It’s been three years since the first time I dared to hit an open mic beyond the boundaries of what North Carolina calls the Triangle. Not only was it outside my geographical home, it was also waaayy outside my artistic and social comfort zone.
On work travel to Atlanta, after a cursory web search, I took a cab one night to the Apache Cafe— home of the Word is Born open mic, hosted at the time by Coco Jones.
I arrived early (my personal curse) and signed up second on the list. My open mic tourist protocol has evolved since, but in this case it turned out to be a good thing…in that I didn’t realize how not-what-the-audience-was-used-to my poems and style were.
Still reading from the page, I was the oddest duck in the room, save only for the performer who preceded me—a hapless screenwriter whose in-progress script explored the secret lives of knives and forks when left napkin-rolled in restaurants overnight.
The poets who followed read everything from memory. Their shit was so tight the hostess could shout, “Rewind that!” and they’d back up a stanza to repeat the line she liked, all without missing a beat.
Their work was about blowjobs and abandonment and living in the crossfire of housing projects. And there I was with my quivering paper, risk-averse subjects, tame diction, and no rhyme in sight.
I stayed ’til midnight and then slipped out quietly.
They were kind enough to ignore me when I left, excusing my way through the smokers outside on the sidewalk, recapping highlights and shouting into the Georgia darkness about girls with hearts like arson…