What are your reading do's?
I always think about the type of event at which I’ll be reading and try to pick something I think will work in that venue. Is it a solo reading, group reading, cabaret-style show? Stuff like that. I mean, your work is your work and you only have so much to choose from, but I always think about it from an audience’s perspective (which I don’t do while I’m writing.) And sometimes I know I’ll give a better reading if it’s something I haven’t read out loud a bunch of times. I hate a canned reading.
And your reading don’ts?
Don’t ever, ever, ever, go on too long. The longest I will ever read is twenty minutes, but usually it’s more like fifteen with a Q&A or else some other dumb, surprise element I come up with.
How do you prepare for a reading?
I never over-prepare. I’ve learned not to get drunk or anything beforehand, but I also like to leave it open and see what it feels like once I get there. Some people are going to feel better if they’re totally prepared, but my favorite readings have always been when I leave a few things up in the air until the last minute.
What’s the strangest comment you’ve received from an audience member?
If bottles of gin are a “comment,” then that. If not, then “I worked with your dad at Lockheed Missiles and Spaces in 1978” was pretty good.
What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why does it work?
I don’t know that I have a crowd-pleaser. In between the poems or stories I’m reading, I try to be myself, be the person I am with my friends and my family. That always helps.
What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve been part of?
I’ve been doing this for twenty years so a lot of shit has happened. I got booed by a very vociferous crowd when I opened for Neil Young. I’ve stage-dived and had my shirt torn off. I’ve made lifelong friends with people I’ve met at readings. I’ve completely had what felt like an aneurysm and forgotten what I was doing. I’ve been heckled by lesbians who were mad that I was a straight person on tour with lesbians. I’ve looked out in the audience and realized that there was somebody out there that I’d rather not have hear what I’m about to read and chickened out and changed at the last minute. And sometimes I’ve said fuck it and read it anyway.
How does giving a reading inform your writing and vice versa?
Reading out loud used to completely inform my writing because open mics were how I started writing in the first place. Over time that has changed, but I still read my stuff out loud to myself after I’ve written something. I want it to sound good. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, but my favorite stuff always ends up being the stuff that sounds really killer and dynamic when it’s read out loud.
Photo: Beth Lisick. Credit: Amy Sullivan.