The Empty House
I helped run a poetry workshop at the SF Public Library in April. Myself and another poet hosted Saturday afternoon workshops for an entire month culminating in a public reading, which happened Sunday afternoon, May 4.
I arrived an hour early. My friend who works at the library walked me through the staff area, then into the auditorium where I immediately went lay down on the stage.
Another staffer came in, seeing me on my back and asked if I was alright. Tired, I was. And anxious after the quad-shot vanilla latte I ordered so I could make it through the day. I asked if he does massage but he had no equally wise-ass answer.
The workshop averaged 3 students, though we saw as many as five people over the month. All three regulars showed, with one having to opt out because they had to move.
Despite Cinco De Mayo celebrations and the warm Sunday weather, we had an audient. The boyfriend of one of the students, who made sure to tell a couple of us that he left the house BEFORE the Game was over! I told him he was an honorable man and we’ll make it quick.
The show was over in 35 minutes.
None of the students were bothered about there not being any one in the house. I told them how years ago I was really arrogant and whiny about reading to small or empty rooms. I once read with a group of poets at an Expo and they put us on first thing in the morning. All we could see from the stage was row after row of folding chairs, then a partition wall and beyond that booths where vendors were setting up for the day. We all read and clapped for and supported one another. When I got on stage, a frowning asshole, only then could I see Oh! There was one dude in the audience, a thug in jeans and a t-shirt and hair shaped like a storm cloud. I read a poem about watching a woman dance and immediately after he jumped up and said: I saw her, I saw her! My description put her in his mind and it surprised him. He immediately dug into his jean pockets and pulled out a crumpled dollar and some change and bought the book I was reading out of.
After that, I never behaved like a prima donna again. This asshole … is clean.
And I told the students that story, and everybody got into it, mounting the stage and reading their poems. If you’re at all nervous about public speaking, reading to an empty house is a cynch. Even the co-teacher with me hated his voice and hated to read his work aloud, but did anyway. I hosted.
One older woman wandered into the auditorium in the midst of the reading. She put her bags down, sat for all of two minutes, then got up and walked out.
A Chinese woman came in midway through the last poem of the afternoon. I thanked her personally for coming and closed the show.
Everybody gathered to take some quick group photos.
Just as the students were leaving, one harried looking dude ran inside.
Am I late? He said.
Yeah, we just finished. I said.
…Earlier that morning I asked for an extra shot of espresso in my latte. Four shots? Yeah, four shots. I was on fire. I told him I’d read a poem for him if he’d like.
He said: Poetry? This isnt a talk on anthropology?
Anthropology? I said. I thought of the title of the workshop: Excavating Memory.
The man said: I asked the librarian, and she said it was about anthropology.
I said: Well, the librarian was mis-informed. This is a poetry workshop, Excavating Memory, about cultivating poems from your life and experience.
He said: Oh. Turned, and walked out.