If Only There Were Moshpits at Readings

Literary readings used to be a mystery to me — mainly due to the fact that I didn’t know they existed. In terms of live arts, my experience was limited to concerts. I can listen to music on record forever, but there is a certain magic that it assumes when played live upon a stage, or a basement floor, or in a backyard. The power of the sounds, the words, the rhythms is intoxicating. In terms of reading, I have always loved it not only for the stories told. I also love the way the words sound in my brain. I love the finality of a period and the teasing play of an ellipses. I didn’t know that I could also experience these moments live. That is, until I discovered spoken-word poetry. Carvens Lissaint and Miles Hodges were by gateway drug, two poets that I fell in love with on Youtube. Their performance had all the intensity of a hardcore show. And it was merely with words. What a concept.

I have been to a few readings myself since discovering their existence on the internet. This past Friday, I attended a UA sponsored MFA reading at the Paul R. Jones gallery in downtown Tuscaloosa. The two featured readers were Tasha Coryell and Katy Rossing, both MFA students at the University (although that is debatable considering Tasha had just successfully defended her thesis before that reading). The gallery is a deceptively tiny space wedged into a strip of businesses in the newly revitalized downtown area. The acoustics were perfect for a reading; bright enough to carry the sharpness of consonants, but open and airy enough to allow the sound to circulate and hang up in the air until it got tired. Inside, chairs were set up in rows of five stretching from front to back, flanked by a table with snacks and La Croix. Bread and spreads and more flavors of that sparkling stuff than I had ever imagined existed (meaning more than one) gave a lovely appetizer for the words to follow. As per usual the event ran on poet-standard time, so despite my OCD forcing me to arrive ten minutes prior to the advertised start time, I knew I would have to wait at least another fifteen minutes for the event to begin. I sat down to watch as the crowd slowly grew. It was great to see how packed with people the room became in the short time between when I arrived and when the event started. The chatter rose and continued to do so until, at 7:45 P(oet)ST, the reading began.

I greatly enjoyed the nature of the introductions. Both readers were introduced by personal friends reading wonderfully written CV-style introductory bios highlighting not only how accomplished they both were, but how weird and human they were as well. Often performances are taken too seriously and it was refreshing that this was not the case. The first reader, Tasha Coryell, read a chapter from her upcoming novel. I found myself wishing throughout the reading that I could go out and immediately purchase and devour it myself, but alas, I will have to wait a bit longer. Her prose was lively, walking the line between serious and tongue-in-cheek with more grace than a really graceful thing. The dark humor mixed well with the heavy nature of the topic (which I will not go into for the sake of spoiling her work), and her reading itself was nuanced and intense. The words came alive as she read, giving the audience a glimpse into this reflection of the world that was still in the process of being born. It was an absolutely fantastic bit.

The second reader, Katy Rossing, read a selection of her “poetry and poetry-like things”. In contrast to Tasha’s selection, these were very short literary vignettes all connected through common themes, images and their relation to her overall thesis work. Many of the poems contained dogs, both human and non-human (shoutout to Diogenes), evoking snapshots of existence through a metaphoric lens. Her words held a restrained power, with many lines functioning in one-two-punch pairs that left the audience floored while also eliciting many a good laugh along the way. The comic and the tragic were both contained in her pieces, and it left me (as most good writing does) wanting to run home and furiously throw my own ink onto something.

Aside from the reading itself, one of the best parts about this reading was how invested the audience was. Made up of colleagues, friends, and local literature lovers, it was an eclectic bunch that had come to experience the magic of words spoken out loud. As the reading ended and everyone clapped for two two readers, the room became a sea of lively discussion. Friends catching up, new ones meeting, plans being made, all over a bed of freshly-harvested literary magic. Even after an hour and a half of reading, we wanted more; I think that speaks for how fantastic this reading truly was.

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