I was there for a poetry reading. That's not strictly true; I was there for a poet. When I was an adolescent, I used to go places to meet boys. Now I was here because a boy that I had met had co-founded a poetry club. Sometimes, when I'm feeling much too old to be out late at a downtown bar or a poetry reading, I think about telling my adolescent self that the boy I had picked out was a rock star and poet. She would have thought that was so thoroughly fantastic that maybe she would lend me some of her energy and lust for life so I could get through the night. Life is happening, pay attention.
"You look tired. Good time last night?"
"What was last night?" I remembered being up late, but couldn't remember what we had done. "Oh. Yeah." We'd had friends over for dinner.
I had no bottled youth, so I settled for a beer. The bar was trying to get rid of all the seasonal beers from the winter, so they were selling them for two bucks a pop. I ordered some calamari, too, because when there is an opportunity to eat fried squid with a zesty dipping sauce, one should take it.
Aside from poetry, there was a guy with a guitar and another fellow doing live painting. That's what Josh called it, "live painting." I told him that all painting was live. I painted my own house live and on location. Maybe I should have sold tickets. Anyway, what with the poems and the guitar and the painting, I guess the point was that there was art happening there for those who wanted to be patrons of it.
I don't get poetry. I've tried, I promise. There are poems that I enjoy, but more often I find my mind wandering away as my reading turns to skimming before I give up altogether. It used to be the way I read recipes before I learned to cook. Poetry seems like unnecessary complication, at least in form if not also in word choice. It's a piece of writing that has been given a structure, and I don't understand why. Why is this written as a poem and not a paragraph?
The calamari was not good. It was well-fried, not too greasy, but the squid itself was rubbery. Very disappointing. I decided to have soup and asked the waiter to tell me which was the best of the three offerings. This is something that my brother does - he asks the wait staff what the best thing on the menu is and then he just orders it on their word. I admire his style, his ability to try something new as recommended by someone who may not care or have terrible taste. I've been trying to do this more, but I am not ready for complete trust, so I narrow the question. Just give me the best soup. And another beer.
I have no idea if the poetry was good. I liked the first reader, who was a professor at NC State. Her poems were like scenes from a sad movie. But they were beautiful, and I could relate to them. I've personally never had an affair with a slow but sweet boy in the California heat, but I've been caught up in a moment, even one that lasts a whole season. At the end of those kinds of moments, you look back and wonder who you had been that something like that would happen to you.
Josh read one that he had written just the night before, the night that was so long and late that I had already forgotten what I'd done. He wrote it after our guests had left, at his writing table in his library, while I drifted off to sleep in the leather chair. I've come to think of it as my chair, even though the library is his room. But that's where I sit, and I think he is so happy that I want to be in his room that he lets me take the more comfortable chair. The dog also thinks its her chair, but we are snugglers, so there is no conflict.
I would like to tell my adolescent self that one of the best things about dating a rock star and poet is that you know where he gets his material. A reference will come up in a poem or a lyric and I can smile to myself, knowing why that thing was on his mind that day. It's like our secret, the thing that redeems having to share him with so many. In the poem that he had written while I was falling asleep in his chair, he used a new word he'd discovered recently: frisson. All the other people who were listening might wonder where a man gets a word like that, while I enjoy my private knowledge that he got it from a Harry Potter book.
The other poems were fine, I guess. The restaurant filled up with people who were not there to listen to their boyfriend's poetry club, and it became harder to hear every word. My soup arrived. It was truly awful. The chicken pieces were dried up and chewy, and the citrus flavor was overwhelming.
As promised, there was live painting. A guy stood to the side of the microphone and painted a picture of a man grasping a pen while words came at him from an indistinct and gritty cityscape. Despite my mockery, I like live painting. It was like watching a Bob Ross show, but modern and edgy. I wondered if the artist was just making it up as he went along, thinking to himself that he would just add a bleak deserted building here, a dreary little tree right over there.
At the end of the readings, they announced that it was time to play a poetry game. This club that Josh is in - they basically get together and come up with a prompt, then everyone writes a poem on the spot. They read them aloud, then critique. I sort of played it once, at a Christmas party where I had consumed an immoderate amount of spiked egg nog. I wrote on the little slips of paper, then hurriedly crammed them in my pocket rather than share them with the group. I'm pretty sure how they were all about how I don't get poetry. I've always had a hard time being open with my writing. I like having enough time to edit and revise, so I don't have to put myself out there until I feel like I'm presenting my best. So this whole write a poem and then read it out load was terrible. I can't even write poetry. I was just trying to impress a boy.
They explained the rules of the poetry game, the most important being "Finish your thought." They handed out little slips of paper for people to write on. The guest readers and a couple of confident friends took them. The prompt was the painting itself, which had been created live before us. They stood around it, looking at this still-wet piece of art that had been created while we were all sitting around, listening to poetry, and not enjoying the calamari.
I ripped a piece of paper out of a notebook in my purse and wrote a haiku.
I just want to thank
y'all for coming out tonight.
Support live painting!
I folded it up and slipped it to Josh, who smiled and offered to read it to the group for me. I shook my head no in alarm, because even a tiny haiku is twelve syllables too much sharing. But I did share. Just not with everybody.
I feel bad for not understanding this thing that he loves. I'm not a musician either, but at least I have the capacity to appreciate music. Whereas Josh can read me a poem and I will have absolutely no reaction to it, other than the sinking feeling that he would be better off with a girl who thought in lines of verse rather than lines of code. He doesn't seem to care, and he can't read code, so I guess we're even. People act like I must be so smart because I write software, and they didn't even know that software was something that was written. I think my brain is just wired the right way for this job. I like it, but it's not for everyone. I guess neither is poetry.