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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

PAST POST: Readings in the Cleveland Area - 2014/07/06

***note - I don't think this conversation accomplished a lot, but it let people vent about their troubles concerning the NEOhio poetry scene in 2014. I feel it was important and kind of heralded a shift in the poetry scene.***

I always said I would do readings
until no one wanted them anymore.

Friend 1: and..... it sounds like you are thinking....
out loud.

Friend 2: Are you beginning to grow tired of the "I'm attending... on Facebook" crowd? Cleveland poetry is in a downswing right now. Based on previous cycles, it should stop being garbage in another 2-3 years.

Friend 1: I put " going" on events I want to attend.. but sometimes I can't.

"Friend 2" bad mouthing the people who support and try to attend isn't very helpful. And insulting people and calling Clevleand poetry garbage doesn't score you any points.

Also there are a ton MORE events in Clevleand than ever before.. I think that actually is why attendance is low.... people are overwhelmed with choices.
Also, since the people that attend are mostly poets and writers themselves sometimes they need to stay home and write once in a while.

Friend 2: >> "Friend 2" bad mouthing the people who support and try to attend isn't very helpful.

Show me who those people are, and I won't "bad mouth" them. The way you *actually* support poetry is *actually* showing up, and by buying books to support artists. The modern (shrinking) Cleveland poetry/arts audience does neither as much as they once did. It is impossible to badmouth people who "support" and don't attend, because that's a null set.

>> "And insulting people and calling Clevleand poetry garbage doesn't score you any points."

I have nobody I'm trying to score points *from*. I'm communicating with another person ("Me") who has consistently hosted events in the Cleveland area, and is aware of the issues I'm talking about (along with plenty of other issues he's experienced himself, I'm sure.)

Also, a goodly number of out-of-towners who *used* to tour, feature, and read in Cleveland and don't anymore for these reasons would probably agree with me - not that I need to "score points" with them, either.

>> "Also there are a ton MORE events in Clevleand than ever before.."

A ton more events, maybe, but certainly more poorly attended than ever before on average. There've been a lot of reports of 2-6 person audiences lately (for events, again, with 30-40 confirmed to attend). There have been plenty of reports of ZERO audience events.

Also, it's frankly just untrue at the most foundational level that there actually *are* more events, but whatever. There are more recurring events, the same eight people reading to the same eight people waiting for their turn to read. Very little is currently happening in Cleveland poetry, though I am happy to report that a great number of those who used to be Cleveland writers have moved on to become very successful on a wider regional, or even international, stage.

>> "people are overwhelmed with choices."

And yet attend none of them. Don't worry, though. They've been very "supportive," so I'm sure it doesn't matter.

>> "since the people that attend are mostly poets and writers themselves sometimes they need to stay home and write once in a while."

Oh, bull. Even if you went to every poetry reading you could every single night in this city, you would still have 22 hours a day, seven days a week to work your other job, write poetry, print books, tour, travel, submit and publish...

"The people that attend" (and we'll ignore what a sad metric that is, and that we expected more of people before the last up/down cycle, like growing and improving in their work, bringing in and assisting new talent, etc.) have plenty of time to be writers, publishers, event hosts, sponsors, printers, editors, and performers, as well as attendees, book purchasers, patrons, and fans.

Currently, most of them are none of the above most of the time.

What "Me" said, and what I was responding to, was the quote "I always said I would do readings until no one wanted them anymore."

The challenge is that tons of people will say that they "want" readings. They'll jump all over anybody talking about ending a reading on Facebook. They'll holler about how great the old readings are, and how they need to keep happening. They'll talk about their great memories from those readings. They'll talk about the history.

They'll talk about how much they *want,* oh, just wish so badly, to attend.

But they don't. Of course they don't. They haven't for a while, now.

So, the question is, "Me": what's our definition of "want" going to be?

Plenty of audiences *want* readings to keep happening. They "want" to attend on Facebook. All I want to see is the other end of this downcycle.

A lot of the old hosts and regular features from ~2003-2005 were talking about this lately, and the sense I got from it is that none of us are sure what it's going to take to get it going again. Maybe when the last of the old series have given up the ghost (DC, PH, even WK, etc.), more support will come to fill the vacuum. When the Lit features under Steve G. and Nick ended, we saw a brief resurgence that brought us into a significant upswing for about ~12 months. That's where WK and a lot of other groups got their increased attendance (and feature access) from.

I *want* to see us get past the current attendance issues without such drastic changes to the community. But again, it depends entirely upon our definition of "want."

