I’m not much of a poet. By that I mean I don’t write poetry, nor do I see it as one of my go-to entertainments, but like all writers I have a deep appreciation for good poetry, especially in a live setting. So, a couple of us WepWoppers went to a few of the events surrounding the Austin International Poetry Festival and, compared with last Saturday’s experience at the Texas Observer’s Writers’ Festival, it is, in two words, younger and more niche.
This should not come to you as a surprise. In this age of 140 character tweets and ever shortening attention spans, poetry remains in obscurity outside the classroom. Inside, it’s academia’s pinnacle of pretension, but of all the other literary mediums, it has the most potential to grab new, younger audiences. Poems have the swift language and metaphor that its longer counterparts simply can’t compete with at live readings. It has the immediate power to connect the audience with emotions, be it humor, anger, frustration, or regret, and have them shouting or laughing in quick succession, whereas a short story or novel would sprinkle such punches over the course of 15-minutes, half an hour, or even an hour. What non-literature loving tweeter wants to sit still for that long, even with free booze?
Poetry slams, for example, have been on the rise in the past decade, from the National Poetry Slam to Austin’s weekly poetry slam. The latter of which is run by reigning champion Danny Strack, who we had the pleasure of meeting. He also hosted the “Haiku Deathmatch,” which, without mentioning our own attempt, he told us was a growing fad in the poetry community. The quick humor most of the haiku authors strive for is a factor, but it is undoubtedly the immediacy of haikus and short poems coupled with the audience’s thirst for competition that is making them a popular part of slams and poetry events.
I’m a pretty traditional guy when it comes to writing. I like 20-page stories. I like boring yet vigorous Carver-esque minimalist sentences. And I like dull readings with an author propped up behind a podium. But, I also know that not only are these things no longer appealing to the new generation of writers and readers, but they definitely won’t bring on a new revolution of literary-connoisseurs.
Which leads to the question that’s been floating around the We Put Words On Paper camp ever since our SXSCongress Literary event—How does the author/performer make a short story as entertaining and brisk as a poem or haiku?
We have a few ideas of our own (you’ll see soon enough), but we want to know what you think. What would make reading a 10-page short story more enjoyable for the audience?
(Besides booze, we already know that)