How I lost my versinity. At the Oxford Literary Festival. And liked it


Yesterday was a great day for me.

It was a first and a personal triumph.

I stood up and read out a poem that I had written myself to about fifty strangers.

No, I wasn’t arrested. I didn’t even faint, despite not being able to risk breathing during the minute-long performance.

Before you all ask for my autograph, I’d better admit it was an open mic event.

This wasn’t so much about the prestige of the festival, although it was OLF’s first ever open mic poetry platform, it was more about my trembling, shoe-shaking, hand-wringing, gutless faint-heartedness.

I definitely feared the day. I woke up very early – 5am – worrying that I might read the poem badly, or be ludicrous with loo paper sticking out of my trousers, or something. So I knew that I was scared.

But I did it anyway, which is the textbook definition of courage. I think the people who wrote those books were thinking about times when you have to face heavily-armed enemy soldiers rather than friendly-looking fellow poets, but I’m still counting it.

The rush I got afterwards was heady. Adrenaline: the pure, uncut real stuff.  I found it hard to concentrate on the poetry which followed, which was a shame, as I’d also found it hard to concentrate on the poetry before.

The experience, once the hormones had subsided, was also about learning and practising. If I’m going to make some kind of place for myself in the lettered world, then I need to learn to read in public, even though I find it hard. I do, anyway, believe that when I find things hard, it’s generally a sign that I need to practice doing them, rather than pulling the covers over my head and singing Beatles’ songs loudly until the panicky thoughts recede or the event is over, whichever comes first. (Standpipe also prefers the first strategy. I’m not much of a singer. )

Standpipe was among the select audience and rated me 7/10 although he claims to be a harsh critic. I’m not quite sure how to take that. He never lies (the cause of some rows), but he may have rounded up. On the other hand, I didn’t stumble on any words or fall off the plinth (like one unlucky reader). I didn’t cry even though I’d shed tears and had wobbly-voice every time I tried to read it to a friend.

I so admired my fellow readers, especially those who stood up and gave themselves gracefully to the moment. They were comfortable, so we were comfortable. And the poetry that I did manage to hear was lovely.

My next event will be a very small and secret one to an audience of non-poets this time (I know, even braver, I’m proud of me too). The invitation-only guest-list will be drawn from those of my friends who are least likely to  jeer openly if I stuff up. You know who you are. Be afraid. Or be booked up till Christmas. You have been warned.

Anyone in Oxford this evening can have a go her or himself at the second ever poetry platform.

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18 comments on “How I lost my versinity. At the Oxford Literary Festival. And liked it
  1. Emily says:

    Well done Cathy! I wish I could have come xx

  2. Cathy Dreyer says:

    Thanks Emily! Was a buzz. Cathy x

  3. Amanda Saint says:

    Well done Cathy! Very brave x

  4. justinbog says:

    Did you get Standpipe to record your performance art with his phone for all of us to see on YouTube? Baby steps, I know, LOL sorry. I really would like to see/hear you read your writing. That’s the best way to open up your writer heart and mind. Very proud of your accomplishment.

    • Cathy Dreyer says:

      I thought about that and convinced myself that it ought to be all about the moment. But I think I just didn’t want to end up going viral for all the wrong reasons. Also, I was standing against a plastic window in a tent. Not so scenic. At some point I’ll ask S to film me somewhere worthier. Thanks Justin. You are always so kind. Cathy x

  5. Nikki Fine says:

    Well done – my first public reading of poetry was fortified with a couple of glasses of wine, which was potentially risky! I survived it though and it made me feel better about the next outing. And yes, the buzz afterwards – amazing. I’m reading at tonight’s event. I’m hoping not to be the one who falls off the platform. 😉

    • Cathy Dreyer says:

      Thanks Nikki and all the best for tonight. I was too scared to drink. You sound like an old hand so it should be lots of fun for you. I’m so envious of people who just stand there and look happy. Cathy x

  6. cathbore says:

    I’m so happy this went well for you Cathy, how brill. Now you’ve popped your on stage cherry, that’s it now; we won’t be able to get you off stage. So pleased for you! xxx

  7. Cathy Dreyer says:

    Beep. Cathy is currently performing her extensive cannon at the Village Gate Literary Bonanzafest. Please leave a message. She will respond between stanzas. Beep.

    Thanks Cath – you are very kind – it’s on again tonight BTW.

  8. Viv says:

    Well done. It gets easier with time (says she who’s not read in public for years, not her own work anyway)

  9. Sheree says:

    So happy for you Cathy. Your poem is amazing. Soon you will stand up there to read, look out over the audience and see them all leaning forward as they try to get closer to your words. Would love to be there when you see that for the first time:)

    • Cathy Dreyer says:

      Happy dreams … Would Mr Cohen approve? Hallelujah and all that, to you, Sheree. Thanks for taking the time. I so appreciate your comments and I do love Leonard too. Cathy x

  10. bigmammafrog says:

    Thought you did fab, Cathy!

    I went back again on Friday (dd wanted to go to the pub again – seems they get the habit young these days).

    The audience was larger, and somehow different to the Wednesday slot. The poems were ‘lighter’ and there were some great entertainers on stage, which made my offering rather self-conscious and unworthy. Eek.

    But all good practice. Or is that practise? I never remember.

  11. Cathy Dreyer says:

    Fanx Nic. Wish I could have made it to Friday’s do as well. Bet you knocked ’em right between the eyes with your compelling poetry. As you know, I don’t always understand your work (too thick – that’s me and your words) but it always lives in my head for weeks afterwards. I keep replaying ‘Descent’, as much as I can. See you soon I hope or should that be hop? 🙂 Cathyxxx

  12. Wow, so brave! Really. Congratulations–that’s a huge step, reading your work aloud. I’m a public-speaking wimp and completely in awe of your bravery!

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