Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pick me! Pick me! How I choose poems

I admit it: I am tired. I mean I am REALLY tired. This is a very busy time in my writing life, with a new web page just up ( and several reading/speaking/book signing events and an upcoming weekend workshop to teach. But I have to say this is a very good kind of tired. It is wonderful when there is so much to do in one's writing life! So today is event #3 in 3 days. I am reading and signing books with my two good friends, Gayle Portnow and Wendy Rapaport. The Personal Book Shop & Gallery in Thomaston, Maine (one town away) is having a tea and poetry event for us at 1 PM. This is a great thing, sounds relaxing and sweet. I look forward to this particularly as it is local (last two events were in Portland and S. Portland, thus a night in a hotel...thanks Marriott at Sable Oaks for a great stay!).

But every event requires preparation. Oh I could "wing it" and just pick the poems as I do the reading. NOT a good idea. I care more for my listeners than that. So this morning, after a walk and breakfast and a shower, I will sit with my books and new poems and pick out what will get read this afternoon. I know right away that Hiding Your Money will be one of the poems along with There's Something Not Quite Right at Crayola and Red, A Modern Tale. These poems are light-hearted and get lots of chuckles when I read them. I will also read Allow the Year, which opens my new book and which is scheduled for publication in Bangor Metro. I will also read a poem each from Gayle's and Wendy's books. We did this read eachother's poems thing at the book launch earlier this summer and find we love the extra zip it gives to readings. But there is plenty of time to read and I need a few more poems.

Pick me! Pick me! the poems beg. All of them want to be heard. So, how do I choose?

I use a very UNscientific method: I begin by deciding I will read 2 poems from each of my three books. OK... which ones? I think of what the likely audience will be: kids? no kids? veterans? grammas and grandpas? other writers? family? It is NOT good to read adult-oriented material if you have kids present, not good at all. (I have been to readings where this was the case and it made me nervous, felt kinda creepey actually) So I choose poems that would be okay for a mixed audience, tucking away a couple "mature" poems to read if there are no kids in the room. I also have a couple kid poems: Peas: a sonnet is a good one for that.

My next step is to pick poems that might be appealing on a regional basis. I know I can capture the attention of a Maine audience by reading The Artist Has Laid Down His Brush and is Done, an Andrew Wyeth elegy. I can read water and sky and tree and yard poems most everywhere. So, I guess I just get to the point where I am picking poems I had fun writing, or poems that caused me to grow as a poet. Today I might read some of the psalm poems in my forthcoming collection: Psalms From the Commons, Invocations For Everyday Life (expected publication in early 2012) I will not read winter poems today. I will not read my poem comparing my ex to my hubby. I will not read edgy poems about my mother. I will not read poems that make people cry... oh maybe one. I may read a couple poems I wrote out on the Isles of Shoals, and definitely will read one from there that I wrote for my husband (I try to include this one at every reading now). Polaris is a favorite of mine because of how I FELT when it was finished and how I can feel that exact same thing when I read it.

Dear readers, I just love reading to you. I want to read you into a personal space where the world makes a little more sense, feels a little safer and softer. I want to inspire you and cause you to think. So, I'd better go make eggs and toast and take my walk and get to the picking.

Dear poems, I'm getting to you shortly. Line up nicely and don't push or shove.

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