Last week I was thinking about how much I appreciate people who come out to open mic nights—not the other performers (who I love dearly) but the ones who came to listen, for whatever reason.
A chatty sort of poet, I like to ask people I don’t recognize at my regular venues if they’re also a poet and if they’re on the list. Many times the answer goes something like Yes, sort of…thought about it…not ready…just came to listen. Some combination thereof or variation thereon.
And always with an unnecessarily apologetic vibe.
To you, the poet who wants to read but for his nerves, a few thoughts:
- Bring your work, even if you don’t think you want to read. Many times, I’ve seen tentative poets buoyed by the energy of a receptive audience and encouraged by the range of talent among the performers. It could happen to you—but if the hosts wind up with room for late sign-ups, you can’t read what you didn’t bring.
- If/when you come with the intent to read, put yourself about a quarter of the way down the list (many venues allow this). That way you’re not opening the show, but you won’t miss so much on account of nerves.
- Read from a tablet or phone. Paper trembles in a nervous hand (shit, it trembles no matter what).
- If you don’t have a device heavier than paper, at least type your work. Nerves can make your own handwriting surprisingly hard to decipher.
- Announcing your nerves may make you feel better. We all had a first time and yes, we empathize if you tell us you’ve never done this before.
- If your voice cracks, it’s okay.
- If you forget a line, it’s okay.
- If you have to start over, we’re okay with that too. But if your audience is like most of the ones I’ve seen, we’re not gonna let you leave the stage until you finish something.
- Give us a sign when the poem is over. Inflection, a head nod, a step back from the mic, a “thank you.” Something that tells us when to start applauding. Because not matter what just happened, we want to clap. We just need a cue.
- Come back next month. It gets easier every time.