My First Poetry Readings

My first-ever featured poetry reading, aside from school readings and maybe a handful of open-mic readings, was on 12 May 1990. It took place at the Sunset Center in Carmel, California, sponsored by Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation and Monterey Peninsula College. I read haiku and senryu with Garry Gay, Lequita Vance-Watkins, and Paul O. Williams. We were the featured readers for that year’s annual Tor House Garden Party. I had no idea at the time how fortunate I was to read in such a series. I would say the prestige of my poetry readings, such as they are, has been downhill ever since. The photos here are by Paul’s wife, KerryLynn Blau, both taken at Tor House, the second atop Hawk Tower.

I don’t have a copy of it, but this reading was recorded as “The New Pond—Haiku: The Art and Craft” and was released on cassette tape by Rick Chelew at the Oral Tradition Archives in Pacific Grove, California. I’d love to find a copy of this recording myself someday. Thanks to Facebook, I tracked down Rick Chelew, and asked him if he still has access to the recording, but he says that some time ago he gave all of his Tor House–related recordings to the Tor House Foundation, so I contacted them to see if they still have access to that 1990 recording—but apparently they don’t, or can’t find it. I wonder what my first-ever poetry reading sounded like, and which poems I read? I do know that, like the other three readers, I focused on haiku and senryu.

A newspaper announcement about the reading, from the Carmel Pine Cone of 10 May 1990, is shown here (thanks to Lequita for this newspaper clipping, received via Paul’s daughter, Anne Williams, in April of 2021, thirty-one years later). The announcement misspells Garry’s first name and lists him incorrectly as president of the Haiku Poets of North America, which does not exist—they meant the Haiku Society of America. And at the time I don't think I’d started using my middle name for poetry publication yet.

At that same reading, too, a really attractive blonde girl kept looking at me. She came up to me afterwards to say nice things and to introduce herself. She was clearly interested in me. If I hadn’t had a girlfriend at the time, I would have encouraged her overtures, but I didn’t encourage her, so nothing came of it. I should have at least invited her to join us for dinner. At any rate, since this was my first time, it occurred to me that poetry readings were a great way to meet women! A come-on like that has never happened to me since.

On 24 May 1990, less than two weeks after my first reading, I gave my second featured reading, with the same poets, at Le Petit Trianon in San Jose, California, sponsored by the Poetry Center San Jose. I remember reading more or less the same poems, all haiku and senryu, since that was our focus. I don’t think there was a recording made of this second reading, though.

My third featured reading, I think, was on 27 October 1990, at the West Branch of the Berkeley Public Library in Berkeley, California, as one of four readers for the first-ever Two Autumns reading series. The other readers were Patricia Donegan, Eugenie Waldteufel, and Paul O. Williams. A book titled Two Autumns was produced for this reading. It was also my privilege, on 13 September 2009, to read again in this series, for its 20th anniversary, at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Photos of this reading and my trip to California are available on Google Photos. A video was shot of this reading, too, although I haven’t seen it yet. Reading one’s poetry aloud is a useful way, of course, to get feedback on it, and one should read each poem aloud just for yourself anyway, just to make sure it flows smoothly and to help you find the best possible sound and rhythm. As Bashō said of revision, “a thousand times on the tongue.”

—24, 27 October 2009, 15 April 2021