How To Survive A Poetry Reading

Jordan Sanchez
Jordan Sanchez

Arrive noisily in the middle of someone reading. Say “I need a bottle opener,” as you open the door. People will look over at you. Look apologetic but still whisper to the people around you, “Do you guys have a bottle opener?”

A freshman boy will be reading. He will be tall, blond, and gay­­­ which you only know because you’ve seen him on Tinder before. He’ll say ‘cock’ three times within five minutes, his voice cracking the third time he says it. Everyone will look bored; either content in their boredom, or fiercely trying to pay attention and fend their boredom away. Try to match their expressions. Try your best to look studious and literary. How does one look studious and literary? Put one hand on your chin, with your elbow rested casually on your crossed legs. When other people laugh, simply squint and nod. You will notice how others laugh­­ all in a self­-conscious concentrated way; laughing because they get it­­ — they do! they really do!­ Not because anything is funny.

The next reader will be a white man with a beard and glasses and any other sartorialism one would associate with a straight male writing major who loves Hemingway and Libertarianism. He will ask uncomfortably before he begins if anyone has a joke. Nobody will. He will then announce that he will be reading two pieces: something old and something new. Mutter under your breath, “Something borrowed, something blue.” The quiet, sullen boy sitting next to you will hear you and give you a concerned look. Drink more from your beer. Switch hands to rest your chin on. Recross your legs.

The straight male writing major will use the word ‘reverberate’ three times in one poem. All the humor in it will be ironic and insular, which will make you feel sad and drink more and look out the window longingly­ ­to jump out, perhaps, and be one with the sky. Something natural and pure, is what you will be thinking of, something without pretense, something that wouldn’t list songs by trendy bands and call that avant garde poetry. Oh, a list! How simple and effective! Reverberate! Thesis! Reverberate! Masturbatory! Reverberatory!

Drink more aggressively and sigh helplessly. Do not do both at the same time though. You’ve done that before and people thought you were vomiting on yourself.

Smoke outside with the others on the roof. Listen dispassionately to everyone making fun of the ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ sign lit up on top of a building across the street and say, “He’s not so bad.” When no one laughs or says anything, pretend to sneeze and walk away, as if you have injured yourself.

When it is your turn to read, no one will laugh at what you think might be funny; maybe because your voice remains untheatrical, and thus without cues for laughter. Maybe because you don’t say ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ enough. Those words always get the biggest laughs. Everyone knows those words mean humor. Ahh! Yes! We get it! This poet is daring!

Decide at this moment that getting drunk will b the only hope for this night not to ruin your soul irreparably.

Congratulations! You are drunk now and think maybe this thing isn’t so bad after all! Someone will ask you now what writers inspire you. Look them in the eye drunkenly and whisper to them, as if you are dying, “I’m sorry I have to go.” They will look hurt and confused. Brush past them and walk out the door noisily while someone reads a poem about writing their dissertation. People will be laughing. Try not to vomit.

Walk home alone. Get lost a little, even though you’ve lived in this neighborhood for three months now. Steal a bag of candy and more beer from a deli and hide under your coat as you walk out. Look as young and suspicious as possible.

Call your friend Mary and your brother Jack­­people who are not like the people here. People who would never use the word reverberate three times in any context. People who would never write a short story about World of Warcraft. People who never use that false poet voice, with its odd waves of intonation. Second wave baby talk, you call it. No, they are nothing like any of that. Why did I ever leave them? you will think now, swirling around in a dizzying whirlpool of drunkenness in your own head.

If you have to vomit, do so now while you are outside. If someone asks you if you need any help, say to them earnestly, “This is the best moment I’ve had all night.” TC mark

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