September 2023

The Steiny Road to Operadom | Karren LaLonde Alenier |

The Slo-Mo of Audiences for Poetry

Karren Alenier

The Steiny Road Poet (a.k.a. Karren Alenier)  organized and scripted an in-person reading of five poets including herself for the Arts Club of Washington on July 21, 2023. From the Belly: Poets Respond to Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons was featured.  It was a highly successful reading followed by a question-and-answer period with such interesting questions as: "I noticed that everyone seems so joyful—does this come from Stein's work or from the connection to this project?" That led to a range of commentary from the participants who sometimes answered that the joy was found in Stein's work or in their own, but also from the project itself that brought these poets together: Martha Sanchez-Lowery, Henry Crawford, Don Illich, and Hiram Larew.

What was remarkable was that Karren Alenier did not attend the reading. She was home nursing a case of Covid. Although the program was not broadcast on Zoom, it was scripted and recorded.

This brings up the state of poetry readings in today's post-Covid world. Ever since the Covid shutdown, poetry programs have increasingly found their way online. This has increased the audiences for poetry.

So what makes a poetry reading successful? An audience. Generally speaking an audience of 20 people is considered a respectable number attending a poetry reading. The Arts Club reading had close to 30 people. Also were any books sold? At the Arts Club, four books were sold and another person who could not make the reading emailed that he wanted to buy a book. Were questions asked? Did people linger after the reading to either look at the book or books for sale and to take the opportunity to talk to each other?

Steiny also organized and participated in another in-person reading on July 9, 2023, at a funky nonprofit bookstore in the Washington, DC suburbs . This time there were 15 people in the bookstore audience and 31 online through Zoom. Wonderful questions were asked and answered. For example, how to start reading Stein and who else writes in the style of
Stein. One book was sold.

Most of the time, Zoom readings do not sell books. In the United States, Steiny believes that buying books of poetry has always been an impulse purchase. The question is how do you attract an audience likely to buy a book of poetry? One sure fire method is to have a private book party.

In May 2023, a friend held a book party for Steiny where about 30 people attended. A short reading ensued but mostly it was a literary cocktail party where people munched on savory treats and spoke enthusiastically to one another. Twelve copies of From the Belly were sold as well as five copies of Steiny's 2021 book how we hold on.

Steiny has always said that building an audience for poetry is like forming a stalactite—one drop at a time.


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Karren Alenier is a poet and writer. She writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4. She is the author of The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas. Read her blog.
For more of her commentary and articles,
check the Archives.

Index of Karren Alenier's
columns in Scene4
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©2023 Karren Alenier
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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