Have you ever been to a poetry reading? You know that awkward time afterward when you're not sure what to do?
The Hinge Poem, a new online feature from the Hinge Literary Center, gives a new model for how to connect with an author's work, perhaps even more deeply than one might at an auditorium or bookstore reading.
Alan Shapiro's lyric poem "Wherever My Dead Go When I’m Not Remembering Them" kicks off the program, which will feature a new poet and poem each month. As with a blogpost, readers can start and participate in conversations about the poem by making comments. And Shapiro will hang out in the comments boxes live from 3-5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 16 for a highly interactive conversation. The poem is up and ready for comments already, in advance of Shapiro's online time.
"I've never done anything like this before so I don't know what to expect or anticipate," Shapiro, an English and creative writing professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, says. He's just as curious as anyone as to how the dialogues might go. "I hope the poem will spark a conversation about the process of writing, how one finds one's way through a poem from the first inklings to the final choices, how one knows when to start writing and when to stop. Something like that, I guess."
Public readings only occasionally stimulate the kind of substantial discussion of the poet’s work that the Hinge Poem affords. Audience members generally just tell the poet “I liked it a lot” and then drink the bottled beer or boxed wine, talking about what anybody talks about. Community engagement with the work is unusual in the live reading setting, though it increases in likeliness directly with the degree of informality of the event. The guest reader in the university auditorium might field a few questions at the podium before being whisked off to dinner, whereas the living room reading might spawn discussion over the manuscript, pens in hand, until the wee, bleary hours.
Inspired loosely by community reading programs in which everyone in a town reads the same book and then has discussion groups about it, the Hinge Poem is meant to facilitate that kind of deep discussion across the geographical area of the Triangle and beyond, adding the informality and reach of the Internet. And that's the mission of the Hinge Center, a cross-community literary organization gaining momentum since it coalesced in the spring—weaving together the many literary communities of the region for their mutual benefit and awareness.
Founding member Jonathan Farmer describes the Hinge succinctly, as a writer should: "There are these different literary communities in the Triangle that are largely just divided by geography. Whatever we can do to begin connecting and engaging all those people is our basic mission statement for the Hinge."
Farmer's also excited about the potential of the Hinge Poem.
"One of the great things about poems is that you can complete a poem pretty quickly. There’s a lot there, but there’s also a pretty immediate payoff. And I really like the idea of a poem as the starting place for a conversation. But also because in my experience as a reader of poems, they really do ask to be talked about.
"There is all that white space around the poem, to be hopelessly literal about it, and it asks to be filled. And I think for me, the times I get most engaged with the poem are the times when I’m going to be talking about it with someone else about it."
Before Shapiro "parachutes in" on Sunday, Farmer will do some setup and moderation of the comments.
"I promised Alan that over the course of the week before, I’ll go through and select some comments and questions that I think might be interesting for him. Just so he has some possible places to start. And it’s just up to him to respond to whatever he wants to, whether it’s stuff from earlier in the week or comments happening while he’s there. Just for two hours for him to type in response to his interests."
But it's not just about Shapiro's two hours.
"Alan being there at the end is in some ways the bait," Farmer explains. "But what I hope will happen is that people will get in the habit of talking with each other. My hope is that there is a really robust conversation that’s already taken place before he arrives on the scene."
Shapiro also delivers the inaugural Hinge Lecture at Chapel Hill's Flyleaf Books next Thursday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. His topic, "Why Write?" addresses the various motivations behind the activity and explores notions of quality among them. The free lecture promises both laughter and insight.
The Hinge also offers writing workshops and classes for a fee—North Carolina State professor Chris Tonelli is currently leading a poetry workshop, taught at Durham's Outsider's Art Gallery.
Next up in the Hinge Poem batter's box is Dorianne Laux, an NCSU creative writing professor. Her latest title is The Book of Men, which Norton put out in February. December's poem will come from Fred Moten, an English and creative writing professor at Duke and author of the recent Hughson’s Tavern on Leon Works.