Portal del Sol

Author Salon, Fiction, Novels, Editors, Books & More

Video Review: Barbara Stout

By: Becky Fine-Firesheets

To begin with, this scene is kind of hilarious: a bleak, randomly shadowed, off-white background with a tiny chess set in the corner.  Barbara Stout’s outfit is also kind of hilarious, but her recognition of the need to “tame” the scarf makes it wonderful.  More importantly, however, is that she’s a fabulous poet and reader.  She has a strong sense of how to work a crowd; she’s friendly, relaxed yet commanding, smart, clear and concise.  Her poems are beautiful and beautifully delivered, a wonderful remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. yet also very much her own words.  She’s quite good.  The only problem is, why does this video still flop despite the quality of Stout’s poetry and delivery?

To me, it’s because most readings tend to fall into one or all of the following categories: stuffy, pretentious, boring and/or so focused on the writing that everything else goes to the wayside, especially the idea that this is a performance, a show, an opportunity to captivate an audience.  Authors tend to think that words on a page are enough.  And maybe they should be.  But when it comes to a reading, they’re not.

Stout actually seems to understand the performance aspect quite well; her style is musically captivating and she interacts with her audience in a very easy, comfortable and entertaining manner.  However, everything else sucks.   Maybe I’m a Brooklyn snob ruined by the 24-hour in-your-face coolness that exists, or pretends to exist, around me.  Maybe I’m too much of an idealist.  Or maybe I’m actually right on.  Whatever the case, I do honestly believe that readings need a kick in the ass.  Barbara Stout is great.  Hundreds of people should hear her read.  But, to be honest, the only people who come out to readings these days are friends, family members, coworkers or students of the people reading.  We authors need to embrace the show.  If we want to truly reach people then we need to get over ourselves, let go of our expectations.  Do it up.  It really is okay if someone claps or whistles or cheers during one of your perfect, beautiful, slaved-over sentences.  In fact, it’s better if people are relaxed and having fun.  We writers have too many of those “perfect” sentences, anyway.

My point is, it’s time to break out of the old mold of sharing our works in a traditional, quiet, attentive setting.  In the end, this  isolates us from a ton of people who love to read but would never, ever go to a reading.  Barbara Stout should be celebrated amongst the many, not kept to a group of writers that “get” her.  Let us all embrace a little more of the show.  It might feel uncomfortable but in the end, I honestly believe this is how we writers can have the real, lasting effect our egos so badly wish for.

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