Poetry Reading in a (Divided) Conference Room

You want to open
and reveal the pearl you’ve cloistered
in your papery shell,
its edges curved and rippled
from the washing of this water,
from your own being in these words,
the salty flesh that is you
in this laminated world you’ve made:
the irritation
the revolving of the particle
the coating of it
the luminous striations;
all round and shiny and iridescent,
waiting to be exposed
when the knife tears into you.

But it’s hard being a poet under tubular florescent suns,
with the light bouncing off chrome, and white tile floors,
with nothing but a thin green vinyl wall
between you and those who are Taking Off Pounds Sensibly,
who clap each chocolate bar refused,
each ounce of flesh not manifest,
not created from bread or potatoes or banana cream pie.

And it’s hard when the wall, the undulating wave,
is thin enough to plunge through
yet translucent as mud,
and you’re not sure
if their group is clapping or yours,
if it’s for you—your words, or them—their willpower.
You take a deep breath and you pitch your voice
so it will reach the green wave but not penetrate,
cuz you don’t want to add to their troubles,
add anything they don’t want,
or get confused, or them confused.

You’ve known you would be shucked some day
in the bright chrome light
where florescent suns spin
in rows above your head,
and the clapping keeps happening beyond the next wave
and the sea keeps sucking, keeps shining,
and the waves
don’t carry you away.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Poetry Reading in a (Divided) Conference Room”?

I wrote it after a poetry reading I organized. It was held in one of the meeting rooms in my local library: pale green walls, shiny floors, vinyl table and chairs, pleated vinyl divider between us and a TOPS group in the other half of the room. We were all new writers, and a bit nervous of reading in public (for many of us it was the first time), and could hear the clapping on the other side of the vinyl wave.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Poetry Reading in a (Divided) Conference Room”?

The shiny, reflective surfaces made me think of water, the ocean, of being washed by waves. I imagine myself as an oyster, being shucked open to reveal the pearl I’ve manufactured.

This poem “Poetry Reading in a (Divided) Conference Room” originally appeared in Mothers & Daughters. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 109 (Summer 1986): 84-85.

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