R. Hell Site Forum Message

about my readings

Posted by:Richard Hell (‘in forum heading’)
Posted on: 18 Nov 2005
I’ll describe my reading tour of the summer/fall from my side of the microphone and steering wheel. First, I don’t give readings that often. Some writers positively like to do them, but to me they’re work, and they’re kind of nerve-wracking. Not like they’re horrible, but I don’t do them for fun. I just do them either to make money two or three times a year or a series every few years to promote a new book. These readings were to promote the new novel, GODLIKE, and also I did a radio interview or two for the new retrospective CD, SPURTS.

But to my relief and surprise I had a good time. It helped that my publisher liked my idea of my driving it from Seattle to LA. I love driving empty roads through small towns. They rented me a bright red 2005 Chevy Monte Carlo. I brought CDs for the car.

I was a little uptight about reading from GODLIKE, I can’t deny, because it’s so aggressive, so in-your-face, not to mention poetry oriented, not to mention gay. At most readings I talked about that a little, just to loosen up. It’s weird--it’s not like I have any reservations about the book. I’m proud of it and have no doubt it’s a culmination for me, that it draws on everything I’ve learned about writing and what’s interesting to try and do in books, that it's the best thing I’ve ever done. Still, reading it aloud for strangers is kind of like having your parents read your diary. I mean, to me books are like love letters to one's ideal reader, and that reader will be absorbing the pages in private. It’s not natural to put it out there in front of people with strange, unknown curiosities, staring at you.

One lady at McNally Robinson book store in New York did stand up and ask something like, “Do you mind that what you’re reading makes people squirm?” I told her that I’d always wished that I could write about drinking a cup of coffee and taking a leisurely walk, but it just wasn’t my nature. I don’t write about crazed sex and delerious drug use and fear and hopelessness and anger out of a desire to provoke or because I value those things above all else, but just because it’s my nature. I must be a very dull person because I need extreme things, and almost everything I look at turns into something extreme. Though I do think I write with a lot of tenderness too. But many of my favorite writers are really civilized and would, I think, themselves find the material in GO NOW and GODLIKE dubious. But I don’t do it “on purpose.” It’s just me, and I would also maintain that there’s a lot of poetry, a lot of inexplicable beauty, in it. Anyway, even though I semi-explain things like this, just being curious about the situation, and may introduce myself at readings similarly, I'm not apologizing: if I've ever done anything good, it's GODLIKE.

So, at the readings, I’d usually talk for ten to twenty minutes before I began reading. I didn’t repeat myself much from reading to reading. There were a few reliable lines of chatter that people liked that were useful to set up the pages I was going to read, but most of what I’d say would be about what I’d been doing and thinking the day of the reading, and what the town where I was felt like to me. It was mostly pretty light. I wanted to make people laugh. (As the review I wrote for BlackBook about Sarah Silverman’s movie says, I think standup comedy is the highest artform.) The reading/speaking in bookstores was short, like twenty minutes, usually just the first chapter of the book, and then there’d be a Q & A, and then I’d sign books. At the fullscale paid readings I’d do twice as much of everything: talk longer, read two or three chapters, and finish up with two poems from the small book that’s coming out any day (it’s all typset, just needs to be bound) that comprises 13 collaborative poems by David Shapiro and me, called RABBIT DUCK. The poem Jacki was asking about is poem number IX of the series and runs a couple of pages long, to end like this:
with a red and blue
pencil I say you are
having the orgasm of the century and
it is as good as a typo
when you swing your
Indian hips on the screen
of my reticence and you
scream you are as bi as Siva
when she deserted all worlds
oh tall and slender one
oh you of whom the painters say
her leg speaks

but why did you tell me you went
both ways at the moment you were coming
well nevermind
I suppose I know: it did heighten things
but that’s old hat
and you’re looking
good rather
in the altogether
it’s cloudy or bright
or weather altogether: but
rather, interior and totally
dark inside your minty
rear, Shelley Winters

The chapters of the book I’d read were usually Chapter One (T. comes to town, insults the poets, and takes Paul away from his wife) and/or maybe Chapter Fourteen (about T.’s love for Catherine); at the longer readings I might throw in the more difficult Chapter Two (T. and Paul and sex with desk clerk in hotel, poems, Paul in hospital years later, Paul back in 1971 visiting poet friend Ted), Chapter Seven (acid trip), or part of Chapter Eighteen (squalor and heartbreak in 1972 Memphis).

I also printed up and gave away as souvenirs a few pages stapled that was a “supplement” of sorts to the book. (I wrote “like” on the cover of each in ballpoint pen as a title.) It specified and attributed most of the quotes and references in the book, along with listing the set of possible titles I kept as I was writing, and also four or five possible epigraphs. I’m thinking of expanding this to include more of the notes I kept as I was writing the book and making a little pamphlet out of it.

The weakest reading was probably at City Lights in San Francisco. I don’t know why--I just wasn’t as together as at other readings. Though I did get to meet those two sweethearts I held on my knees (I held beauty on my knees). The best reading was at Beyond Baroque in Venice (L.A.). Again, I don’t know why, except it seemed helped by the way that room is set up like a little theater, with stage lights, and the room was dark with a bright spotlight on me, so I couldn’t see the crowd. This seemed not to make me more self-conscious, but make me feel alone, like in my own imagination, so I was uninhibited. Portland was my favorite city. I’m just a sucker for that place. It feels like time stopped there in 1949 to me and that it’s always fall and the sky is drinkable.

A great thing was that, at the West Hollywood Book Fair, Janeane Garofalo bought a book, and I inscribed it to her (and I got her phone number!). Also Mike Watt and Raymond Pettibon came to my final two readings, at the Book Fair and at Book Soup (where I also finally got to meet the west coast treasure Tosh Berman, proprietor of Tam Tam Books, and his fantastic wife Lun*na), and I spent my last night of the trip, post the Book Soup reading, eating steaks with the most great Watt and Pettibon on Sunset Strip.

So that’s it for now. I have to go. I might think of more to add later. Thanks everyone.

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         about my readings by Richard Hell, 18 Nov 2005 (2)
                 Where do you halve to go tutu, Richard? by justh20? nah just curious, 18 Nov 2005
                 said it before and I'll say it again by Hannah, 19 Nov 2005

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