About three years ago, I was introduced to the art of writing poetry. In those three years I have read my work aloud three times. Twice for a contest at school and once for an art show. At these readings, the faces were different but the tropes (more or less) stayed the same. Here are the five people you’ll meet at an amateur poetry reading.
1-The Revealing Girl
There’s always one girl that needs to reveal some buried secret or sexual experience to an audience. This isn’t a bad thing by any means. Art is the expression of creative skill, key word being expression. However these poems lack the poignancy of, say, Sharon Olds, and end up being a poem to let the audience know, “hey, I had sex.” Meanwhile, in the audience, the less adept in the arts look at one another and conspicuously cringe.
A hyperbolic example:
O! I moan as he plunges
His sword into my gourd.
Every thrust he lunges
Until I am restored.
I took the h out of “oh” because that’s artsy.
2- The Person Who Thinks They’re Funny
At least at amateur readings, there will always be one person who will try to make a joke and call it poetry. Most of the time, this joke is in haiku form. They watched Bo Burnham do it and said “Hey, I’m just as funny as that guy.” That or they’ll throw jokes into their writing that simply don’t land. The first time I read was for a contest at school. I barely won against a dude who went on stage and told a joke about pooping. Maybe I’m a bit underqualified to write this article.
A bad haiku:
Riding my scooter
When out of nowhere I died
Then I shit my pants.
A bad poetry joke:
I break lines like I break bones,
Not that often
3- The Slam Poet
You can tell when you’re in the same room as a slam poet. They’re always bouncing around and super energetic while others (me) shake and sweat. Also, they don’t have their poem written down on note cards, making everyone around them think “maybe I should have memorized this sonnet I just wrote.” The problem with beginner slam poets is that the voice and themes become too repetitive and essentially boil down to “Yeah! Diversity!”
I would give an example if I knew how to freestyle.
4- The Pretentious One
This isn’t just another guy who makes words. This person is a Shakespeare/Blake/Ginsberg incarnate. Everything this guy writes is The Waste Land. He comes to readings and scoffs, knowing the pleb audience won’t understand his allusions. To him the more indecipherable the poem, the smarter he feels. His perception of his own intelligence is inverse to his actual intelligence.
A Hyperbolic Example:
Oud, Oud! damned sound
Blasting, Boring, Awake
I’m so deep I drowned.
The only reason The Pretentious Poet would think this is bad is because it rhymes*.
*also because it’s actually bad
5- The Dark One
I didn’t forget The Dark One. He’s always there, lurking in the back with a collection of Edgar Allan Poe short stories. Favorite poem? The Raven. Favorite music? 80s post-punk. Favorite quote? “There are demon-haunted worlds, regions of utter darkness.” Written by the Isa Upanishad. Rumor has it that The Dark One has never seen a lamp and believes that the sun is a social construct. The Dark One perpetuates the myth that poetry has to be bleak and depressing and is probably the most popular stereotype at these readings.
A Hyperbolic Example:
I lie in the dark abyss
Of my dark abode
Bound to my black bed sheets
Every day is the same,
Life is a VHS tape
If you ever find yourself at a reading, look around. I’ll bet you see at least two or three of these stereotypes every time. Not all of them will be bad, of course. Some people are masters of the examples above but when they’re bad, they stick out. I see myself as a mixture of Two and Four. I write jokes into my poems often. I prefer writing satirically over writing toilet humor. I can also be pretentious. The first poem I read was titled “L’appel du Vide”, A French term for “Call of the Void” which is an idiom for Intrusive Thoughts. Okay maybe I have a bit of The Dark One in me, too.