TThe first word that comes to mind when you hear "poetry readings" is "pretentious." By and large that wasn't really the case since this one was a smokey old bar in Texas, but then again, there are always those "artists" just about anywhere who come with an inflated sense of their talent and the significance of their message. They were funny in and of themselves, but the majority that I paid any attention to were more about incorporating hip-hop styles, pop-culture references, etc.
Now I'm hardly a poet myself, but haiku are always a fun exercise for me. After all, I'll talk your ear off, so it's very satisfying to condense a message into the tight constraints of seventeen syllables. I don't write them often anymore, but at the time I was cranking out several a day every time I'd get in the mood to do so. Having composed virtually nothing else resembling poetry before or since, the haiku were all I had to offer at such a reading.
The host of the event that night was a strange character I hadn't seen at any of the few readings I'd previously attended. She was of a version of Mtv's Daria only with tattoos and scoliosis. And she had clearly taken a vow against laughing until such time as all the world's troubles had been defeated by her verses. When my turn came up, I hadn't gone up to the mic with any idea that she was my target audience. In fact, I dead-panned an impression of her for the benefit of the rest of the audience as I read:
Famine smites my home.
The strawberries have turned black.
I need a new fridge.
A guffaw escaped her audibly. She seemed even more surprised by it than I was. She was sitting off to the side and near the front of this basement bar room so she could return to the mic between readers. She would introduce the next and give occasional samplings of her brand of metered nihilism from a weathered notebook. I could see her out the corner of my eye and hear the muffled sounds around the hands in front of her face.
I hate dandruff and
People who don't follow through.
I just can't stand flakes.
She was choking back the laughter at this point. It was like getting the giggles in church, and all the worse since she was the pastor. She was fighting to keep up the facade like she was in the witness protection agency and I was blowing her cover.
The assault continued for several more minutes. I read a total of five haiku, concluding the set with:
Less is more, they say.
Which is why I'm obsessed with
Charlize Theron's breasts.
She was doubled over with laughter. Or maybe it was the scoliosis. It turned into a feedback loop with me setting her off, and then her doing the same to me. Even I couldn't keep from laughing at her laughing by the end. It was infectious. I don't know how many in the crowd were laughing at the haiku or just at her loosing it in the corner.
Poetry aspires to reveal inner truths, and this was one case where it succeeded.
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