Like any literary form or rule, the poetry reading raises questions regarding subjectivity and context: whose conventions are these, what do they enable, and how do they suit the projects at hand?
Get beyond the beret-sporting, bongo-peppered cliché of what constitutes a poetry reading, and most writers still anticipate adherence to a conventional form: a reader will be introduced by a (hopefully) truncated version of their C.V. Said reader will say the name of their piece and an optional bit of information (e.g. explication of a particular non-literary concept, the origin of their title, a dedication/acknowledgement/epigraph, a framing anecdote), then read the piece itself, likely in a distinguishable poem-reading voice, after which they’ll pause, or possibly say thank you. Maybe there’s a dribble of audience applause but even here, what’s most typical is the falter: do we clap now or at the end? Do we snap, talk back, or remain silent? What is respectful? What is celebratory?
Pittsburgh has been home to some of the dearest literary events I’ve experienced. I was lucky to land here before the Gist Street series shuttered, a recurrent reading/potluck in a converted attic, distinguished by homemade ice cream and a line down the block. I went to MFA readings in the second floor of a since-closed dive bar, where listeners sat at poker tables while undergrads bought $1 Long Islands downstairs. These readings felt as much like parties as performances, adapting spatial practice to close the distance between a reader and her audience.