The Serious Poet – If we had the time we’d dissect each stratum within the bedrock of The Serious Poet: The Soft Talking, The Nature-Lover, The Very Personal Story About Sex, and so on. Though with all their iterations, the main thing to understand is that The Serious Poet does not want to be associated with the ‘other’ poet, The Slam Poet. Even if The Serious Poet would not speak such distinctions, she, or he, hates it the same. Make note as well, The Serious Poet will not raise her voice while reading. Their poetry is recited in a sing-song timbre. And pay attention to key words: milk, air, flowers, mentions of light or dark.
The Slam Poet – Often the most memorable figure of the alt lit open mic night, The Slam Poet is the one who will – as The Serious Poet reads of night fading into day – scream of night raping the day. Because of this, he is the most compelling figure to watch. Even if while reading the most sophomoric writing of the evening, he will be transfixing. Be aware, too, of a subdivision, The Casanova Poet. This character, often bearded, is less concerned with the words he is speaking than the proximity of his mouth to the microphone, and how much it is making everyone quiver.
The Older Serious Fiction Writer – The Older Serious Fiction Writer will resemble someone who knows a lot about wine. After very slowly settling himself on stage, he’ll look out to the crowd puzzled, as if a microphone is too new of technology for his taste. Before he reads, The Older Serious Fiction Writer will give a long introduction, so he will never have enough time to finish. What he does read will involve a road trip wherein a main character is “traveling in a beat-up pickup” going across “dust-whipped, star-heavy landscapes.” When finished, The Older Serious Fiction Writer may stand on the stage for a moment and savor the applause. If this happens, it will be the most heartbreaking part of the night.
The Younger Serious Fiction Writer – The Younger Serious Fiction Writer believes himself or herself more important than anyone else at the reading. Because of this, she is usually the easiest to spot before the night begins: laughing loudly with a group of friends, possibly wearing clear-framed glasses. The story she then reads will include a sexual awakening, often by giving detailed descriptions of food, clothing and/or body parts. Note, here, how her writing is classified. Invariably, it is called ‘prose.’
The Critic – Hidden in the crowd serious but bemused, The Critic may contribute to the local alt weekly. Once upon a time, though, he dreamed of writing, ‘really writing.’ First it was poetry, then, as he got older, novels. Now The Critic has a semi-popular Twitter, a garage rock revival band with his long-term girlfriend, though no health insurance. The Critic disapproves of almost everyone at the reading, but, since he was once a sort of poet himself, his most intense vitriol will be focused on The Slam Poet. The Critic is no longer passionate to believe anyone should be yelling for any cause.
The Crazy Guy – The Crazy Guy may not be reading on the night you go. He could simply be sitting beside you scribbling notes, intermittently going out to the lobby for complimentary chips, then coming back and chewing loud enough you are sure most of the room is aware of your area. Though if you’re lucky to go on a night he does read, you’ll never have heard a story about masturbating in a Starbucks bathroom like it. Not before, and not ever again.