poetry open mics. I attended the quarterly open mic held at the Cleveland Public Library and thought it was going to be great, no familiar faces, lots of first timers – hesitant, unpolished, earnest. Thus, I tweeted.

Why good? Because the Cleveland poetry scene is filled with old men writing shit poetry. Old men writing shit poetry and telling each other it reads like roses. The only thing more annoying than an egotistical poet is an egotistical poet who writes crap. In Cleveland, this has been going on for so many years – with poet heads are so far up their poet navels – that these guys feel entitled to a measure of adulation and a pass on their poor behavior. It’s nigh incestuous, but, more charitably, probably just directional selection. It’s off-putting to grounded writers, and distasteful to neophytes.

What happened today is that one of these guys waltzed in to the open mic after missing all of the other readers and then spent 5 minutes rummaging through a ream of unorganized poems for the 3 sheets of his own poem. Then the friend who accompanied him read a couple of nice poems. Afterward, no one else seemed keen to read except for me, but the open mic was brought to a awkwardly abrupt end by an audience member instead of the librarian who has been running it. Omphalo-Cranially-Inverted Poet then proceeded to tell the rest of the readers that the CPL has a whole shelf devoted to his poetry, and that he has over 50 volumes. He ended with “If you like my poetry, check them out! If you don’t…” and shrugged.

I decided to write a few basic guidelines for poets who choose to read at open mics. They are designed for primadonnas, but primadonnas won’t read them.

  1. Come prepared. Do not bring your entire body of work unless it is organized and each poem is easily accessible. Rummaging through folders and binders and half-rotted box tops for unlabeled sheets of poetry wastes everyone’s time.
  2. Come on time. Do not roll in to the venue late, as if you own the place, thereby missing all of the poets who have gone before you.
  3. Listen to the other poets. Do not spend your non-reading moments choosing a poem or preparing to read your poem.
  4. Do not monopolize. This is not your poetry reading. It belongs to everyone. Two poems of regular length are acceptable. Three if shorter. Do not read your epic, no one has time for that shit.
  5. Do not brag. It’s an open mic. If you’re hot, people will already know you’re hot, so you don’t need to bring it up. If your poems are good they will speak for themselves.
  6. Do not promote. Unless you’re a featured reader, an open mic is not the place for you to shill yourself. Saying “If you want some of my poems, see me after the reading.” is acceptable. Trying to sell your poems like they are a time-share is not.
  7. Appreciate the other poets. Clap for every reader. If someone says it is their first time reading in public, clap for them before they even read.

Hm. Seven is a good number. I’ll stop.