As both a co-host of a poetry reading series and someone who has lately attended a fair amount of readings, I’ve begun to notice certain reading trends. The most notable one, and one that more seasoned readers and reading-goers probably recognized long ago, is the inherent connectivity bias an audience develops with more humorous readers. At our Mental Marginalia reading last night, of our five readers, the work of three tended away from overt humor, often eschewing it entirely. The other two poets utilized it extensively, which isn’t to say they used it as a crutch, but it was a heavier element in a broad emotional mix. These latter two received the most immediate and obvious audience reaction (though all five readers received very positive reactions at the end of their “sets”).
This makes sense. People laugh at funny things, so there’s always a straightforward way to know what worked. When that element isn’t present, it’s much more difficult for an audience to outwardly demonstrate their affinity for a particular poem. People tend not to applaud after each poem – unless it’s totally mind-blowing – which I’ve always found a little bit too polite, but I think it also stems from the fact that if people did do that, it would be very obvious when something failed, whether intentionally funny or not.
Failure is a good thing, though. Continue reading