On My First & Second Readings
Updated: Jul 22, 2019
Until this October, on the 30th day of the month, I'd never read my poetry aloud to more than one person at a time (excluding the occasional writing class---which has to applaud you anyway), & that single person was usually my mother (who also had to applaud me).
Asking for help with philosophy homework or seeking feedback on a proposal at my internship seemed simple, but the idea of performing my writing terrified me. I've been sending my work to mid-tier journals for a few years now, so the impersonal & soft rejection that is email has become a banal commonality. Not so with performing. The idea of watching people's faces struggle to fake appreciation set me running from open mics before anyone could push me to sign up.
Yet there I was on the day before Halloween, nearing the end of a year resolved on "Vulnerability"---& also on a first date. October 30th, 2018. Part way through the evening, my date mentioned that a nearby brewery was hosting a "Spooky Poetry Night"; they remembered my Bumble profile painting me as a self-proclaimed poet, & they wondered if I was interested in going.
Now, this date, I thought, was quite far out of my league, & I really wanted to seem cool, so I said we should go. We headed over. Then, when the set clipboard went around, I signed up. Then I was scrolling through my poetry file on Google Drive, & then suddenly the mic was in my hands. I'm not one to advocate you change in order to impress your date. But in this one particular instance, though I bruised my knees in their abundant knocking, it worked out in my favor.
I read two mediocre scary/morbid poems, suffered the subsequent snaps, & imagined that the sound was originating solely in my lobster-claw-red ears.
But after the reading, people came up to me. They complimented my work, quoting lines they liked. They said I had a natural voice for it, a compelling one. & when my date came back with two ciders---unaware that they'd just seen me at my most vulnerable, yet ready to be open---I was ready to be open with them, too.
They were there for my second reading this Friday as my partner, & they even invited a few friends. We stood in a back corner at the release party for Lingua's Winter Journal & laughed in wonderment (& insecurity) at the fashion-forward artists all around us. A couple in fur coats conversed with a man in startlingly blue socks, visible through his crocs. Multiple jumpers & sequined tops made appearances, & we all felt a bit out of place, even me, even though my poetry has been featured in Lingua for three years straight now.
My words kicked off the student performances. I clenched the journal in my hands beneath my papers so no one could see them shaking, & I looked up occasionally at my peers with their blue hair & wide grins & line by line began to feel like I belonged.
Readings remind me of how much I love artists. Because, when you read, people are overwhelmingly supportive. Strangers---who would usually be too anxious to approach you, & you too anxious to approach them---are emboldened by your bravery to walk up & say hello & that they admired your work. People are kind. Half the time they know nothing about poetry anyway, so they think you're cool even if you flopped or read your worst piece. & as a general rule, no one is going to fake appreciation or groan in boredom or tell you to give up on your dreams.
Though it's scary in the moment, performing your work gives you more confidence to work with later, & it's a great thing to do when the voices inside your head aren't being all that supportive because, despite all your doubts, the voices outside your head will be.