A New Kind of Reading - The Writer's Life
Okay. Perhaps Geraldine Mills and I were not quite as cute as these twins - but our new reading style might at least be worth considering the next time you do a reading with someone you know (and whose work you admire). As you may know, the Irish poet and short story writer, Geraldine Mills, was visiting me last week from Galway, Ireland. Geraldine and I met ten years ago while in residence together at the Tyrone Guthrie Center. Since that time we've met up twice when I returned to Ireland and also kept in touch via email and the occasional phone call.
In other words, we know each other but not that well. When we first met we did a reading together at the Guthrie Center and decided to do a sort of call and response. Geraldine read one poem and I followed with a poem on a similar theme. It was a bit too choppy. This time we decided to create a twinned reading: to have one poet read two poems and then switch over to the second poet. At our reading on Bainbridge Island we did this together, both standing side by side at the podium while the other read. We themed our poems to be about mothers, fathers, art, and Ireland / America. It worked fine, but I wanted it to be better than fine.
So for our reading at Elliott Bay Book Company, we decided to change it up a bit. We began by introducing each other and explaining that we would be reading together. Geraldine began with poems of the United States starting with "Conquistadores" about receiving the American package as a little girl. I followed with poems of my time in Ireland at Anam Cara and the Tyrone Guthrie Center. We then moved on to poems drawn from our mutual interest in the visual arts. As a kind of intermission we read a "Wild Card" poem about anything we wanted. From there we transitioned to reading each other's work. What fun it was to read my favorite poems of Geraldine's and to hear my poems in her lovely voice. We ended with two of our own poems -- our favorite poems from our own work.
Many folks in the audience commented that the reading was complimented by the fact that they enjoyed listening to two poets who were clearly friends and admiring of each other's work. Two poets communicating back and forth, making jokes and chatting a little, creates a more dynamic atmosphere than one poet up on stage and then the other. Instead of a competition we offered a collaboration. All I know for sure is that it felt very different -- in a great way -- then just following one another. Geraldine and I have styles that I believe are complimentary and so the transitons were easy. Of course someone who was actually listening to us would know better if it worked. I just know that it's a format I hope to do again.