Poetry envy

I headed out into the evening looking for that nexus between literature and live performance: the poetry reading. I drifted into the Open Book on the breeze with curiosity about a live event; it was a place to think about how performance poetry differed from that encountered on the page.

As I sat down on the patio, M.J. Arcangelini broke the quiet. According to the promotional materials, his poems are of sex, love and a “community dissected, reconfigured and celebrated with sly humor, keen observation and powerful passion.”

Indeed, his was a passionate performance, and he possessed skills as both a writer and reader. He also wasn’t shy about getting his mostly gay audience aroused. The challenging subject matter dealt with high-school boys wearing tight, spandex shorts, and the word pictures focused on pumping leg muscles and sweaty private parts. He titled it “Bicycle Seat Envy.”

Not the poetry I encountered at Washington Elementary School. That was poetry written in prescribed forms about universal subjects—mostly Keats and Sandburg; the way-out stuff we read was e.e. cummings. It’s completely different now.

Arcangelini went on to pull people into his relationships with whips and oil and semen. It was sensuous and shocking and funny. It was definitely provocative, and so a success in my estimation.

His poetry did what we want to accomplish with our new Poet’s Corner not that we’re hoping for an onslaught of whip-and-leather poems from published authors. Rather, his poetry simply made the audience think and feel.

A thought-provoking diversion from our nonfiction world is a good thing.