A REFLECTION ON PERFORMING MY POEMS

Considering the range of my poetic oeuvre spanning nearly five decades, it should come as no surprise that my public readings are often one-of-a-kind events. If I were on tour, things might be different, but when they’re sporadic invitations, I enjoy the opportunity to experiment. Once, for instance, I read my American Olympus longpoem in its entirety. (Likely only once, since it requires nearly an hour.)

For last month’s appearance in Amesbury, I departed from the announced sampling from my latest chapbooks and chose instead to honor the town’s most illustrious resident, John Greenleaf Whittier, by opening with a poem of his and closing with another. The name of the reading itself, “Trumpets of the Coming Storm,” comes from a phrase in another of his poems. And then I launched into something I’ve never before done, the political rants that are appearing on the Red Barn this year. I must say it was refreshing and energizing for me, even outrageous, not my usual quietly reflective self.

Slashing through the full manuscript to select the portions I felt would best fit the reading raised another awareness, one I’ve been sensing in the release (and re-release) of many of my other poems here at the Barn and in the free Thistle/Flinch editions, especially. In my first decade of writing poetry, I refined and further refined each piece to what I hoped was perfection. Somewhere later, though, I turned toward an edginess, with the revisions sometimes introducing jagged flights and turns. Yes, I’d still polish the poems but often avoided “fixing” them for grammatical correctness or outward logical consistency. If anything, I’ve enjoyed leaping between voices and tenses. I’ve wanted to follow their energy and be true to that.

More recently, the work has taken on a kind of graffiti quality, written on the run, as it were. A splash here, a tag there. I’m seeing these as field notes that might be further distilled, should I return to them. For now, they’re what they are, a voicing of personal encounter.

Who knows what’s next. My suspicion is my next round of work will be quite different from anything I’ve previously attempted. We’ll see.

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