Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How to Give a Speech

I recently discovered the existence of an organization called the National Book Critics Circle (no Jerk on the end of it). In social standing, manners, tastes, attitudes, and ideas (if they have any), the NBCC-- www.bookcritics.org-- is the antithesis of the Underground Literary Alliance, and so makes a good foil for us. It's an organization of hoop-jumping careerists: demi-puppets.

They're having their convention this week. The opening remarks by John Freeman were emblematic of the organization: utter mediocrity.

A speech ideally should be done by a poet (a real poet; not the fake academic brand); by a person who understands cadence and rhythmn, and how to build words toward an end, like music reaching a crescendo. (Endless models exist in the plays of Shakespeare.)

I had to give a speech to kick off the ULA's recent reading here in Philly, and wanted to start the event with energy. Since there were many poets in the room, I first recited a poem, "Poet on the Beach," (www.ulapoetryandfiction.blogspot.com) which celebrated the poet. It made a good prelude for my short speech discussing the ULA.

One thing I've learned on various telemarketing jobs is that if you want someone to listen to you, even for ten seconds, your words had better have intensity to them.

At the ULA's first public event, our 2001 debate with George Plimpton and his Paris Review staff at CBGB's, Michael Jackman and myself both made short, dynamic speeches so effective that when we'd finished there was not much the Overdogs gathered before us could say in return. The "debate" for all intents and purposes was over. (The text of the speeches is given in a great new anthology of underground writing edited by Jack Saunders, Postcards from Pottersville.) Our words and our performances, as in everything the ULA has done since it was founded, were filled with intensity.

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