Friday, May 20, 2011

Noche Bohemia: Poet Abuse

Last nite I participated in the 2nd of a new series of Thursday night events featuring poetry, prose and live music, "Noche Bohemia" (Bohemian Night), hosted by Chilean poet Eduardo Radrigan at Nena's Mexican Restuarant on Stockton's waterfront.

It is a fine rustic building with high wooden cielings, a spacious bar, and a patio overlooking Stockton's channel. In my heart, I love performing at these venues despite the often sparse crowds and noisy backdrops.

Last week, aside from the noise of customers, the rattling of plates and dishes, ringing telephones that nobody answered, blenders crushing ice for Margaritas and the electronic beeps of cash registers, two 42" TV's blared opposing sports events, the NBA Playoffs on one side of the bar, and of course, the Mexican favorite, a Futbol (soccer) contest on the other. The fans at the bar were not shy in cheering when their respective teams scored a point.

But you get used to it as the performer, competing with distractions, used to poets and musicians who often perform only for themselves, their girlfriends, family, and kids. However, this small crowd paid rigorous attention. They listened. They responded. And they clapped boisterously after each poem or song.

My friend Rudy Garcia, also a poet, joined me and the program rotated between poets and musicians. I even brought my guitar and sang a couple of songs. While most of the pieces or songs were done in Spanish, I chose to do poems using both English and Spanish.

But audience is the trick. It all lies with audience, a good one, even if it's just another performer. I often retold this story to my students about how during a premiere of one of Oscar Wilde's plays he was confronted by a woman who said" "Oh, Mr. Wilde, I sure hope your play will be a success!" "Mam", he answered "It's not a question of whether my play will be a success but whether the audience will be one." Yes! That's it! That's the ticket, a good audience, after all  one should never "throw pearls before swine?"

I once had a student who submitted a poem for one of my assignments in class. I was so impressed by it that I spoke to him after class. "Miguel, this is an outstanding poem. Do you write poetry?" "Yes, but I keep it to myself." "But poetry is meant to be shared", I pleaded. "Why don't you start sharing it?" "Because I don't want anybody stealing my ideas", he responded.

Poems and songs are to be shared, to be read, to be heard by others. Another student once told me after hearing one of my poems, "I almost cried when you read that poem." "I guess I must have failed", I joked. "Because I cried when I read it."

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