As part of our profile series on the Riggio: Writing and Democracy community, 12th Street asked poet, essayist, fiction writer, FLARF poetry innovator, and New School professor Sharon Mesmer to meditate on the inquest, “Who is your audience?” Her response erred on the side of the metaphysical.
I’ve read my work:
— at midnight in the 17th century Zen temple in Kyoto where Basho purportedly wrote his haiku about the old pond/frog;
— on the marble porch of deceased Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s summer residence on the Black Sea, peacocks strolling behind me;
—in Andalucia near a Bronze Age settlement;
— in a subterranean cave in upstate New York;
— at a music festival in Reykjavik in epic cold temperatures;
— at a bookstore in Tokyo during a typhoon;
— at the slam semi-finals at the Nuyorican in the ‘90’s, and also at the very first slams at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago in the ’80’s;
— in front of a 9 a.m. assembly of 1,000+ teenagers at a prep school in New Jersey.
Sometimes I had no idea who my audience was. On some occasions (when I read flarf) I looked straight into stern, disapproving faces; on other occasions (when I read flarf) I received applause after saying just the title of a poem. What have I learned from all this? To bring a lot of different work to a reading, “feel” the room, and then make decisions during the process of getting “up there.” A short fiction piece might be right after a group of poems; three long poems might be better than nine average-length poems; flarf might not be the right thing to begin with, but the perfect thing to end with. And who am I reading with? That’s a factor. These experiences have made me somewhat psychic. Somewhat.
Photo taken by Robert Fass