Friend 3: I think travel is a big issue, too. committing to a 2-3 hour event (on paper) can be a 4-5 hour commitment, depending on where the event is and where the attendee lives. I know for me I'm kind of hamstrung by my work schedule (am at work at 4 am M-F), so weeknight events are almost always out for me, especially if they are downtown (45 mins there, 45 mins back from kent).

I know I've been guilty of saying yes on facebook and then pulling out at the last minute, for any number of reasons. I've no problem with that, either, to be honest. Real life pops into play and there are times when showing up at an event becomes less important than dealing with RL issues, including rest.

I think overextending our options, thus splintering the audience into factions, hasn't helped. I know this seems contradictory, but without a dog in this fight, it seems that virtually everybody is supportive of the NEO poetry community, but not very collaborative.

Me: My definition of want is people who make the same or a comparable effort as myself and Sky as we drove longer than we were actually at the reading tonight. We had two AMAZING features tonight (thank you Zach Ashley and Autumn Aki Smith) and only Zach's groupies, myself and Sky attended. Zach and his posse drove further than we did.

If WK bowing out and only doing occasional shows will help attendance at another show I'll do it. I want to spread the love of poetry to everyone who breathes, but I don't want to spread the audiences so thin that they don't know who to attend so they attend nothing.

I think what might help poetry in this area best is for WK to continue doing the weekly shows because we have a small, but rabid following and enact the plan for 2015 that we've been contemplating... more details about that when we have them.

Me: And I realize that real life gets in the way, believe me.

Friend 2: "Friend 3": As somebody who got out of the hosting/featuring cycle for the most part, I just get tired of the excuses. I agree entirely - saying "yes" on Facebook and not making it... say, 30% of the time would be entirely understandable.

The statistical improbability of 30 people stating their intent to show up to a DC or WK or PH event, and 4-6 people showing up at those percentages, though...

There's overextended, then there's disingenuous. We've passed into (at the very least) a grey area between the two.

I get the difficulties of "real life." I work three jobs, am prepping for my Ph.D., etc. - and I don't do nearly as much as I wish I could in poetry any more. The difference is I don't tell people to count on my support. You and TG have always been great about reliable support, as have a lot of other people that have been around in the last ~decade or so. But that's not the norm anymore.

Friend 3: yeah, I have really only been around/active the last few years, so I don't know how it was before, but I've noticed the decline

Friend 2: "Me": It's one of the main reasons I quit hosting and inviting huge features into the region. Not only is it expensive, but it's just plain embarrassing to ask somebody to come up from, say, Atlanta, to read to Miles Budimir and some kid who was too drunk to walk out when poetry started.

Of course, small readings happen. I'm not unsympathetic. I got stuck with a 100+ confirmed full-venue show that had 12 people show up once. I'd flown across country with my girlfriend to feature, only to find snowdrifts so high that you couldn't see through the shop windows. The sponsor was gracious, and apologetic, and incredibly contrite, and I made it clear to him that, as an out-of-state feature, I realized that shit happens.

But apocalyptic circumstances and "there's just so much to do on Facebook" are entirely different beasts. If I showed up in Cleveland as an out-of-towner (on a clear, 70 degree Friday evening in an arts neighborhood) and featured to the three people waiting for the open mike, I'd be pissed, and rightly so.

The number of serious, long-term hosts who have been apologizing to features for both their audiences and issues with their venues lately is both shameful and astounding.

Friend 3: so, then, what do we do?

Me: I do agree with the sentiment that we are not well collaborated. I would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the other show runners.

The plan that I have in my head includes the other show runners if they want in. If we all promote the same event I think we would be more likely to get people to attend. But I could just be shooting at bulls asses.

Friend 2: Speaking of collaboration: "Me", do you want to host one of the feature groups for LevyFest this October? We're planning a multi-venue thing one night because of the numbers we have. We already have a couple groups set up, and were thinking it would be nice to separate groups by schedule/interest.

"Friend 3": in terms of my opinion (for what it's worth), based on conversations lately with the old Levy organizers, with Steve G., with Vertigo, with Suzanne, with John B., and other hosts and major features, my vote would be "shut it all down."

The market is saturated and fragmented. We should be wiping the slate, giving the old hosts a bit of a breather (let "Me" get his schedule down to a manageable scale, for instance) and focusing on getting back to the way it was - major features, well-coordinated, without cross-booking or cross-promotion. It used to be that we could get a feature in from CA, FL, NYC, and have them hit two-three major feature groups in three days with unique audiences at each.

Personally, I think the diaspora out to the 'burbs, to Columbus, and even into PA have done us absolutely no favors. We need to consolidate again, and we were better serviced by a few outlying readings (DC, for example) that supported a large, central poetry community (Coventry, Tremont, Lakewood.)

