Well the reading last night was very nice and well-attended. A lot of the folks from the local writers group were there, and I’m grateful for the turn-out from friends and readers, many of whom I know already had long days behind them (and, in two cases, birthday celebrations ahead of them!) and still took the time to show up. It made the event very meaningful. I’m also grateful for the readers from outside the Greater Staunton Metropolitan Area (you know who you are) who showed me support leading up to the reading.
I opened the reading with a passage from a story by Jorge Luis Borges, which I had just stumbled across earlier in the week. It describes a Scottish missionary’s discovery of a tribe of previously unknown people:
Another of the tribe’s customs is the discovery of poets. Six or seven words, generally enigmatic, may come to a man’s mind. He cannot contain himself and shouts them out, standing in the center of a circle formed by the witch doctors and the common people, who are stretched out on the ground. If the poem does not stir them, nothing comes to pass, but if the poet’s words strike them they all draw away from him, without a sound, under the command of a holy dread. Feeling then that the spirit has touched him, nobody, not even his own mother, will either speak to him or cast a glance at him. Now he is a man no longer but a god, and anyone has the license to kill him. The poet, if he has his wits about him, seeks refuge in the sand-dunes of the North.
Now I remember why I hadn’t read in public for 15 years!
Another thing that I realized I had not done in a long time, in fact that I had never done, was to stand around and sell my own books. I can’t count how many book signings and readings I’ve been to, especially in my ten years as a bookseller and for a few years helping to pitch other self-published authors’ books at book festivals in Virginia, Arizona and New York. But as I stood behind this bar at AVA after the reading, dishing out books like mixed drinks and glasses of wine, I suddenly realized that I had never been in this position before, and that probably accounted for most of my anxiety leading up to this event. It’s one thing to read your work and share it with an interested (or even disinterested, in the case of a few diners last night) and decidedly not hostile crowd; it’s a whole ‘nother thing to then put a price tag on your work and (literally) stand behind it at the point of purchase.
It was also a gratifying thing. The other writer, Jeffrey Condran, and I exchanged copies of our own books, and enough people came up and bought books that two positive things came out of that–I became comfortable with the necessary idea that one has to sometimes put a retail price in front of one’s meaningful work; and, because of that and with the booty from a few sales, I was able to enjoy a trip to the local ice cream shop with the family directly afterwards (and a lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant today) in a celebration supported by those sales.
So really the biggest thing I learned last night, in a very personal way, was that another of the tribe’s customs seems to be that the tribe comes, the tribe listens, and the tribe buys poetry books. That’s a pretty decent tribe to belong to.
Lastly, just a pitch for the “other Jeff,” Jeffrey Condran. Jeff read a story titled “Praha” from his newly-published collection which was really great–complex, quiet, a little unsettling, just right. As soon as I got home and we got the kids to bed, I pulled out his book and started in on the second story, “Irregulars.” His work is definitely worth checking out, and you can find this book at the website for his publisher, Press 53.