It's common knowledge among literary organizations that no art moves fewer bodies (and dollars) than literature. Thea Temple of The Writer's Garret will remind you that "Literature is the Third World of the Arts." Wordspace's Charles Dee Mitchell recently told me that when he first directed his attention from other arts to literature, he was amazed to find that only a handful of people might show up at a typical reading, even for accomplished literary authors.
If you've been to a few poetry readings, you know that a dozen people is an amazing turnout. Yesterday afternoon, the Bonehouse poets read to an audience about three times that size, in the back yard of The Wild Detectives.
What's different about Bonehouse, our pilot poetry workshop and performance group? Why do these listeners keep coming back to hear one morally and intellectually challenging poem after another? What's the gimmick?
I believe that our strength lies in our commitment to building a community of readers and writers. When we write, we don't allow our sentiments to dribble onto the page but always imagine our words as a gift thoughtfully presented to an audience. We know our poems are audience-ready because in our private meetings, we are our own toughest crowd.
In our public readings, we work to place the focus on the words themselves, not the personalities and accomplishments of the authors. Each poet chooses and introduces poems by the other authors, with a view to opening the treasure of the poem to the audience. We trust our audience to pay us the high compliment of demanding something worth listening to, no matter who's saying it. So in introducing each other's work, we waste no time in highlighting what is worthiest, not in the poet, but in each poem.
By listening to a poem with an interpretive introduction in mind, weighing its truth as the poem unfolds, the audience becomes an essential part of the life of the poem. Poetry dwells not in the mind of the poet or even in the words on the page or in the air, but in a community of interpretation, comprising adventuresome speakers and discerning listeners.
In other words, our greatest strength is not in ourselves at all, but in our incredible, thoughtful audience. Thanks to all who came yesterday and all whose minds are alive to the searching word!