“Thank you for coming”: A remembrance of the gratitude and the gorgeousness of public readings

Matthew Daddodna in McSweeney’s:

The first public literary reading I ever gave was at Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge for a now-defunct magazine’s issue showcase. I was 21 years old and had never read my poems in front of a live audience. More important, I had never built up the requisite nerves to read my poems aloud, and, as a way of coping, I had spent that afternoon day drinking in nearby Washington Square Park with a group of strangers from the Bronx who could have been troubadours from Kentucky. By the time I got to the venue, drunk on whiskey siphoned from their flasks and cheap beer from the local bodega, I was shocked to see that some of my friends and professional peers had shown up to watch me perform. If it wasn’t enough to want to impress them by reading at a public space, I had also trained myself to recite the poems, sans paper. Hours earlier, I had even been so bold as to crumple the printed poems and pour beer on them as a final act of humiliation. Now, in the impractically lit basement that functioned as a lounge, a bar, and a performance space, the lines of the poems melted away and the humiliation was turned inward. Once I was called up to the stage, I looked into the far recesses of the dim basement for something—call it a friendly face, call it a sign—to look back. But I saw nothing; I heard only applause and a couple glasses clink as they were placed on the bar. I put my sweaty palms inside my pocket in an attempt to dig out poems that were no longer there.

“Thank you for coming,” I said to the expectant crowd.