Against the Open Mic

Saturday, 3 November 2012

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.