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.