This year I came for Garrison Keillor, host of Prairie Home Companion, which is as much a part of Americana as baseball and bluegrass. Though the theme of this year's festival was "Reading Out Loud," Keillor showed his chops as a performer by reciting lengthy poems, some his own, some written by others. Most of the time, he watched the sign-language interpreter, often stopping to say things like, "Show me beer-drinking" again. He then proceeded to recite poems such as "To Pee, to Piss, to Take a Leak," a decidedly un-highbrow poem in a long tradition of bawdy verse. (Ever read Chaucer?) The audience roared with laughter, not just at Keillor's eloquent prepubescent boy humor, but also at the performance of the interpreter as she signed "men aim up at the stars." When the applause finally died down, Keillor launched into a poem about sperm.
Most of the writers at the National Book Festival are just that--writers. Many of them don't do so well with crowds, or with reading their work aloud. Poets seem to have an easier time at this because they're sensitive to the cadence and aurality of language. Keillor, however, is all performer. He spoke, told stories, recited poems, and even sang songs. All that was missing was The Guy's All Star Shoe Band.
Michael Dirda, book critic for the Washington Post, introduced Keillor, and I may have been just as excited to see him as I was to see many of the award-winning authors.
Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet (1994), Yusef Komunyakaa is certainly one of those poets who recognize that poetry doesn't have to be a solitary experience, reading aloud poems about his experiences growing up in the south, the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam War.
PS. Just as a little side note, if you're interested in what I was doing while I was out of the District, you can check out my other blog, On Meandering.