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In a column in The San Francisco Chronicle not long ago, Lawrence Ferlinghetti asked, "Why are poetry readings never reviewed in the media?" Not a world-shaking question, he admitted (though he went on to discuss the lasting influence of readings by Russian poets and the Beats, his tone hovering near North Beach Oracular).

Ferlinghetti declared himself mystified by critical indifference to poetry readings. What was keeping reviewers away? He considered the sound levels of poetry events, quickly reassuring himself that they were indeed loud enough, and concluded that poetry performances are as "dramatic as any other stage event." Maybe, he mused, the word "reading" should be banned altogether and the performing poet required to memorize lines "like any other actor."

In Hollywood, where we have more actor-poets and performance artists standing on more stages, sound stages, sets, backlots and soapboxes than anywhere else in the world, with more critics in attendance than even Ferlinghetti would desire, poets still feel shabbily treated by the press. Recently, the cover of a Los Angeles weekly ran a banner with the breaking news that poetry may not actually be read by a lot of people ("if L.A.'s poets went on strike, would anyone notice?"). Years ago the book section of the local newspaper used to run reviews of poetry readings - and, in fact, it could be argued that these reviews established a rhetorical model, a prototype, combining the hushed breathiness of the fashion show moderator with the gently insistent authority of personal hygiene guides.

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