Read chapters 1-6 here.
Chapter 7: An interview with Dylan Kinnett
This series of interviews with writer/organizers aims to explore why and how to have a literary reading—a good literary reading—a good literary reading that gathers a welcome, diverse, excited, and inspired audience—a good literary reading that gathers a welcome, diverse, excited, and inspired audience while also creating a supportive environment for readers.
Last week, York, PA poet and organizer, Carla Christopher affirmed that people could be won over to poetry at live readings. This week we travel an hour south to Baltimore, where Dylan Kinnett seems to agree, but claims conversation is essential for that to happen.
(Please comment with stories, commentary, and advice about readings at which you’ve performed, attended, or hosted. When this series is all said and done, maybe we’ll have developed the simple formula for the perfect reading. Or maybe we’ll learn enough to make more questions to answer!)
Name: Dylan Kinnett
Location: Baltimore, MD.
What series do you run, and for how long has it been going?
DK: I am the host of the Infinity’s Kitchen reading series. It’s at the Sidebar in Baltimore. It was going to be monthly, but it evolved to become a quarterly thing. The series started at the start of 2015.
The reading series goes with a zine I do, with the same name.
Can you do a quick description of the structure of your readings?
DK: I’m still tinkering with the structure, but it’s a lot like a late-night show: opening monologue, first guest, chatting and/or/jokes, then a break, then repeat as needed.
I’d love to throw in some music someday.
I don’t know the Baltimore/DC lit scene extremely well, but it does seem like there are a few readings/series going on down there. How does Infinity’s Kitchen stand out from others? What makes it different?
DK: My goal for the reading series is to bring innovative and experimental work to the audience. It’s curated, with a submissions process, much like a publication would be, to help with finding the good stuff.
Many other reading series, while they might be curated, they don’t always have a stated “agenda”
Also, I’m experimenting with the format. The first readings have attempted a format that resembles a late night talk show, so there’s commentary, jokes when appropriate, and discussion.
Are you, as the host, the person adding the commentary/humor/discussion?
DK: I’d love to have a “side-host” like the night shows have, you know? But for now, I am both the host and the gag-meister.
Why did you want to start a reading series and/or why do you think readings are important.
DK: I wanted to start one because of the urging of several of my writer friends. There’s a lively scene in Baltimore, but some of the readings had become less frequent. When I brought it up in conversation, friends said “why don’t you pick up the slack, then?” so I did, with help from them.
I think readings are important. Most people probably don’t. But they never will if there aren’t any.
What makes a reading a success in your eyes?
DK: If the writer enjoys the audience and the audience enjoys the work, then it’s a win. I also think it’s important to show new things to audiences. People expect something of a “poetry reading” and there’s so much more than that stereotype.
I’d like to nuke that expectation, actually, and replace it with new, fun things.
Of any reading you’ve attended or hosted, what is the best thing that has ever happened? The most special memory you have, maybe.
DK: My favorite reading ever was one by Nikki Giovanni. Her style is so comfortable. The writing and the conversation blended seamlessly and the crowd just loved it.
She would be telling a captivating story about something and then, oh, this is the poem now—seamless.
Have you been to other reading series that incorporate conversation/discussion into the reading? I was just talking to Wendy C. Ortiz, and she says this element is now an essential part of the readings she hosts.
DK: There was an event called Litscape in Baltimore recently. There were literary performances all day long and then also a panel discussion. I would agree that it is essential. Art is so rarely self-explanatory.
And especially, again, if it’s new/strange/experimental work, some conversation can help a lot, and if you’re bucking against expectations, then some discussion is only polite.
Can you list 2-3 things you’ve seen at other readings that you feel are detrimental to the live reading experience? These can be personal, structural, or even just flukes. You of course do not need to name places or people.
DK: The first detrimental thing that comes to my mind is when the performer doesn’t practice. A musician or an actor needs to practice, but we seem to think that writers don’t have to bother with that. Sure, they revise and edit, but they need to rehearse too. It’s a favorite rant of mine.
The second thing that comes to my mind is the acoustics. That’s a whole can of worms, including the fiddling with the mic stand, but most importantly: the work needs to be audible.
Are there certain venues that are more fit for readings, acoustically/environmentally?
DK: Yes I believe so. There are all sorts of places that can be a good fit but there are some key ingredients, I think. The audience has to be comfortable. It helps if there’s a real stage with lights and sound though that’s not always possible. A bar is nice to have but sometimes the barflies are not.
I know what you mean. So, what can the host do to make sure the audience and features are comfortable?
DK: The host can do a walk-through with the features before the show starts, so people know the order of operations. That helps a lot.
Short, fun introductions can help to acclimate the audience to what’s coming.
Breaks are good for everybody.
The big fear with breaks is that people will be dicks and leave. You haven’t had that experience?
DK: Save the best stuff for last and let the dicks be dicks. It’s their loss if they leave, but luckily I haven’t had that experience.
What is the strangest thing that’s ever happened at a reading?
DK: One time I was part of a reading that got double-booked with a beard beauty pageant. So there were these drunken trucker-types and weird-beards, and they decided “on with the show” so it alternated between writers and weird beards.
It was a bad combo.
Is there a question you’d like to have me ask the next organizer/writer I interview?
DK: I think it’s good to talk about how to build an audience, a following and so on. Since my series is still kind of new, I think about that a lot. I would love to hear from others on that point
Dylan Kinnett is a writer, spoken word performer, and the founding editor of Infinity’s Kitchen. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland. His work has been published by Industry Night, Otoliths, Seltzer, and others.