Column: Just Trust Me on This, Go to a Poetry Reading

Just Trust Me on This, Go to a Poetry Reading
By Bonnie Gordon
Last night I went to a poetry reading. The poet was Jon Davis, Santa Fe’s newest poet laureate.

Jon was reading at Mesa Public Library as part of Authors Speak series. I love poetry readings but I hadn’t made it to one for a couple of years.

Santa Fe Poet Laureate Jon Davis. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon

I should go to more poetry readings and you should too. Here’s why.

Poetry reveals the inner workings of another person’s mind and how they perceive the world as no other medium can.  

Most people process things through language. Even if the voice is only inside our head, most of us carry on a constant monologue about our experiences.

The combination of experiencing something, thinking about it and expressing it through language is unique to every person, yet we share so much. That combination of unique vision and shared experience is where poetry lives.

But why see it live when you can read the book? Hearing the author read a poem brings immediacy to the experience. When Davis reads one of his poems, hearing his voice and watching his expression brings an added dimension to the experience.

When I read a poem, I don’t quite believe in the author. I certainly don’t experience a poem through them the way I do at a poetry reading. This is the voice in which the poem was created.

Jon Davis isn’t always Jon Davis. Sometimes, he’s Chuck Calabreze, a tough straight-talking street poet. This isn’t the performance of an actor, however. Davis actually IS Chuck. Although the persona may not be the one he walks around in most of the time, when Davis writes as Chuck, he’s writing as another version of himself. 

Fiction writers do this obviously, but the distillation and what Davis calls the “tonal complexity” of poetry can capture the reality of someone’s experience as no other medium quite manages, whether it’s the poet’s work-a-day self or a voice he’s created to speak through.

The music of words doesn’t really come alive until we hear them aloud. Hearing them spoken by the person who wrote them is icing on the cake.

Poetry readings energize me in a way no other artistic event does. Maybe if I were an artist, gallery openings would inspire me to go home and paint, or if I were a musician, a concert might get my musical gears turning. But I’m not.

Whether or not I go home and write poetry, listening to a reading turns on the language centers of my brain. When I walk out the door after a reading, suddenly creative ways to express what’s around me and happening to me flood my brain. Suddenly, my interior monologue is a lot classier. It’s more vivid, more expressive and more fun.

This experience is available to anyone who can hear the poet read. If there’s a good interpreter on hand, it’s also available to the deaf. We don’t all make visual art or music, but all of us string words together all the time. Poetry readings can help us enjoy it more.

Poetry readings, in my experience, are seldom the stuffy dull affairs people who don’t go to them think they are. Whether it’s a Poetry Slam with wild performance artist poets or a sedate gathering at the library, poetry readings can set you on fire.

Trust me, go to a poetry reading. It’s fun, you’ll learn something and you might even have an epiphany. And the good effects go on for days afterward.

Thank you Jon Davis, for coming to Los Alamos and giving me this wonderful gift.

Here’s Jon on YouTube. It’s not as good as seeing him read in person, but you can kind of get the idea. You gotta try this.

Jon as Chuck:

Jon as Jon



LOS ALAMOS website support locally by OviNuppi Systems