Monday, December 13, 2004

Open Letter to Philly Poets and Beyond 

Hello Pobiz Folk,

Thankfully, as childcare becomes more manageable, I’ve been venturing out to readings a bit more often these days. In doing so – and in reading email lists and the like – I’ve noticed a semi-new and disturbing trend, both here in Philly and beyond: trashing Philly’s LaTazza as a reading venue.

The complaints seem to go like this: it’s smoky. it’s loud. it’s dark. the floor is too hard and it hurts my feet when I walk on it. the paper towels are rough and abrade my hands when I dry them in the restroom.

OK, I made some of those up. But you know what? Some of those things are true. You know what else is true? Every reading series I’ve ever been to has been in a space that was less than perfect – this one has a room that’s always too hot, the chairs at that one hurt my back, whatever. In my mind, it’s part of the price one pays for leaving one’s home in order to actually, you know, experience the world. (And I say this, by the way, as someone who in their current incarnation is a non-smoking, non-drinking, organic-soymilk-worshipping health freak; I'm not defending LaTazza simply because I like the opportunity to chainsmoke Pall Malls while watching readings.)

Here are my humble suggestions. Consider these a possible New Year’s Resolution:

1) If you’ve ever read at a series – or are scheduled to read there in the future, or continue to badger the host for a reading – don’t complain about the venue. Especially don’t complain about the venue while you’re actually there. You don’t have to have an Emily Post guide on hand to know better than this – it’s simply poor form.

2) Consider the fact that the LaTazza series moved to the bar because people complained that the Highwire Gallery was too sterile – too bright, uncomfortable, not really suited for post-reading socializing, which always took place in a bar, anyway. Also consider that the staff at LaTazza has been nothing but kind to the series and its patrons. While you’re at it, consider that this series is an ideal counterbalance to what goes on at Temple and Writers House and beyond – we need all of these things to offer a truly vibrant reading scene here, and without the LaTazza series, many younger writers would never make it to Philly to read.

3) Recognize that these complaints stink of a sad kind of cultural elitism that suggests there is only one kind of space in which poetry should be read aloud. This means that poetry should be relegated, I reckon, to the relatively controlled (and therefore inevitably somewhat sterilized) halls of academia. And, you know, that kind of binary thinkin' ain't too avant-garde, now is it?

4) Take a moment to actually thank Frank Sherlock for hosting LaTazza. All reading hosts deserve heaps of praise, but keep in mind that LaTazza isn’t part of Frank’s job – he already has two of those – so it’s not part of his salaried gig, or a hoop to be jumped through for tenure, or anything like that. My fear, honestly, is that if everyone keeps bitching he’ll finally throw up his hands and walk away. While you’re at it, thank Greg Fuchs, Kyle Conner, and Maggie Z. (though based on previous posts here, she might not want to be reminded of her Philly days, anyway) for co-hosting at various points in the past, too.

There are lots of things in this world to complain about. Whining about a reading series location, though, is just a waste of time and energy. When a cartoon August Strindberg wallows in misery, it's charming; when real-life poets spend this much time complaining about trivial issues instead of working to actually create a positive space, it makes me want to go back to hibernation and avoid the whole pobiz circuit. Sheesh.

Chris McC

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