Ivy – Thanks for weighing in. I’m sure you have vastly more experience than I do in giving and attending public readings. I agree, one can learn things about a poet’s work from listening to her read that one can’t get any other way, even if the reading isn’t all that good. I certainly felt that way about hearing Ralph Angel. I came away with the impression of a kind, sincere, and very hip fellow (I was sitting in the second row, which helped a lot), and feel that presence when I read his work now. A better example would be Tess Gallagher, whom I had read quite a bit before I heard her read, but never quite “got” for some reason. The reading turned me into a big fan. Afterwards I went back and read the same poems and couldn’t see how I had missed the point of them before.
I am a big believer in starting off readings with one or two poems by other people, though. I think there’s a lot of value in public poetry recitation, and wish there was more of it.