Audiences

What’s with the all-male (or nearly) audiences?

My reading yesterday evening hosted by the Rotary Club of Madras South had four women (not including me) and somewhere under forty members of the audience in total. My reading at Apparao Galleries as part of the Prakriti Festival, which was a sort of official Chennai debut, was exclusively male. So was the one at Landmark Spencer’s, with the exception of one Prakriti volunteer. That makes three out of five. The other two had mixed crowds.

I was nervous about Chennai audiences from the start, so you can imagine my trepidation at being confronted by a group of men at my first “proper” reading here (previous ones, organised by and for friends and without publicity, don’t count). My poetry is very, very female. We can get into a long discussion about what I mean by this and the general semantics of such a label, but the point is, it is. I’ve heard that right from when I began to do readings, but had never had to think about it until now.

What does it mean to be a poet who writes out of her femaleness, consciously or subconsciously, and to present this work to male audiences?

From the little experience I’ve had with the three readings I’ve mentioned, I can tell you right off the bat that it changes things. It did for me, anyway. I’ve never apologised for the darkness or explicitness of my work before. But I did, even as I heard myself saying “I don’t feel the need to justify what I write about or how I write about it”, I could feel the “but” creeping up. And it did.

But could the reason why I did that just be a Chennai thing, perhaps? Audiences known for their hostility to young women upstarts were what I anticipated, but the testosterone overload totally surprised me the first time, made me start wondering the second time, and had me somewhat bemused by the third. That being said, the only reading at which I felt truly in my element was my last one with the Prakriti Festival, which was at Distil. I warmed up so much I even read “Poem” and “A Horse Named Notoriety”, which were strictly off-limits otherwise. This had much to do with the audience, and I always feed off the audience’s energy (hmm… interesting, perhaps that would explain why someone told me he felt exhausted after yesterday’s reading. In a good way, though — he said he felt the same after hearing a recording of The Iliad). Plus, bars are always my favourite places to read in. Even off-hours ones.

Still, that doesn’t explain why so many more men than women have been coming to my readings. Sadly, I didn’t get the sense that the faghag thing entered the picture at all. I love gay men, and they generally like me. But that didn’t really seem to be the case. I think.

I have to admit I don’t know if I want the trend to continue. I haven’t enjoyed these few readings as much as I usually enjoy performance, as grateful as I am for the opportunity to have done them. But again, is it just a Chennai thing? Maybe what I used to enjoy so much before was not the readings themselves as much as the during and after-partying, something noticeably absent so far.