Do The Evolution

KSW Press Reading @ APAture
Originally uploaded by geminipoet

In an effort to break out of a comfort zone, I decided that I was going into my reading on Tuesday for Kearny Street Workshops’ APAture Festival with a different game plan in mind: No banter.

Yep, that’s right. Try to go through a whole set with out trying to affect or change the mood of the audience and let the poems speak entirely for themselves. Considering that I only had 5-7 minutes of time on the mic I figured it would be a good time to try this experiment out but at the last minute the game plan changed and I had 10-12 minute set to work with.

So how did it go? Well, I pretty much pulled it off. I started off the set thanking the KSW folks for letting me read then threw a shout out to Truong Tran and all the folks in my workshop and then went right into it:


– How much for the building (tenants optional)?

– God Loves A Liar

– Unsolved Crimes Perpetrated by Invisible Men as Reported by an Unreliable Witness

– This Wednesday

[Riding the subway is an adventure] by Frances Chung

– The War on TV

– Who we be

– Restoration #6

– I’m Jus Askin

The only commentary I mixed in was making sure folks knew where the cover poem came from but other than that it was all poems, all the time.

While I did like the set and how the audience received it, I will also say that I didn’t enjoy just going from poem to poem. Not because I feel the need to explain every poem but I do like acknowledging the audience and the energy they are bringing to the reading. This is particularly important to me since I feel more people should not only attend more literary events but they should also feel empowered to react and respond to the work they hear at those events which doesn’t mean I am going to be running a poll while I am reading but it does mean I will try my best to let the audience know they are appreciated.

And since I didn’t get to talk about the poems during the set, I’ll give ya some quick background:
– All the poems come from Truong Tran’s Poetry & Politics workshop which is where I got all those nifty writing assignments I have been posting the last few weeks.
– Chung’s subway poem was a serious hit and reading Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple during this workshop time helped me a lot with both my language and my view of City.
– I was surprised as to how animated I was in reading some of the poems.
Jeff McDaniel’s arsonist poem was the inspiration for Restoration #6.

To sum up, it was a nice experiment (and one I may revisit in the future) but I think it was just that: an experiment.

Photos from the night can be found over at

Join the Conversation


  1. re: ‘no banter,’ I think it works for someone like Nathaniel Mackey, since there’s already a general familiarity with his work among (some) poetry audiences, and also because the nature of his recent collaborative performance revealed a lot about his project, the importance of sound, music, refrain, etc. I also think in this way he and Hafez respected and acknowledged the audience’s presence, without having to banter or break form.

  2. I think the fact the audience wasn’t familiar with the work was a big factor and the fact that *I* wasn’t familiar with it was an even bigger factor.

    Mackey is definitely in my thoughts as I work through these experiments in reading style as I would love to be at a similar point in my presentation of the work. (Minus the music since I don’t have any plans to pair any of the Anywhere Avenue poems with outside music. Though the more I type it out the more I can see how some of those musically based poems can stand banter-free to an audience that is familiar with the origins of early 80s hip-hop.)

  3. Barbara Jane and Oscar: Thank you for helping to spread the word abt Frances Chung. Some of her poems and all of her poetics endlessly amaze me–and the students in my courses here in Miami. Keep it going! / Walter K. Lew

  4. Walter,
    Thanks for the comment and the encouragement!

    I’m working on a review/creative non-fiction piece based around Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple for Spindle’s January ’08 issue.

    Take care,

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