Friend 1: I've been to a great many poetry readings over the last 8 years and bought more than my fair share of poetry books to support people( have the boxes of chapbooks to prove it) . I don't have to explain or excuse myself to anyone if I'd like to get to a reading and currently can't because of a death in the family. or other life circumstances. That is true of anyone else. And I think insulting the poetry community that buys your books, in general, and calling what people share garbage also an insult to the other people in the community who publish.

I'm sorry that the poetry in Cleveland doesn't suit you. There have been a lot of people who have both quietly and otherwise carried the torch and kept readings going there. And poetry readings are not just for the "washed" and able. They are for everyone of all levels and abilities.
I call all the complaining BS..

Friend 2: Well, then. Host something.

The people having conversations about these problems are the ones wrangling cats a few times a month at the cost of their own sanity.

It's easy to talk about carrying the torch, it's another thing to build the bonfire, so to speak.

>> "I don't have to explain or excuse myself to anyone if I'd like to get to a reading and currently can't because of a death in the family. or other life circumstances."

Nobody said you did. You're the one who has taken this all as a personal insult instead of a conversation.

Friend 1: I have hosted readings in the past...

Friend 2: Everybody did stuff in the past. That's precisely the problem with the present.

Me: "Friend 2", Yes send me details of what you are looking for.
And Re: Cross booking, this is why I got pissed off (that and I was going through some shit at the time) last year around october when the Words Dance thing was scheduled the same night as a WK first Saturday. This is also why I relented. I'm not here to compete with anyone and if I can support the scene better by not having regular shows I'll do it.

Re: "Friend 1". You are a loved member of the WK community, but even you can't make it down to Cleveland every time there is a show. I appreciate your thoughts on this subject, but I think "Friend 2" is speaking from the frustration of a fellow promoter. I might not go as far as to call it garbage... were I to be a poet about it, I would call the Cleveland Poetry Scene a bonzai that needs some pruning.

Friend 1: I think the problem is there are too many readings... I think you would get better attendance actually if there were fewer of them. i think there are easily 3 times as many readings as when I started attending them there. People can only go to so many. Everyone and their brother is hosting something.

Me: So in other words, you agree

Friend 1: I agree some restructuring needs to be done yes.. bUt insulting people is not the way to get fans or people to attend your readings. just saying

Me: I do agree insulting them will not do it, but sometimes people need to be called out on their lack of support.

Friend 1: or to buy your chapbooks. IfI get insulted I don't buy or attend. Just the way the game is played.

Friend 2: "Me": Cool, I'll send you the stuff.

Re: the Words Dance thing - yeah, that was a boondoggle, and one that wouldn't have happened if the people with creative control (i.e.: you and me) had had scheduling control, as well. The constant problem of the Cleveland poetry schedule lately - too many event series, too rigid, too frequent, and booked too far out means that booking timeslots leads to inevitable toes stepped on.

On the main topic - I think it's still too easy to just say "too many readings" and ignore the fundamental changes in audience attitudes, reliability, and behaviors in the last three years or so.

>> "insulting people is not the way to get fans or people to attend your readings."

They weren't coming when we were begging and thanking and bending over backwards. Lick their boots and they feel like you owe them something, when it's you that works 30 hours to prep a reading they don't even show up to.

Maybe they're masochists. Maybe they like it. Would explain the rest of their behavior, at least.

Friend 2: Also, still waiting for "Friend 1" to point out anywhere where I "insulted" any specific person or people, but whatever.

The person who would be insulted by what I said DESERVES to be insulted, or is the sad kind of person who seeks offense where there was none out of a perverse desire for conflict and attention.

The only people I was negative about were audience members who don't attend, don't listen, don't purchase anything, don't support audiences, and then complain.

If that's a group that needs to be protected from insult and offense, well... THERE'S your problem with Cleveland poetry right there.

Me: I wrote a poem with a similar message "I can't help it if you have skin of glass / I'm not here to appease your fragile ass"

Friend 2: >> " I might not go as far as to call it garbage... were I to be a poet about it, I would call the Cleveland Poetry Scene a bonzai that needs some pruning."

Nice image, but I'd go with a wildfire that needs to be left to burn itself out. A nice cleansing fire every once in a while is restorative to the forest.

Vertigo Xi'an Xavier: Sorry I didn't make it up. I'd've loved to hear Zach and Autumn, but got tied up too late here and didn't have the time to make the hour-plus drive.

