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. 

Interview and five poems in Connotation Press

Kaite Hillenbrand interviewed me for the November issue of Connotation Press and published five of my poems that range from tattoos to flat tires to the dangers of muddy and snowy roads.

My thanks to Kaite for her thoughtful questions and most generous gift of her time. While you’re at the issue, be sure to check out the poems of Treasure Shields Redmond and Amorak Huey. Yowsa! Great stuff! 

Reading at APSU / Zone 3 with Nancy Eimers

I traveled to Clarksville, TN, this month for the launch of my book. Clarksville is home to Austin Peay State University & Zone 3 Press, and every other year they hold a first book contest in poetry and fly in the winner AND the judge for a reading and meeting with a creative writing class. Nancy Eimers, author of Oz (Carnegie Mellon 2011), Grammar to Waking (Carnegie Mellon 2006), No Moon (Purdue 1997), and Destroying Angel (Wesleyan 1991), was the judge, and let me say, a fabulous reader and all-around amazing person. I have never felt so welcome – by Ms. Eimers, but also by the incredible staff and faculty and students of APSU and Zone 3. A special shout-out to Susan Wallace, Andrea Spofford, and Barry Kitterman – I know I saw the tiniest sliver of their responsibilities at APSU and Zone 3, and yet I was impressed by their dedication to students and literature and their own writing.

The book contest and many of the creative writing activities are thanks to Tennessee’s funding and dedication to its Centers of Excellence; the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts is housed at APSU. It’s funding and foresight like this that keeps literature and creative endeavors moving forward.

Here are a couple of photos from the event – one of me and Ms. Eimers; one of me signing books & greeting. Both are grainy (low light, my brother’s phone). But that’s a very happy me in both photos.

Frost in the Low Areas

After more than a year of anticipation (on my part), my book Frost in the Low Areas is now available for pre-order, with shipping happening around the middle of October. You can get it from Zone 3 Press, the publisher, and shipping is FREE.

Please, when you can, support small presses by ordering from the press or through Small Press Distribution. When you order from Amazon, the press gets a measly and evil 20-some percent of the cost back – not enough to sustain a small press. 

Here’s the link to Zone 3 Press, out of Austin Peay State University in Tennessee: https://epay.apsu.edu/C20023_ustores/web/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCTID=163

Frost won the First Book Award from Zone 3 Press. 

Poem in Swarm

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


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. 

Two poems in The Bakery

I have two poems now archived on the oh-so-cool website of The Bakery. The poems were front page November 1 & 2. You can read them at the links below and/or listen to the audio files. I loved reading these – they’re playful and almost flirty, and even when you’re sitting in your car at 11 p.m. at night, making a recording, it’s pretty fun.

“Lazarus Species”

“While Peeling a Banana”

While you’re there, check out the incredible poems by Ralph Black, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, and more.

Tutorial: making an MP3 for an online journal, part II

Part I of this tutorial goes over Audacity, open-source, free software that’s available for download. Part II of this tutorial covers your sound studio.

Because you don’t have a sound studio built into your house, do you? And you’ve never missed that feature until now. When you record yourself, even if you’ve gotten the coolest microphone ever, your voice will bounce off the walls and sound hollow or have an echo.

To reduce that hollow sound, choose the smallest, most heavily padded room in your house – maybe a playroom or the nursery if you have kids, or your tiny office that is really a closet. In fact, try the closet. Toss a few extra pillows in with you. Bathrooms won’t work – tile gives a wicked echo.

Or you can choose the space I like best: the interior of my car. I sit in the passenger seat, pop open the laptop, and record away. Post-2000 cars have ridiculously plush interiors, so the usual echo is absorbed.

I stumbled upon car-as-studio in the usual way: the kids were asleep. I had to make an MP3 without waking them, which put the whole upstairs off limits. Mothering and the necessity of invention.

Tutorial: making an MP3 for an online journal, part I

It’s becoming more common for online journals or print journals with a web presence to request that their writers send them MP3 files of the accepted piece being read by the writer. I love this trend – I’m always delighted to hear poems read aloud, the differently nuanced words, the surprise of a writer’s voice.

It was good fortune that PANK Magazine was the first journal to ask me to record an MP3 – they sent me a link to Audacity, a free, open-source software program for Mac, PC, and Linux users. Here’s the link to Audacity:

Most of you will be all set at this point, since all the newer Macs and PCs have built-in microphones. For those of you with older computers, run out to your nearest electronic shop and invest in a $30 webcam with microphone (the one I use is Logitech, though I’m sure there are lots of good brands). Setup takes about 90 seconds. You’ll also be able to Skype with all your faraway friends and family for free, so it really is worth that small investment. 

With Audacity now installed, give the software a test run. The buttons you’ll care most about are the big colored buttons top left, and on my Mac they look grayed out as if they weren’t available. Ignore the grayscale – they’ll work. Hit the red record button and sing a few notes. You can playback by tapping the purple arrows that point left, then tap the green play button. Grimace as you listen to yourself sing. Aren’t you glad you’re a writer? 

Now you can try recording some takes of your poem. I like to print out the poem first rather than fumbling with the down key and the on-screen version, though I sometimes get paper rattle noises if I’m not careful. If I mess up, I ditch that attempt and start over, since it’s harder to smooth out stops and starts in a recording. I’ll give my big tip on (almost) studio-quality recordings in part II of this tutorial. 

Once I have a recording I like, I usually go back and delete the fumbling sounds at the beginning and ending of the recording (from me starting and stopping Audacity). To edit, just click and drag your cursor over the second(s) you don’t like, then hit delete. There’s an undo button (arrow curving left) if you mess up. I’ve never bothered with any of the other buttons, but if you’re an AV-type person, have at it.

I usually save this file (by clicking File > Save Project) in its raw format, .aup. Then I export the file as an MP3 (by clicking File > Export As MP3). That’s the version you’ll send to the journal as an email attachment. 

I love this trend in online publishing, and I hope it’s more widely used as editors and writers become comfortable with the technology.