Last night I read at the Village Zendo, eleven floors up above Broadway, in Soho. It got me to thinking about the climate of poetry readings, the atmospheres in which they take place. At the Zendo, there's a meditation session an hour or so before the reading, and a number of people came and sat then stayed on. The room had an almost palpable quality of calm, as if it held the after-effects of deep, steady attention.
Of course poetry readings are generally quiet(ish), but I was very aware of the difference. How I usually find myself working to gather in and steady an audience's attention, and how, especially in college settings where I'm reading to young people, there's usually some jostle or bit of distraction going on someplace. At the Zendo, I felt that I was placing the poem into the space in front of me, where it sort of hung for a moment as it was being taken into a deeply receptive listening. One of the effects of this is that the reading becomes about the poem itself, or about poetry, more than it seems about the reader. It's not as if you use your personality or the force of your will to put the poem across, but more like setting it out into the room, lightly, onto a current that's already moving.
This was completely lovely, and also the best way to hear the poems of my co-reader Fanny Howe, who read from THE LYRICS, a richly meditative collection that grows out of months spent in a Benedictine monastery.
And speaking of monks, our host was Koshin Paley Ellison, the sweetest and most contagiously cheerful of men, and he was joined later on by his husband Chodo. What could be more delightful than two big loving playful monks?