Thursday, August 19, 2010

Microphone Hogs

by Ashley Lister

Is this Kathleen’s topic? Thanks Kathleen. You can help me field the hate mail I’m about to generate.

I’m not the most easy-going of people. Everything pisses me off. I’m an angry driver. I’m an angry pedestrian. I’m angry walking briskly around the shops. I’m even angry when I’m sitting down watching the world go by too fast or too slow to suit my current mood. Everything pisses me off. Which is why it’s difficult for me, this week, to pick one particular pet peeve.

In the literary world, I’m subject to the same nuisances that torment my fellow grippers. Submissions in the wrong format. What sort of dimwit doesn’t read the instructions? I know I’ve committed this sin on several occasions, but I’m not talking about my own shortcomings. I have many of those and they piss me off too. I can take onboard Kathleen’s peeve about Sandy-esque characters. I sympathise with Charlotte’s outrage at publishers who can’t treat their authors with basic human decency. And I can smile wryly at the way Garce dealt with this topic yesterday.

My personal pet peeve, or at least – the one I’m going to discuss here, relates to poetry. More importantly, it relates to microphone hogs.

In an ideal world, the wonderful thing about an open mike session is that it gives everyone a chance to read their poetry. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And not everyone gets that chance.

Some people miss their chance because they’re scared. I can sympathise with this.

The microphone is a daunting instrument. It’s shaped like a cock (admittedly, a huge metallic cock, with a chain-mail glans and a five-foot metal stand for a shaft, and an electrical cable for a vas deferens) but there’s still that vaguely cock-like appearance. Who, in their right mind, would want to stand before a group of peers with a five-foot cock in their face?

But it’s not just the microphone. Poetry can be intensely personal. If I put my private thoughts on paper, and shape them so they say exactly what I wanted to say, do I really want to hold them up for ridicule and examination in front of a group of peers? Especially whilst I’m standing in front of a five foot metal cock?

And what if my thoughts are wrong? And no one agrees with me? Or if they piss people off? (We’ve already noted that I’m an angry person. What if there are other angry people sitting in the audience? I can’t be the only one sitting there and fuming on def-con one, can I?)

And what if I screw up? What if I mangle the words, say them in the wrong order? Can I face the humiliation of people laughing at my incompetence? How can I claim to be a poet if I can’t even pronounce words properly? Will I ever recover from the shame?

Doubts like this hit a lot of poets on open mike nights. Some of the poets are incredibly brave and take the microphone despite their enormous fears. You have to admire courage like that. It’s exhilarating.

Others, and this is the really sad part, leave at the end of the night, promising to vanquish the Jabberwocky at the next event. Watching them leave, I desperately hope that they will come back with their vorpal swords raised in readiness. Not all of them do.

And then there are the poets that piss me off. The poets who hog the microphone.

“I need to tell you a little story before I read this poem so you understand what it’s about.”
Really? You need to tell me a little story so I can understand what it’s about? Why? Is that because I’m too stupid to understand your poem? Or is it because you didn’t write the f***ing thing properly in the first place?

And, when you say a little story, I could point out that I’ve grown a beard since you started at the mike. That’s not my idea of a little story. It’s like listening to a stammerer recite War and Peace. In Aramaic. With a five-foot cock in their face. Maybe not quite that interesting.

Contextualise a poem. That’s fine. Tell me: “This poem was written in response to the current political crisis in Madagascar.” Don’t tell me that you’ve been following events on Sky24 News and have a pen-friend over there, and believe that this side is right and the other side is wrong.

Certainly don’t start giving me a potted history of events that led up to the current situation.

Seriously, if I gave a f**k about politics I’d already know about this. In the real world, I don’t give a f**k about my own country’s politics. And I’m too xenophobic to care about other countries. Just read your poem and f**k off. Ideally, read an abridged version. Even better, do that limerick about the bloke from Nantucket. It always makes me laugh and it’s as close to foreign politics as I want to get.

I’m already on a quest to end my life prematurely with tobacco, caffeine, alcohol and a sedentary lifestyle rich in carbs and sugars. Listening to the ramblings of the self-obsessed only serves to make my life seem like it’s lasting longer. This is a major fail on your part.

Am I coming across as splenetic here? I hope so, because this really does annoy me.

The open mike is there for poets. Time issues are one of the many important considerations in any poetry event. If the microphone is hogged by some twunt with an agenda, then there’s a risk that a genuine poet might not have a chance to read their work to their peers. And that would be an enormous tragedy.

Also, there’s the risk that regular enthusiasts could grow weary of the hogs.

As a book reviewer, I know that I’ve sometimes got to sift through some real turds to find the diamonds of literature. It’s maddening. It’s wearisome. And, this may come as a surprise to some of you: it can occasionally piss me off.

What if these microphone hogs are pissing off the enthusiasts and the real talent? These are intelligent poets and poetry enthusiasts. They’re not going to waste their valuable time sitting through the ramblings of the self-obsessed. Even with the comedy value of a five-foot cock lingering in front of their lips.

