Mary K Gowdy
In the Spotlight: Poetry Open Mic Night Experiences
In the past few months I've been trying to discover ways to put myself out there more as a writer. I'm currently in college, and at my university, at least once a month, they have an open mic night. I decided to recite some poetry at them. I did it twice this semester: once in February and once in April.
I had wanted to do it last semester, but I kept chickening out. I didn't tell anyone that I wanted to do it, so thus I had no one to make me accountable to actually get up there and do it. I struggle with stage fright. I do not like putting myself in front of people and having to do stuff like that. In college, I've gotten a little better at presentations. I'm not as nervous, so I think that helped prepare me for reciting poetry. But it was still a nerve-wracking experience.
In February, I told my friends beforehand that I was doing this, so that kept me accountable. They said they would come.
It was on a Monday, the same day my university's creative writing club meets. I went to it before the Open Mic Night like I usually do. I told the creative writing club about it. They seemed excited, and they wished me luck.
During every club meeting we do a prompt, and that day the guy who had the prompt came up with: "you're a slam poet performing at an open mic night and you forget your poetry". He did it to tease me, and we had a lot of fun with it. Most of the stories ended with the person messing up but the audience still loving their performance. They thought it was an amazing act--groundbreaking. My response to the prompt will be at the end of this post.
After creative writing club, I went and performed. I was nervous for the whole twenty-four hours beforehand. I decided to do two short poems: "Shadow Puppets" and "A Middle-Aged Southern Couple Reacts to Ice". They both take about thirty-seconds to recite, and I had done videos for them on YouTube before.
I wanted to do my more funny, less intimate poems first to ease myself in. I knew this experience was going to be hard because of the nerves, so I tried to make it as easy as possible on myself with the poems I chose. Also, I wanted to memorize them because most of the other poets would have their poem on their iPhone to read. Which is fine, but I don't think it's that hard for me to memorize my poems, so I wanted to do that to go that one step further. When I memorize a poem, it's easier for me to think that I'm just telling it and talking normally, but if I have the words before me, I'm too aware of the fact that I'm reading it, and it doesn't feel or come out as natural as I want it to.
At the Open Mic Night in February, there were two other poets that performed before me. And then, the person that performed right before me was a comedian, and he talked about the time he got caught watching porn. And I thought like "Wow, my poetry totally goes well after this" *note the sarcasm*
After that guy, I got up on stage, and I was on stage for probably about a minute. I sped through my poems, and it went fine. Once I got to the Open Mic Night, I realized that it was a chill atmosphere. It wasn't ultra-professional or polished. There were a lot of singers that didn't even know the words to their songs. It was more of an atmosphere to have fun.
There were a lot of people doing homework and talking with their friends as they listened to the acts, so it wasn't like everyone was paying all their attention to me, which was kind of a good and a bad thing. It made it easier that I wasn't the center of attention but then it was like "Wow, this is a tough crowd." I didn't get that great of a response, but, I mean, it's poetry. What am I expecting?
When I got off the stage, my friends congratulated me. It was so nice to have them there. I didn't realize how much their presence at this was what I needed, 'cause usually it's hard for me to bring my friends into the artistic side of me. But I'm so glad I involved them in this experience.
After that Open Mic Night, I thought I would do it again, but I wasn't sure. I was doubting whether college students were my type of audience.
But fast forward to April--I did not do the one in March because it came up pretty soon. I was busy and hadn't prepared anything.
For April, I prepared longer poems: "To -- -- --" by Edgar Allan Poem and "The Voices of a Violin" by me. I've done a YouTube video for the Edgar Allan Poe poem but not for my original one, which is going to appear in my chapbook that I'm publishing this fall.
I felt more prepared. I practiced a lot beforehand, and I also memorized them. But twenty-four hours before the Open Mic Night was when I started getting nervous (again). So I started practicing because going through the poems made me feel less nervous. I knew them by heart. I told myself "I got this", but every now and then, I would get nervous.
