Sunday, March 9, 2008

Your Audience?

Every now and then, when I am in a writer's group or at a workshop, someone will ask this peculiar question. Who do you imagine is in your audience? I always want to ask the same question back. Who is in your audience?

I begin to imagine that we all have an audience we never know or meet. It's as if there are these strangers out there somewhere on the other side of one of those one-way mirrors. They can watch our every move, but we never see them.

As a poet, I never imagine anyone reading my work. But what if I did? Who would they be?

Would there be any dentists, for example? Should I include flossing in my poetry?

This next poem, I might announce at a reading, is for all the dentists in the room.

What about rocket scientists? Flight attendants? Entomologists? Members of the Secret Police?

If an oxygen mask drops down during this next poem, place it over your nose and mouth and breathe normally.

I think it would be nice to supply emergency equipment for readings. Flotation devices. Beverages. Seat Belts. Vomit bags.

Sometimes at readings, everyone is wearing black, and a few have shades. It's kind of a New York thing, I guess. Or a poetry fashion statement.

I would like to dedicate this poem to all the secret police in the audience. I know you're out there.

Maybe I would be careful what I said after that. I would read poems written in codes so that only a few would understand.

Of course that's usually not a problem. Poets are already known for speaking in code.

I think they are known for speaking to the night, the dawn, the birds, the rain, the snow.

But audiences? I don't know.


Jennifer Sullivan said...

I've never understood the "write for an audience" thing. I think I may have a one person audience, someone I have never met but know really well. And she sticks her tongue out at me all the time.

Nin Andrews said...

That's funny. Yes, I think one is about right for me, too. On a good day.

Lyle Daggett said...

When I'm writing a poem, I usually have a vague sense of someone I'm talking to in the poem, though it can vary, and it isn't always a specific person, just a general sense of "someone" who might at some point read or hear the poem.

This seems to be just a tangential effect of writing the poem -- it doesn't seem to be necessary in order to write, or anyway I don't need to pay particular attention to it. A vague "someone" imagines itself and goes about its business, and I go about mine.

That's very amusing, the noting that the people who come to poetry readings wearing black and dark glasses are possibly secret police. "The unacknowledged legislators of the world," W. H. Auden said someplace once, "are the secret police, not the poets." Maybe people were showing up in sunglasses at his readings too.

Karen at Pen in Hand said...

Well, this is perhaps a dishearteningly literal response to your (as usual) fanciful and imaginative post, but as I was reading it, I was imagining and expansive room in which all of the people who have ever read and loved even a single one of your poems is there. And they all have name badges on that say something like, "Hello, my name is KAREN" and then underneath it is says something like, "journalist" in smaller letters. And in one fell swoop you could see all of them, and see how different they all look, and how vast the audience. And they'd all be smiling, because of course they all love your work. The audience would be devoid of anyone who's ever not gotten you or was distracted or whatever. And it would be much, much bigger than you can imagine, because even though it's poetry, you know: You just never know.