Six weeks ago, in a blog here, I asked who was the most "famous" author you've seen in person. This post today is kind of related, but I'm asking for a twist on that here. Your answer might be the same, but mine is different. I mentioned I'd seen Garrett Hongo, Diane Di Prima, and Gerald Stern read, in terms of "fame." But those were not my favorite author readings. See, I've gone to tons of readings over the years and I've heard some truly hideous stuff and I've seen some good readers as well. I'm sure we can all relate to that.
Some excellent authors are TERRIBLE readers! You know what I mean? Just because one is an expert or a "master," doesn't mean they can connect with an audience. Some read their work in a boring, monotone. Some give us too much extraneous information -- just let the work speak for itself, darn it! There could be many other reasons why some authors just can't cut it when it comes to readings, but I'm going to make a very short list of some of my favorite authors I've seen read, in terms of their quality of material and ability to connect with their audience, and then I suppose I might elaborate on one or two of my top favorites.
- Cathy Smith Bowers
- Major Jackson
- SA Griffin
- Edward Field
- Robert Polito
- Belinda Subraman
- Marilyn Kallet
- Gerald Locklin
Let me briefly focus on the last two. Marilyn Kallet is a dear, old friend of mine. We've known each other a good 20+ years, and while we write quite differently, we have always been quite supportive of each other. I feel like she's been very generous to me over the years, frankly. I've been privileged enough to see Marilyn read publicly at least three times over the years. She's a very senior professor at the University of Tennessee and has had about 14 books published by now, give or take one or two. I like her work because it's natural and fluid and at times, dreamlike. She sounds to me a bit like Sharon Olds might, as I imagine it, and I thinks Olds is one of her influences. I remember the first time I heard Marilyn read, it was truly beautiful, and I remember specifically one of the poems mentioned her nipples (!!!), not in a perverted way you silly people, but if I recall correctly, as it related to breastfeeding her baby daughter. I was struck by how well she fit in with the audience, how friendly she was, how friendly her poems were. I've long admired her, even though she well knows my own work and preferences are more narrative, more gritty if you will -- after all, Bukowski is my main muse. Nonetheless, Marilyn is one of my favorites.
The other one is Gerry Locklin. I consider Locklin to be one of the most underrated authors in the world. He's published over 110 books during his career. Holy shit, that's a lot!!! He taught at California State University, Long Beach from roughly 1965 until this past year, when he retired. Now, he's putting in some PT work at Southern Cal's Masters of Professional Writing program, just for the hell of it. Bukowski once wrote that Locklin was "L.A.'s best writer"! That's something, coming from the man himself.
Gerry and I had appeared side by side in a number of the "little" underground type mags, if you will, for some time, but I didn't know he was a professor, nor did I realize he was quite a bit older than me. I just figured he was like me. I don't know why. Back then, I was living in Phoenix, and Gerry alerted me to the fact that he'd be coming over from L.A. to do a reading in Tempe. So, my girlfriend and I went. Had to. And to my amazement, I met a man who looked like I pictured Hemingway looked like! Interesting. Anyway, he got up on the stage and announced he'd be doing a "dog and pony" show and then he just took off! His work is similar to mine in many ways, at least back then. Narrative all the way, about "real" subjects I could relate to and wanted to relate to. None of this sissy nature crap! (Just joking. I know many of you enjoy that nature stuff....) He was from the big city and it showed. And he had a real sense of humor. Even attempted to sing a song. Good times. The audience ate it up, and my appreciation for Gerry began in earnest then.
Gerry was ultimately responsible for my moving from Phoenix to Long Beach to go to grad school. I took three graduate seminars from him while getting my second of three degrees. He and I became very good friends and we'd go out drinking together, in various dives around the city. Good times, again.... I've heard Gerry read, like Marilyn, just a few times, but he remains at the top of my list for an enjoyable author reading. He just "connects" to people in a way that so many authors seem incapable of doing. If you haven't read Locklin, look up his early 1990s book, The Firebird Poems, which is one of my alltime favorite books of poetry. You might be pleasantly surprised when you read it.
So, you have told me about the most famous authors you've seen read. Are they also the favorite readers you'v encountered? If so, why, and if not, why and then who are your favorites? I'm just dying to hear.... Cheers!
Causes Scott Holstad Supports
PEN, The Authors Guild, Sierra Club