The poetry group I work with is filled with talented, considerate individuals. I’ve been moved to tears of joy and sadness within the same hour by some of the regulars at our poetry group. This is a testament to their brilliance. But I’ve also been moved to tears of boredom by some of the hogs who’ve crashed the group and commandeered the microphone.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not trying to censor anyone. If a poet needs to say something, and it takes a while to get those words out, I’m prepared to listen patiently to every syllable. But there’s a huge difference between poetry and the ramblings of a twunt who adores the sound of their own voice.

To address this, we’re now introducing a three minute rule. Each poet gets three minutes at the mike. Longer time will be allowed for the good poems. Obviously. We’re not philistines

But minutes may also be deducted if the subject matter relates to religion or politics. And, if you don’t like the rules, you should write a poem about it in protest. Ideally, a short one that needs no introduction. And try not to pick a subject that pisses me off.

24 comments:

  1. Hello, Ash,

    Despite your characterization of yourself as easily annoyed, I think that this is a highly legitimate gripe. Your annoyance is not the least bit excessive, even if you pretend that it is.

    Best,
    Lisabet

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  2. Twunt. Ha! Love it.

    Glad to know that "bad" words are okay. lol

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  3. Magnificent ranting and a highly legitimate gripe. "Fuming on def con one" is my phrase of the week - speaking as somebody who has to watch the blood pressure on a regular basis.

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  4. You need to tell me a little story so I can understand what it’s about? Why? Is that because I’m too stupid to understand your poem? Or is it because you didn’t write the f***ing thing properly in the first place?

    For me, this says volumes unto itself.

    Excellent rant all the way around!

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  5. Ash -
    *drapes self decoratively over the furniture while stroking the microphone*

    This subject
    is a snail
    climbing rock salt
    like Mt Fuji


    in other words, don't blame me.

    *passes the mike*

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  6. Lisabet,

    Thank you. The problem is, if you take the mike off a microphone hog, there will be someone in the audience worried that same fate is going to befall them.

    It's a hell of a balancing act.

    Best,

    Ash

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  7. The Wife,

    I love the word twunt. It's got the doubly-offensive feel to it as readers work out how it's been created :-)

    Best,

    Ash

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  8. Justine,

    I'm glad you like that phrase. And I'm sorry to hear you're having to watch your blood pressure. If I can offer four words of advice: stay away from poetry :-)

    Best,

    Ash

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  9. Craig,

    I'm surprised the windows in the poetry cafe don't explode when someone says 'I need to give you a little introduction before I read this poem.' Simultaneously, you can hear forty people exhale with a world-weary sigh.

    I'mnot sure why somany people need to do this. However, they won't be doing it next month - muahahahahaha ;-)

    Best,

    Ash

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  10. Kathleen,

    I wish you could have seen my friend Adam's poem last month. He took his listeners on a rambling tour of the UK, naming virtually every town and village. That said, he pulled it off with aplomb. But the snail climbing mount fuji would have been a lot swifter.

    Best,

    Ash

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  11. Ash -- This one is actually my fault, but I get enough hate mail on my own. So you are stuck with whatever is generated.

    *muhahaha*

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  12. Hate mail, pshaw! A delightful read from start to finish. (With or without a five-foot cock in front of you.)

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  13. Michelle,

    I should read the small print more closely. I shall have revenge :-)

    Best,

    Ash

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  14. Jeremy,

    Glad you enjoyed my five foot cock... I mean...

    No. I'm sure you know what I mean :-)

    Best,

    Ash

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  15. You rock, Ash! That rant was bang on the money.

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  16. Tracey,

    Thank you. I had an hour or two to compose this rant whilst someone was introducing their poem at the last event :-)

    Best,

    Ash

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  17. Hi Ash!

    Well, no one can accue me of hogging the microphone since I haven;t succeeded yet in astrally projecting myself there to your poetry readings. But I'm still trying.

    Garce

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  18. Ash,

    Wow am I glad I found your articulate rant this morning. Enjoyed the hell out of it. And can relate. Thank you.

    A

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  19. Thanks Alana,

    Glad it made you grin.

    Best,

    Ash

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  20. Twunt is an absolutely marvelous word and I know you feel the same way about inventing it (an assumption on my part) since you managed to use it twice in your post! I'll have to start using it in daily conversation. Perhaps we can start a trend. Then, when the word appears in the OED, I can say I knew the linguistician who invented it!

    Brilliant post, as usual. I hate those people too. When I read (not poetry...) I usually mumble something incoherent as an introduction and then think of what I might have said after I sit down.

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  21. Garce,

    I'm sorry for not replying sooner. I blame it on the meds. Thank you. And astrally project your ass over here for September 10. We've got another great event coming up and your spiritual form will be very welcome.

    Ash

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  22. Diane,

    I wish I could take credit for twunt but it's a word that was bandied around college whilst I was studying. Mind you, I think it should get more popular usage.

    Your way of reading sounds similar to mine. Read to the audience. Don't abuse them with your own self-importance.

    I'm going to have to get over to NYC to hear you read soon.

    Best,

    Ash

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