Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week

By Todd Boss on 4.02.09

I got an email from my accountant the other day, lamenting the fact that his weekday work schedule frequently keeps him from attending my poetry readings. “Do poets not read on weekends?” he asked.

The answer, of course, is no. One of the assumptions that may be making an ass out of me and my fellow poets is the assumption that no one will come to a poetry reading on a weekend, and that therefore the only feasible nights for a poetry audience are the dreariest weekdays in the calendar: namely, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights.

It is no longer quite fashionable in this country to speak of a “culture of poverty” with respect to the urban poor, but it’s likely that a similar phrase might well apply to the urban literate. Call it a “culture of obscurity”—a broad set of practices ranging from the use of strictly poets and critics as the endorsers of poetry books to the use of Greco-Roman allusions and obscure epigraphs in the poems found in those books. The assumption is that only “a certain crowd” is worth speaking to.


Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr

It also assumes that no poetry event can compete for audiences that might otherwise be bound for the theater, the movies, the concert hall or the bar. And yet, assuming as much, poetry has effectively taken itself off the list of things to do on a Friday night, relegated itself to the back of the public’s mind, and demanded only the audience of insiders it has enjoyed so comfortably for so long.

Assumptions, of course, are pernicious things, and can be dangerous to fragile systems. We can debate whether poetry’s systems are “fragile,” but we’ll surely agree that poetry’s relationship with a general audience is not a particularly robust one.

Unfortunately, I am part of the problem. I host a monthly reading series that has for two years been Wednesday’s child, full woe. A very peculiar type of woe it is too, for the room is often packed to the gills with a sophisticated, lively, and appreciative audience. Why shouldn’t it be? The audience is made up almost exclusively of fellow poets who have nothing better to do on a Wednesday night than…well, just about anything at all.

Poetry ought to assume its rightful place among the best ways to spend one’s best hours. Whether or not it means bigger audiences in the short-term, competing in the big leagues will send an important message sure to resonate into the long-term: that poetry deserves not just a business dinner, but a real date with the public.

topics: Columnists

2 Comments

Dave said on 4.03.09 at 8:03am:

If this week’s turnout for Richard Wilbur’s reading at Johns Hopkins is an indication, there is hope for the future. True, it was a Monday night, but on a campus with a reputation for eyes-to-the-ground engineers and scientists, more than 200 students packed a lecture hall to hear him. Don’t know whether the reading could have competed with a Saturday night frat party, but it was a very encouraging turnout.
More here: http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/books/blog/2009/03/richard_wilbur_at_johns_hopkin.html

Dave said on 4.06.09 at 6:09am:

I’ve helped organize a number of poetry readings over the years in State College, PA, and had no trouble drawing a crowd on the weekends. You just have to make a big deal out of them. In my experience, most poets have no freakin’ clue about how to do publicity or organize exciting events. I’d advise scheduling a two-hour reading with 2-4 poets whom you know to be great readers (not just great writers), then get notices in the newspapers, on radio, on the local cable-access TV station, and on every conceivable website, and paper the town with posters. Create enough of a buzz and people won’t want to miss it.