The thing is, most of the long running shows have folded in the past year. It used to be there was a show every night of the month, often more than one. Now there's two weekly shows on the same night that draw the same crowd (and same poems and songs) each week, and about three other shows each month. The folks attending those weekly shows don't go to any other events, and the few folks supporting the other events don't set foot in the weekly venues. Personally, I'm disgusted with it all on both sides. That's why my focus has been on getting new attendees rather than still trying to get all these fools to step out of their little clique bubbles.

A great number of our old supporters have moved on to other things and other locales. With Playhouse folding the youth poetry program they operated, we don't have a powerful group of young poets rising to fill the holes in our scene (like Autumn's generation did a few years back). Unfortunately, those of us currently holding the torch for north-east Ohio poetry aren't in a position to fix that.

Me: I ain't mad at you Vertigo. I would have still been mad if you and only you had also joined us.

Friend 4: As a complete outsider living in Arizona, I'd like to have the option of purchasing a video or audio membership, where we'd pay a monthly or annual fee, and then have video or audio (preferably video) of the performances. Then you coudl eventually do things like "greatest" and bloopers, etc. It would allow those of us who in reality can only "follow" to participate and support the scene in a more tangible way. Maybe even include an interactive "shout-out" to the "connected."
I'd say that something between $60 and $120 a year would be reasonable.

Friend 5: Consolidation would help a lot, I think.

Those powerhouse readings that happened a few short years ago--they happened once a month and you knew exactly when they were. (ex. second week of the month, you always knew you had mac's on wed, the lit on thurs, dc on fri.) Now, I couldn't tell you what days of the month WK or PH readings happen anymore--things have moved around so much, and some folks like "Me" will host 2-3 readings a month in different locations. Life gets in the way and then I'll realize the night of an event that "Oh yeah, I didn't realize that was happening today."

Ex-Friend: There are a few things that are happening that make it more difficult to sustain poetry readings in NEOH than it was 3 to 5 to 8 years ago. Some of the more glaring, obvious things are 1)the cliquish nature of the Cleveland poetry scene, which alienates as opposed to supports, 2)the lack of communication/support between local and near-local publishers and open mikes, 3)the scary (SCARY) divide between academics and local scenes, 4)the aging/maturation of the poets that used to sustain the scene. I can point fingers and name names for any one of these, and have three fingers pointed back at me for being guilty of the same. I think there's a lot to be said, though, for some greater communication between publishers and reading organizers as well as greater communication between organizers and the colleges.

Vertigo Xi'an Xavier: Two years ago, we managed to coordinate a poetry show every Friday. FFPS, DC, Stardust, and Root-N-Slam. And that's when all our attendances started declining. We can coordinate and cooperate (and some of us presses continue to do this under the NEOpoets banner) but working together to not conflict our events and overlap our publication schedules does nothing to get new people in our venues.

Me: I think getting new people into venues requires leg(mouth, keyboard)work on the behalf of the promoters and their friends. With Sky knowing practically everyone in Stark county that helps us get people to a DT Canton show, but I don't live in Cleveland anymore so it's harder to network every day to get folk to come to my Cleveland shows.

If I had my way, I would still have the Bella Dubby show going, I wouldn't have left if they hadn't changed their space. I wouldn't have left Breakneck if they hadn't ended our arrangement. I wouldn't be leaving Mac's after this year if things weren't getting sketchy for Suzanne. I wouldn't be stopping the readings at the Lit if I wasn't running into problems with attendance.

I did my best to make it known that First Saturdays and Last Saturdays were the days for WK, but it didn't seem to help.

I agree with all of your points "Ex-Friend", except I wasn't around 5 to 8 years ago in the scene so I didn't have the benefit of "ease" in promoting a show.

"Friend 4", you may be the only one who would actually pay an annual fee for poetry and if I were going to charge I would need to be able to pay someone to clean up the shows I think.

Ex-Friend: Vertigo: I don't think working together to not conflict events or overlap schedules is the issue; if anything, an overlap in publication schedules means that there are more readers available to feature at various events. I think the issue is, again, the cliquish nature of the scene (Treemont poets don't go to the Eastside, Eastside poets don't go to Lakewood, nobody wants to travel South, etc.), and the lack of communication between the presses and readings. Unless the publisher is directly connected to the venue (Writing Knights and Poet's Haven are good examples), it is rare that the PUBLISHER will seek out local venues for their poets that aren't bookstores. There are, of course, exceptions, but again it's rare. As far as new people, the NEOMFA continues to grow and expand, and every year John Carroll, Cleveland State, Baldwin Wallace, etc. offer creative writing classes to undergrads that are new to writing and to the scene. There is, for some bizarre reason, a disconnect between the two.

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