Tonight I start sorting out a set list and rehearsing for the gig at Black Flame Books in Heaton next Saturday. It's a tricky business. There are poems I've promised people I'll perform. But at the same time, I don't want this gig to just be me dragging out all my personal trauma. That does not make for a good gig. Even if there are people in the audience who share that trauma, and who need the catharsis of hearing someone acknowledge it, it can still bring the audience down. It brings those people down too, especially if you end on the trauma and don't offer hope. You can drag your audience through Hell if you want, and if you're good enough they'll come with you - but if you want them to come with you all the way, you have to show them a little piece of Heaven too. If you want to move people to tears, you have to be willing to make them laugh.
Or, to put it in a less highfalutin' way: a reading is kind of a conversation with the audience. If all you do is moan, they won't take much of an interest. And if you don't spice up your reading with something light from time to time, when you go for something, profound, you'll just fall flat.
Think about Bill Hicks. Bill Hicks did some of the most profound stuff imaginable in his stand-up: but he was able to get there because he could, and did, frequently make people laugh like hyenas. Hicks understood that a good set, like life itself, was a ride, and a ride goes up as well as down.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that, despite having spent several years trying not to do some of the more crowd-pleasing poems in my repertoire, I'm now looking at ways to incorporate those into this set. The newer, more uncompromising stuff will still be there, but the older stuff will be making a return as well. Some of it. Not because I don't have anything serious to say, but because I do, and I don't want to dull it with constant repetition.