Some friends of mine also came to this Open Mic Night. We talked a lot and that helped put me at ease before I went on. This night was a lot busier, too. There were more acts. At the one in February, after I preformed, there was no one scheduled yet after me. But at this one, I signed up at 7:30 and it wasn't until around 8:30 that I went on, and the Open Mic Night ended at 9. They had people scheduled to go on till the end.
There were a lot of really good musicians, and there was about five or six poets too. I was schedule to go in-between two poets, which was great. I love seeing other people around my age enjoying poetry. Or just people in general writing poetry. Sometimes, you feel like you're the only one. It's nice to see other people enjoying something that you love that's more obscure.
I started with the Edgar Allan Poe poem. As I was transitioning to my original poem, the audience clapped for the first poem. I was very flattered. There was a more significant crowd that was actually, like, looking at me. They were a lot more attentive than the first Open Mic Night. I remember thinking "They're actually looking at me. This is weird, but keep focusing on the poem, Mary Katherine. Just keep going." I looked above everybody's heads, because I couldn't meet their eyes. That was too weird.
Then, I did my original poem, and they also liked that. I think that they were impressed that I memorized them and they were longer poems. Maybe that scored me some brownie points.
Since that Open Mic Night went really well, I'm so happy I did it since I had been on the fence about it after the first experience. I definitely want to do some more now.
There's no more this semester, so I'll have to wait for next semester. As I said earlier, I'm going to publish my first chapbook of poems in the fall. It's title is in flux, so I can't tell you the title. I'm wanting to recite poems from it at Open Mic Nights in the fall, and then be like "Hey, I got a chapbook. Ya'll should, like, buy it and read it." Maybe I can get an audience that way. Who knows.
So that was my Open Mic Night experiences. Thanks for reading!
Also, here's the story I wrote in response to the prompt about a slam poet who forgets their poetry when they go on stage:
As it became Dedric’s turn to go on, his friends slapped his back in encouragement. He ran up on stage, fixing his collar and smiling as he picked up the mic. “How you doin’ guys?”
The crowd stayed dead silent.
“Oookaay,” said Dedric. “Not well?”
“Well, anyway. I’m going to be performing for ya’ll a slam poem—that I haven’t written yet. I’m just going to let the poetry gods fill me with their spirit so I come up with it on the spot. My creative genius will be more potent that way. Ya ready?”
Now he could swear that he began to hear crickets.
Dedric didn’t let that stop him. He closed his eyes, his eyebrows twitching in concentrating, and waited for his poetic flow to get running.
It didn’t come.
Dedric opened one eye to glare at her, and then closed it again, concentrating even harder, sweat now dripping down his brow. He began humming, hoping that would get him into the flow.
“Is he meditating?” he heard a girl in the crowd whisper to her friend, who muffled her laughter.
“Oh poetic gods!” Dedric raised his hands to the ceiling. “Lend me your profound wisdom to slam into these people with my pro-pro-phetic words. Let the magic of poetry drip from the eaves of this grand institution.”
The university students looked around at the old union building.
Shaking his hands out beside him, he then clapped them and let the sound vibrate through the room. Everything was so silent, Dedric didn’t even register everyone’s silence. He opened his eyes and let his hands fall to his side. He gave an obligatory smile to end his act and left the stage.
When he met back up with his friends, he asked them, “Do you think anyone noticed that I totally flaked?”
Everything was still silent, and then a moment later, everyone started clapping and whooing. There was even a standing ovation. Dedric got back up on the stage and bowed. Some woman in the back screamed.
The next week, one of Dedric’s friends showed him an article found on the school’s newspaper’s website. It was about his performance. The title read: Sophomore breaks new ground in the field of slam poetry the likes no one has ever seen.
There were quotes in the article from students who said that it was “dope” and “real raw, man”. One girl said she didn’t know poetry could be that way. It broke all of the rules and preconceived notions of this world.
“Huh,” said Dedric. “Yeah, that’s totally what I meant to do.”