Guest Post: Layne Ransom, undergraduate student, on the value of poetry readings

Layne Ransom

This may sound melodramatic, but I’m indebted to the first poetry readings I attended at Motini’s two-ish years ago for not letting me become a Wheel of Time fan fiction writer. I’m not kidding. Before then, I was oblivious to contemporary literature and mostly read fantasy novels about scantily-clad people waving swords at each other.

From hearing what my peers were doing, I learned two valuable things: being the grammar police isn’t that important, and words, like people, need to cut loose sometimes.

I don’t mean that knowing basic syntax and punctuation isn’t important. I think that’s obvious. But I didn’t realize how little my high school AP-English-encouraged perfectionism had to do with crafting interesting, beautiful, or emotionally engaged writing. I believed that if I knew what rules to follow, then what I did was artful. That my own development as a human being, of working toward being more honest and self-aware, would somehow be vital to producing meaningful writing was not on my radar.

Also, almost everything I’d read consisted of said fantasy novels and the canon of literature classes. Both of these strands of writing, in my experience, took themselves very seriously. (Even when the former rarely gave reasons to do so.) Everything I knew—which wasn’t much—said there was no screwing around in writing, and I believed it. I didn’t allow my words or myself as a writer to be anything but stiflingly serious. I taught my words dinner etiquette and forbade politics, religion, and dirty jokes at the table.

Hearing poems about the Internet and Van Halen was both a slap upside the head and divine permission to not take writing as a whole, my own writing, and myself so damned seriously. Sometimes words just want to eat Taco Bell and play Mario Kart, and I finally realized that wasn’t just okay, that was wonderful. Sometimes I just want to eat Taco Bell and play Mario Kart, and I stopped outright dismissing as worthless the experiences I had normally categorized as trivial or “not good enough” for writing. After this, my writing got better, which made me think more, so my writing got better, and so on and so forth.

I started participating in readings because I was grateful for the marked change they started in me, and wanted to know how having an audience affected my writing. I’m still fresh to it, and owning a stage and microphone feels giddy and criminal, like smashing mailboxes or egging your ex’s house. But reading and writing with people who care about how words inform human experience is strange, cool, and lovely, and I’d be missing out if I weren’t doing it.

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