Last night I did a reading with Nancy Lord at the Downtown library. We had a very small but enthusiastic crowd; we got some terrific questions afterward, so that was fun.
I decided to read mostly new poems to see how they played to an audience. This has become my new favorite way to edit poems--reading them, and feeling out an audience. Before Freshly Rooted came out I did a few readings here and there, but not many. But after it came out and I started doing readings, I realized how incredibly valuable that experience is as an editing tool.
It works two ways for me. First, and most obvious, I get an audience reaction. Last night I read a poem from Freshly Rooted that I'd never read in public before and it got a lot of laughter...something I hadn't really anticipated. It's not a funny poem to me...but once I was reading, I could see it as funny, and the laughter made sense. This has really changed my understanding of the poem, actually. Also helpful (although painful) is when I read a poem and the audience is just quiet--and I can tell the poem is falling flat. So the laughter, or sighs, or dead silence all give me clues about how well a poem is floating.
Second, it makes me edit with an even harsher pen. As soon as I'm reading, it's like I have these new glasses on and I can see weak lines or phrases in a way I've not seen them before. It's like I'm becoming a hyper-editor. I actually often edit while I'm reading.
So, it was really useful to read some new poems last night to gauge reactions; this is going to really help me edit those individual poems and the book as a whole. I'm going to be reading at the Kachemak Bay Writer's Conference in a few weeks and I think I'll read mostly new poems there too...but maybe different poems than I read last night. It would be great if I could get the chance to read most of the book at various readings before it comes out.