Published April 19, 2018 | Rachel Wagner, BrickCityLive.com columnist
I didn’t think I’d like performing my personal writing.
I don’t find reading my scholarship out loud at academic conferences to be a memorable experience. It feels like work. It feels like school. But I’m comfortable with it because it’s never about me, really.
The reason I looked around for spoken word events is because I was frustrated. I was bursting at the seams with what I had to say. I had content, but I couldn’t find a way to get it out in the world. I was stuck wondering, What do I do with this stuff now that it’s done? Is any of this anything? I thought there would be some immediacy to reading at a spoken word event. The people in the room would listen at least.
The first time I went to an open mic, I took my son of course. The event was People’s Open Mic at Gallery Aferro, down the street from my house. I thought I would go and listen to what other people did, to see if my stuff would fit. If so, I’d come back some other time and read.
There were about ten of us there by the end of the night. Right away, I knew that the small number of people added to the pressure for me to read my own poems. I had to accept pretty quickly that I might not be able to slip in and out so easily.
My son, who will be three this year, wasn’t really being himself at first. He’d just woken up a few minutes before we got into the car to go. He didn’t want to share his toys with a girl who was about a year older than him. He also didn’t want to share his snack. It took a little time for him to settle in, but before long, he and a couple of other kids were off and playing.
The night had included a lot of intimate pieces on black culture and a few on romantic relationships. One person even played that violin. It was a cute night.
This is a mic. This is not Gallery Aferro.
And then suddenly, there were only fifteen minutes left. People had started asking me to speak, and I’d spent the past twenty minutes trying to download my shared drive to my phone, with no data left and only a thin sliver of battery life. Miraculously, it worked. I thought, I’m here already. I might as well just do it.
They wanted to do a kind of speed-read, where everyone stood and spoke for exactly one minute before the next person’s turn. When it was my turn, I admitted to everyone that I wasn’t going to have the same energy as the rest of the group. I’d never read my own poetry out loud before. Everyone was supportive of me and gave me their full attention. I ended up reading two old poems that I knew well. One was about renaming my son. The other was about the time everyone found out about me losing my virginity as a teenager. It felt good to get them out, even though they weren’t current.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, my son was on a couch with the girl he hadn’t wanted to share his toys with, and her mother. I noticed him kissing the girl’s forehead because she was crying.
I looked again, and the two had shared a little peck on the lips.
Within moments of my reading a poem out loud for the first time, my son had found time to have his first little kiss. Wow, I thought to myself. The girl’s mother was laughing and having the same reaction.
Later, my son and I laughed while we talked about it before I put him to bed. I didn’t want him running around kissing everyone, but I also didn’t want him to be embarrassed about it.
I found that I could barely sleep that night. I felt a good kind of creative anxiousness that just wouldn’t go away. And I woke up in the morning feeling alive—more alive than I had in a long time. I had a different energy that morning. I worked on an essay. I wrote emails to two writers I like. And all this before going to work.
People’s Open Mic at Gallery Aferro meets every last Wednesday of the month.
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