I was bummed that I couldn't make it to the weekly Wednesday night poetry reading at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge when I was back in the Boston area last month. It used to be one of my favorite things to do. When I lived back there, I completely took it for granted and didn't go nearly as often as I should have. Now that I live in the sticks (a.k.a. Moorpark, CA) and my open-mike poetry venue options (or live poetry venue options period) are limited, I'm kicking myself in the @$$ for not having taken better advantage of Cantab (i.e., a nice mid-week, after-work, muse-nourishing oasis) being just a short train ride away.
The most satisfying poetry experiences I've had since I've moved to the west coast have consisted of checking out the poetry stage at the L.A. Times Festival of Books for an hour or two once a year. I've encountered some great but perhaps little-known poets there, like Joshua Clover and Robin Becker, and picked up some of there work, but once a year just isn't enough.
I love reading a good poem in silence to myself, alone, curled up on the couch. And I love having my husband read me love poems as I fall asleep (yes, reason 1,00,001 why I love him). But I really enjoy hearing a poet read their own work best of all. There's just nothing like hearing the lines read by the person who wrote them - inflections, pauses, humorous tones, etc. - all employed exactly as they were meant to be. And there's something electric about the atmosphere when you know you're in the presence of the brilliant mind who created those lines.
In the absence of good, regular poetry readings to attend, I've been settling for listening to recorded versions of poems through poets.org's Poetcasts (sponsored by the Academy of American Poets). They also have a calendar of events that includes a breakdown by state, . . . but, again, there isn't usually much going on in the boondocks - and certainly not anything local going on on any kind of regular basis.
To make up for not getting to hear more live poetry, I pacify myself by buying more books of poetry in one trip to the bookstore than I can reasonably expect to read before my next trip to the bookstore, . . . during which I will, of course, buy another equally large stack of books . . . and so the cycle goes. I appear to be complaining . . . but I live for it. I obtained my most recent stack on that same trip back east I mentioned earlier. (The stack was modest this time though . . . if only because I had to consider what would fit in my luggage for the return flight.) While at a great little indie called Gibson's Bookstore in Concord, NH, I picked out a couple of books by local poets Charles Simic (The World Doesn't End) and Donald Hall (The Painted Bed). They didn't have any books by new poet laureate Kay Ryan, so I was really hoping the other indie bookstore we hit in Portland, ME (Longfellow Books), would have one. But they didn't. That depressed me a little. Boo.
I guess I'm not all that surprised about the poor selection of poetry books at the bookstores we hit in New England. The poetry section at most bookstores is typically sorely disappointing. In fact, never mind bookstores, some libraries' poetry offerings are embarrassing slim. Case in point - my local library. I went there a few weeks ago to pick up a library card. After being issued my little piece of plastic, I took a stroll to find the poetry section, . . . and I couldn't find it . . . at all . . . and it's a small library. I had to ask at the front desk (as if I were a knuckle-dragger who'd never heard of the Dewey Decimal System). The woman at the front desk kindly directed me to a shelf in the back. Yes, a (un) shelf . . . and it wasn't even full, and not all of what was on that half-full shelf was technically poetry, and, of the books that were technically poetry, none was what I would call contemporary poetry. Needless to say, I was quickly inspired to join the Moorpark Friends of the Library so I might try to help rectify that situation. I'm not even sure I'll be living in Moorpark come this time next year, so I'm not sure how much I might realistically expect to change. But trying's better than doing nothing. So, here's hoping I can breathe some life into that anorexic poetry shelf!