I had the pleasure yesterday to perform at a reading in Venice sponsored by the Los Angeles Writers and Poets Collective. Over 30 writers read various pieces of prose and poetry. The format of the reading was to adhere to a tight schedule. Every reader had 2 1/2 minutes to read their piece. The leader of the group playfully admonished that if one was to go over time, they would be squirted with radioactive water from water pistols.
I had arrived late from the Hollywood Farmer's Market. Because of this, I was to be the fifth reader in the sixth and last group.
I had come to the reading with my self-published chap-book, preparing to read one of 2 stories. In the back of my mind, I knew that I hadn't timed them out. I realized once the readings began, "Should I default to a shorter piece?" I began to play with what I had...reading the chosen pieces silently to myself as the performers read theirs to see if mine would fit within their time frame. I flirted with editing with my eyes as I read. I saw two or three paragraphs that I could take out along with some other sentences. It became clear that this was a risk as I could not predict what I would be feeling/experiencing while I was reading in front of an audience. I decided to commit to the short piece. One that I had felt good in writing when I wrote it. So instead of trying to shoehorn a large piece in within a given amount of time. I allowed myself the opportunity to fill my time alloted.
The sixth group was called. The reader who was two in front of me was a woman who went on for six minutes. The woman in front of me, rather than reading, performed two memorized poems. She was heavily plasticized and made up and much "louder" then the venue called for.
After these two, I followed. Spencer Tracy's line became clear. "Hit your mark. Look em' in the eyes and say your lines." So I planted my feet, introduced myself and the piece and read what was written with a good, strong voice. I liked the decisions I had to make once I began, what I was hearing, the vibrations moving out of my body and the two times I heard soft laughter from the audience. I was thankful that I had the space to play. I finished within the alloted time. I thanked the audience and walked back to my seat.
It is interesting to observe what works and what doesn't within the reading format. I may not agree with the content but the context/structure within which the content is presented works. The 2 1/2 minute limit requires brevity and a natural elevated intensity, both on the part of the reader/giver and audience/receiver. And reading from words as written has a much different feel/texture than what one would feel performing them.
So, more than being a part of a master class. I felt as if I was a part of a master structure/orchestration. One that works. One that one can learn from. And THAT is poetic.