Hoy a las 8:38 A.M.
HOW NOT TO PRESENT FOUR BOOKS IN ONE DAY…
Actually, it was going to be TWO books, since I never got around to traveling to Montevideo , Uruguay , to pick up the other two books. However, that was going to be my secret until I was on the podium behind the mike. Argentina has clamped down on imports of EVERYthing, including books unaccompanied by the author, so it really was a dilemma. To go to Uruguay and back to meet the editor and get the books would cost me nearly three hundred U.S. dollars, so I decided to pass, since the books a) don’t sell – poetry, you know: and b) a fair price each book was 50 Argentine pesos, or $3.45. (I sold two, by the way.) I wanted to give them away, but two friends insisted. I did give away three more, all “Goddess.”
This is the yearly week-long literary series sponsored by the Instituto Literario de Cultura Hispanico (ILICH, which is pronounced like a rash you got from eating too many tangerines). Ill-Itch. ) Writers and poets come from the U.S. and various Latin American countries and you get to mingle with some really interesting people. I had paid the required fee for two sessions of presentations, and then I ended up with only two books, not four, as stated in the program.
Hey, no problem! I would wing it with my second book of haiku and my long poem The Little Snake Goddess of Crete .
Wednesday morning came around and I leaped out of bed, scattering my three cats to the four winds, made up my eyes, combed my hair, and staggered out the door of the apartment in a charming pants combination and a coat because it is winter here, troops. Also, it was a rainy day.
At 9:30 AM, when I got to the PoP (place of presentation, the SADE, Argentine Society of Writers), there was no one at the desk to let me into the building. I leaned on the doorbell and finally someone upstairs in the restaurant came downstairs to let me in. I was informed that the exhibition hall was locked, but would be open soon. Well, gosh, I hope so, I thought to myself, since I was to start the day for just everyone.
I went on upstairs to the restaurant on the third floor and met two very nice participants in the convention, a man and a woman. The woman was going to introduce me, so we chatted for a minute and I gave her a copy of both books. We heard the sound of dripping water and decided it was raining again. Ten o’clock was not far away, so I got up to leave and noticed that water was falling from the ceiling onto one of the beautifully set lunch tables. Strange, but this is Buenos Aires ; nothing really surprises us. (Seems the water tank of the building had ruptured or whatever and the tank was rapidly emptying, meaning for that morning no bathrooms, etc. But we didn’t find that out until later, ha ha.)
By then there were two or three more individuals and I was beginning to count how many people I was going to have in my public (when everyone rolls in you can reach a total of fifty or so). Looks like I would start with five. I told them to sit up front so I would have a little company in that vast sea of empty seats. However, the door to the auditorium was locked. We stood outside and tried to smile until finally the manager of the restaurant appeared, looking harried, and unlocked the door. AT LAST! By then it was after ten, so I went like a homing pigeon toward the table up on the little stage with six chairs and a mike). The nice lady who was to introduce me accompanied me and we faced five people and about an acre of empty chairs.
I was not my coolest self, I admit. I set out the two books on each side of the table on the little stands and waited while my hostess said a few words about who and what I was – very briefly, we don’t want to go into detail, do we? Besides, the mike was dead. I began to speak,. We clicked and banged on the mike, nothing. So I began my spiel standing up and projecting, not very effective, but by God I was trying. People began to appear and take seats and finally a great friend said, “Will somebody PLEASE turn on the microphone, I can’t hear anything!” That got somebody’s attention, and finally I had a live microphone.
Now, I have gone up on a stage and fallen down on the step-up, I have read before an audience of six in a rainstorm, etc., etc., but this was making me a little nervous. More and more people kept appearing as I struggled to read haiku, explain haiku. I waved a copy of the book at them, and turned to the second book. I said I was going to present two books, and so I was. I was speaking Spanish, my second language, but when I get nervous my pronunciation gets really, really wild. Think tongue twisters in front of an audience of expert tongue twisters.
Time was running out, of course, since I had exactly fifteen minutes to extrapolate my books and this affair was organized on a tight schedule and we were beginning half an hour late. I finished with a reading from “Snake Goddess” and received a nice applause from what was by now a large audience, it was then my two doting friends bought books, and I finally staggered to a seat. I stayed until recess at 11:30, rejected the invitations to lunch and decided all I wanted was to go home, since tonight at 7:00 I would again be presenting the same two books…
I got a taxi outside in the drizzle and headed for home.
After lunch and a nap to restore myself I was ready to go again. This time I arrived at 6:30, half an hour early. The auditorium was packed. Four people were reading essays, two of which were extremely interesting. Seven o’clock rolled around and I thought, Whee, my turn! Think again. There was another table of four poets, or maybe it was six poets who read and read. When they finished at about 7:45 everyone stood up and began chatting. Obviously they had been sitting in those chairs since around one or two PM and they were absolutely saturated with the spoken word.
I got to the table and set up my books. The host lady kept saying, “And now Sue Littleton will — now — please sit down — Sue Littleton is going to present –“ Finally I took the microphone away from her and said in my quaint broken Spanish, “I am sure if you will take a chair you will enjoy the experience of hearing me read…” It took awhile, people kept leaving (damn, there goes my public!) until finally about twenty people were left, which is pretty good for a poetry reading. By this time I had, uh, sort of lost it. I dropped all my books on the floor and when I went to pick them up dropped my purse. Several kind gentlemen of the literary bent came up and handed me books and purse and I grabbed the mike, rushed through the haiku. When I picked up “Snake Goddess” the host said, “Would you like me to read for you?”
I am proud of my readings, even in bad Spanish, and perhaps I was a bit brusque. “No, no, I will read!” I muttered. About this time I heard a voice from the audience, “Sue, I am here to read with you…” and suddenly I remembered that my friend Luz, also a poet and who reads Spanish like the gods, had agreed with me that she would come and read “Goddess” with me. (She had had a second cataract operation the day before and was wearing a floppy hat and dark glasses. Talk about chutzpah!)
“Luz, you darling girl,” I cried. In the meantime the host lady snorted and got up and left the table, and who can blame her? Luz came up to sit by me, and I indicated that we would read the three pages at the end of the book (the book is all one long poem). Luz, ever a trouper, began – cold read, not an error. I then read the same page in English, MY LANGUAGE, and oh, was I good! I was so good that when I finished the first page, the audience, probably out of sheer relief, applauded madly. I indicated the next page to Luz to read, then decided I would skip that page in English, no drama, and we sent to the next page. Luz read wonderfully, I read MAGNIFICENTLY and the audience applauded madly.
I was getting a little cross – they were ruining the continuity with their delirious approval, but on the other hand, how flattering!
Luz read the last page of the book and then I ended. Oh, that ending! No more, no more. // Sadly I return to sleep by the side of my lover and betrayer/ the Bull of Poseidon / and sleeping / weep.
There is no avoiding reality. Reading in Spanish, I am more or less adequate. Reading in English, I am in my element – and never before had I read anything of mine in English to a large group. A new métier has been established. Henceforward Luz and I will read together at every presentation, even the haiku. What fun!
Oh, yeah, and the applause lifted the roof.
So there you have it, my friends. The ILICH presentations. I received my diploma, thanked everyone, said I would not be back for the Friday farewells, and Luz and I, both very pleased with ourselves, left together.
Moi et les trois chats joyeux == == ==