Sandra Beasley is the author of the memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life and the poetry collections I Was the Jukebox and Theories of Falling. She received the 2008 Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for poetry and lives in Washington, D.C., where she's also been a P&W-supported writer. We asked her a few questions about her experience giving readings.
What are your reading dos?
Do make eye contact. Do pause between poems, both for your sake and that of the audience. Do crack a joke or two; this is poetry, not brain surgery. (And actually, I would want the brain surgeon who can crack a joke or two).
...and your reading don'ts?
All poets go through a phase of journeying—to New York, D.C., Los Angeles—to take part in line-ups where they are one of many. Don't try to shoehorn that extra poem in to make it "worth" your trip. You want to be remembered as the poet who left us wanting more, not the one who had us checking our watches.
How do you prepare for a reading?
I make my set list, which is usually about ten poems ordered for thematic flow (i.e., a trio of persona poems) and strategic timing (i.e., not assaulting anyone with two sestinas back to back). I clear my throat. I bounce up and down on the balls of my feet. It's a lot like being a musician, minus the groupies and the free beer.
What's the strangest comment you've received from an audience member?
"[My boyfriend] doesn't speak much English, but your facial expressions and hand gestures were so intense that he could follow along." Apparently I am a vivid performer, as evidenced by all the incredibly goofy snapshots taken of me mid-reading.
What's your crowd-pleaser?
There's one poem I love to read, so much so that I practically have it memorized, and that is "Vocation" from I Was the Jukebox. As poems go, it is short, has some humor, and is dedicated to anyone who (like me) has struggled to pay rent while doing the thing(s) we love to do. "Vocation" was also my first experiment in making video-poems for YouTube.
What did you spend your R/W grant check on?
For my P&W-supported reading, I shared the stage at the Arts Club of Washington with Sarah Browning. It was a quintessentially D.C. night, and I was so proud to read with Sarah, the director of Split This Rock and the author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden, which I had helped edit when she published with The Word Works in 2007. Though my honorarium wasn't huge, it was an important reminder that our work is valued in this world. What did I spend it on? The usual: dinner with writer friends, a good martini, and more books.
Photo: Sandra Beasley. Credit: Matthew Worden.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Washington, D.C., is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.