Tonight – One Night Only


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Tony Brown just did a poetry feature of all new poems, read them once, and then promptly discarded the poems–forever. He calls it a “rip up reading” and I like the idea.

The most intriguing thing is the idea of memory: what we witness, what we recall, and what we pass on as story. For me, this process of stitching memory is the heart of poetry. So what would we do, as the audience, at an event we are told will never be repeated? Listen real close, would be my best guess. Not just for our own personal memories but also to have something to pass on.

As a performer, this raises the stakes for a live poetry reading. Every pause, every enunciation, every silence has to be just right, cuz if you blow it, there’s no going back for the poet or the audience.

Yeah, I’m feeling this kind of challenge and would recommend it for any poet who feels they rely too much on performance to get their poems across. I would try this exercise out myself if I was still hitting a regular circuit of open mics with the same core group of listeners. But who knows, if I ever finished one manuscript and was looking for a jump start for the next project, I’d try this exercise out to see what I’d write, how’d I perform it, and then see what sticks around.

From Tony Brown’s Livejournal:
The rationale behind the rip up reading is two fold.

First and foremost, it is to create a heightened, ritualized sense of the fundamentally ephemeral nature of a live performance. (Hence, the secrecy beforehand and the volunteer, the no recording, etc. It’s a ritual process and requires ritual boundaries to work.) To emphasize that these moments between poet and audience are irreproducible, and that no amount of chapbook reading, video viewing, or listening to a recording can truly recapture what happens in the moment of the night, and that we need to seize the moment and give it our attention — and that goes for performer and audience.

Second, it’s to illustrate the importance of being willing to bring it all out there and then leave it all onstage — both for poet and audience. By its very nature, if you want to do this right, you have to deliver a set of work that has blood in it — personal, revealing work that stretches your own boundaries as writer and as performer. If you’re going to do this, you can’t bring weak shit up there to be destroyed. It has to hurt you to see it go, or letting it go means nothing at all. The audience needs to recognize that hurt in you without pitying you — a fine line to walk.

Read the full entry here.

Author: Oscar Bermeo

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is the author of the chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below, and To the Break of Dawn. He lives and works in Oakland, CA.

1 thought on “Tonight – One Night Only”

  1. I read this the other day (rip up reading) and couldn’t get it out of my head. I remember reading about Giacommetti years ago, that he destroyed many of his pieces once they were completed.

    In a sense, I am a documentation junky; family photographer, notebook keeper of dates, old photos, fragments of stories, audio recordings. I do feel when the telling is happening that my attention is split.

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