Fear of the One-Person Audience

Oooh, I ran across these photos, courtesy of Christopher Clauss, of my time at Manchester’s Slam Free Or Die reading in May 2014 and realized I’d never posted ’em. There aren’t a ton of photos of me reading, but then, I haven’t done a billion readings.

But I’m getting better – and what I mean by that is I’m setting up more readings. There’s nothing like a PEN award to give a gal confidence that perhaps her words are worth hearing. I’ve been terrified of going to a reading and having only one or two people show up, and there I’d be, reading to the empty corners of the room.


It finally happened – at a reading in September, I did indeed have a grand total of one person (not required to be there) show up. I was shocked: it was billed as an open mic, and open mic usually attracts an audience. I still read, and with some flair, because hey, that one person did drive all the way to see me. But I spent the next couple of days in a funk, wondering why the heck I was doing this and feeling grumpy. That was my initiation into the one-person audience. I’m certainly not the only writer that’s happened to: my friend Corwin Ericson tells a hysterical story about his reading with a one-person audience when he was on a book tour for Swell. As his one soon-to-be audience member walked toward the empty chairs, his only thought: “Please don’t sit down. Please don’t sit down.” 

So I lived through it. Yay? 

And if I have to, I can live through it again.

It helps that I’ve also had well-attended and attentive crowds. The Manchester reading was fantastic: an open mic with probably 75 people. Mckendy Fils-Aime is the host with the most. Brandon Amico treated me lavishly (WAFFLES!!). Lots of great poetry & prose at the open mic (Brandon, Mckendy, Christopher, Peter Kispert, William James, Sarah Newton, Dillon Welch, so many more!) I had a ball. I also read 10 minutes too long (yay math, but math in front of a crowd maybe too much pressure). I’ve had readings with enthusiastic audiences in Amherst, Greenfield, Cambridge, Boston, Northampton, Orange, and more. This weekend I’m on TV, in Hopkinton. Next week I’ll be in Albany. 

My goal this year was to have 10 readings. It looks like I’ll have more than 20, with another half-dozen scheduled or being scheduled. I’m actively working on my stage presence and delivery and feeling really good about that. I’ve been to some incredible readings this year by other poets, and I study what makes their readings work: Philip Levine, Cornelius Eady (WOW), Li-Young Lee, Sharon Olds, all the incredible Split This Rock poets. I have friends and compatriots who are wonderful readers: Corwin of course, Kristin Bock, Ellen LaFleche, Sally Bellerose, Lori Desrosiers… Dillon, you are killing it on stage… Em Jollie, Brandon, Floyd Cheung, Paul Richmond – I hope I can claim you as a friend at this point… mia amica Nicole DiCello, Adam Stone (!!!), Daniel Hales, ahhhh so much goodness! 

The fear of the one-person audience has made me slower to get on the reading circuit. But now I’ve done it. I’ve looked that one person in the eye and I read my poems and though I can say my time might have been better spent that night with my family, that reading was an outlier. 

Here’s to more poetry, out loud and outspoken. 

Poem in Swarm

My poem “Homunculus” is in the inaugural issue of Swarm! Here’s the link:

“Homunculus”

I mentioned in the previous post how fabulous it was working with Brandon Amico, one of the four editors at Swarm. I just got a thank-you note from him in the mail. Got that? – a thank-you note. Handwritten. On a cute card. How sweet is that? 

So: writers, I encourage you to read Swarm and submit your best. Now I’m off to read the fiction in this issue. 

Interview in Swarm

The new literary journal Swarm has begun posting interviews with the four writers from their inaugural issue, and I’m one of them. Here’s the link:

Karen Skolfield’s interview in Swarm

Brandon Amico was the editor that asked me to be part of Swarm, and really, there was no way I could say no. He sent the nicest, most amazing request I’ll probably ever get. And oh, was it flattering. Do writers like flattery? – yes, we can’t help it, since mostly we spend our days hauling ourselves out of the mudpit of rejections. His note was so laudatory that I had to read it with my hands over my eyes, the way someone else might watch a horror movie. Like so many New Englanders, I don’t know what to do with praise. I’m sure I blushed. Writing this, I’m blushing again.

The inaugural issue will come out mid-February. In the meantime, read the interviews, submit some work to them! I’ll post some more Swarm links:

Submissions: http://swarmlit.com/submit/

Interview with Gregory Sherl: http://swarmlit.com/interview-with-gregory-sherl/
(I will admit I teared up when I read Sherl’s interview. It’s very unpretentious and open). 

Interview with Barbara Westwood Diehl: http://swarmlit.com/interview-with-barbara-westwood-diehl/ (I love her no-nonsense attitude and how she’s trained herself to take charge of writing).