Friday, June 23, 2006


It’s only 4:30 on a Friday afternoon of cool rain and gray skies. The puppies are grappling behind me yelping and snorting as snippets of pop music play from four corners of my office. Michelle, who left work early in the dashed hope of finally procuring an Ohio driver’s license, has vanished from the first floor of our house.

Over the past few days, I’ve spent an inordinate amount time searching the Internet for poetry readings somewhere in the greater Cincinnati—all to no avail. I’ve located one or two locations that held readings weekly before this brand spanking new millennium with which we’ve all been blessed, but I can’t seem to find a current series.

In some ways, I’m tempted to explain the apparent absence of such events by pointing out Cincinnati’s location in the cradle of the Midwest—perched between Kentucky and Indiana. Yet, there is a world-class art museum, a fine symphony, and a near top-notch ballet. So, I hope.

Perhaps, in the coming days, I’ll be able to report that the poetry scene here is vibrant and thriving, bringing community poets together with the poets based in the various universities. That’s how the small, but extremely supportive scene was in Pittsburgh. Writers groups mingled with the academics, and always, it seemed, there was a reading to go to somewhere within walking distance of Squirrel Hill. Back then, I was utterly immersed in that scene. I read my own poems in my own melodramatic fashion more times than I can remember. I still have pages covered with footprints from my histrionics in the midst of a reading.


When I lived in Dallas (the second time), I never sought out those experiences. I think, I went to one or two poetry readings. I was the guy standing at the back for one or two poems before turning away to spend my time on more interesting pursuits—like drinking, or drinking coffee. I did, however, give one reading with a colleague from work at a Borders in the far north of the city. I think 10 people came, and I worked with 8 of them. The others, of course, came to see him read.

In San Francisco, surprisingly enough, I never took advantage of the literary community there. I saw, I believe, two readings—a mediocre night of performance poetry that was made far more pleasant by the copious amounts of beer present and a jam-packed reading by Irvine Welsh which was made slightly more frightening by the copious amounts of beer present.


In some ways, I think that both approaches to a literary community are valid for a serious writer. The support, the exposure to new ideas, and the chatter about all things literary can certainly benefit you and your writing. At the same time, I believe that there are moments in a writer’s life when it’s better to be a ghost in the social world.

Sure, we all need the society of friends, loved ones, and the occasional stranger, but at certain points in my life, I’ve looked forward to leaving work and heading straight home, where a flickering computer screen waited for me. Of course, this may help explain why my career is where it is right now.

Better not to write in a complete vacuum, but too much conversation and you’ll end up founding a movement.


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