The 3:03 Express Interview Series

In this edition of The 3:03 Express Interview Series, we ask three kick-ass poetry reading hosts three questions about why you, the wonderful poets of the highways and railyards, should get thyself to a monthly reading series and step up to the mic! Please Welcome Erin Lynn (host of the Poor Mouth Reading Series in New York City), Kendall Bell (host of the Maverick Duck Press Series in Mount Holly, NJ) and Sarah Tatro (host of the Cadence Collective's 2nd Mondays Poetry Party in Long Beach, CA). 

1. What led you to the decision to host a monthly poetry reading series? And what do you personally/creatively get out of hosting as opposed to just reading at another series?

Erin Lynn: When I first had the idea for the series, I was a senior at Manhattan College. An Beal Bocht was (and still is) my local pub and its Tuesday night music open mic was a regular feature of my week. The pub was also bringing in writers for occasional book readings, and it's also named after a novel by Flann O'Brien, so I thought it could use a regular reading series, similar to the music open mic. I approached the owners and they were enthusiastic and helpful. The first reading was December, 2009.

Hosting the series allows me to engage with other writers. I'm currently in an MFA program, but when I wasn't, I was in the habit of composing at least one new poem a month to bring to the series. It sort of kept me honest. Other regular readers at the series have told me that coming to the reading provides a good deadline. So it has this very real-time feel for me. Everyone seems to be reading fresh work, and there's a lot of openness and discussion. I also love the pageantry of performing at a mic. It might be the lighting in the pub or the contents of my glass, but it feels a lot more exciting than reading during a workshop.

Kendall Bell: Well, it was a collective decision, at first. I was part of a poetry critique group called The Quick & Dirty Poets. We met every month and workshopped, and after about a year we decided that we wanted to do some readings. Some years down the line after becoming the group's president, I took more control of the readings. It was then that I also decided to run a reading series for Maverick Duck Press, my chapbook micro-press.

I liked the idea of bringing poetry to the community and that is still what drives me to keep hosting readings. I'm a big backer of the arts. I also like being able to just sit back and hear someone read their poetry instead of worrying about reading my own. I pay attention to the cadence of other poets and if there's something in their style that I like, I'll use it to improve my own performances. Also, I like to incorporate ideas from other readings that I attend into MDP readings, to try something a little different. I'd like to shake things up more and have the readings be a bit looser, maybe even raucous. Sometimes I think poets are a little too careful and overthink things.

Sarah Tatro: The first completely poetry open mic reading I went to was in 2013, led by G. Murray Thomas. Through that series, I was able to connect with many other people in the poetry community. I also began attending other readings at an independent bookstore in Long Beach called Gatsby's. In August of 2013, Murray ended his reading series due to a job change. I remember thinking that it would be really cool to co-host a reading with him at Gatsby, but did not mention it to anyone then. At the same time, I began running a Long Beach focused poetry website called as a way to further get connected into the community. At some point, Sean Moor, the owner of Gatsby's Book, asked me if I'd ever thought about hosting a reading series as an extension of Cadence Collective. I then put out a general mass email to all the poetry reading hosts I knew to ask for words of wisdom (not asking for a partner) and the first one to respond was Murray, who offered to co-host. So in January of 2014, we had our first reading.

As far as what a person can get out of hosting as opposed to just reading at another series? Many opportunities to meet and discover new poets. We always have at least two features. I book someone local who's been featured on the website and Murray books a "non-local". His picks are often new to me, so I get to hear their work and connect with them in person. My picks are usually my friends, but I get to help show them off.

2. What are the benefits for writers who choose to read their work in public? How might it affect the creation process? Do writers who read in public have a better chance of being published?

Erin Lynn: I think the deadline is super beneficial. When you don't know if you're going to be paid for your writing, or if it's ever going to be published, it can be hard to motivate yourself to finish a piece. Coming to a reading regular not only provides a due date, but it also comes with a built in audience. Completing a piece of writing is different when you plan to share it. And I think performing work orally provides a particular kind of pressure. I tend to feel more responsible for my work having read it aloud to others. Readings facilitate a community of writers; people who come to them tend to be involved in the "industry" in some capacity or another, so it's a great way to make contacts.

Kendall Bell: The bottom line, for me, is that those who choose to read in public get their voice out there. Their words are being heard, and that's really the most important thing. Not everyone is Emily Dickinson sitting in their room writing and hiding their poems away. The need for connection is important. And it most assuredly affects the creative process. At readings, when I hear a poet I really like, it gives me a charge. It makes me WANT to write. It could even help me out of a creative funk. I'm always up for exploring other ways to write and other challenges as a poet. I don't know if it increases your chances of publication, but it certainly can't hurt. An editor of a NJ print annual was the featured reader for QND at one of our earlier readings, there was one poem I read that she really liked. After I finished reading, she grabbed my arm and said, "Send me that poem." Needless to say, it was the catalyst for me to submit more.

Sarah Tatro: Poetry, historically, is an oral tradition. Most of it is meant to be spoken and heard. Reading in front of a safe audience give poets a chance to feel and hear reactions to their work. I often want to go home and revise or edit a piece after reading at an open. Do writers who read in public have a better chance of being published? It certainly doesn't hurt. I know I often solicit poets who read in the open to submit poems to my website or other projects.  

3. What advice would you give a writer who might be shy about sharing his or her work in public but is still thinking of trying it out?

Erin Lynn: Giving readings is part of being a writer, so it's really worth trying it out. The first time might be scary, but no one is going to judge you. Take a deep breath and be proud of what you've written.

Kendall Bell: I would tell them to go for it. Check out local readings first. Get familiar with how they're run and see if you like the setting. If you feel comfortable there, give it a go. A coffeehouse is the perfect place for that. I'm usually most comfortable in coffeehouses, surrounded by the smells of the drinks. There is no one who will judge you or tell you to stop reading. If you're happy with your poems and want to share, do it. You'd be surprised at the connections you can make both creatively and emotionally.

Sarah Tatro: Find a safe place with a warm atmosphere. Just listen for a while before signing up. Hearing the various levels of reading in an open list can help ease fears.

Erin Lynn: Poor Mouth Reading Series at An Beal Bocht Café, 445 W 238th St, Bronx, NY 10463

Kendall Bell: Maverick Duck Press Reading Series at The Daily Grind Coffee Shop, 48 High St, Mt Holly, NJ 08060

Sarah Tatro: Cadence Collective's 2nd Mondays Poetry Party at Gatsby Books, 5535 E. Spring St., Long Beach, CA 90808

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