@poetryquestion First poetry slam ever? If your hands shake, memorize your poem next time. If they don’t, make silence your friend.
— Taylor Mali (@TaylorMali) May 17, 2013
I’ve made a deal with my students that I will perform a piece at a local poetry slam on May 26th. Even writing that down here means that I have to follow through with my promise. Then again, even writing that down here makes me nervous. I’ve written the piece that I want to perform, and it’s heavy. The subject matter is not suitable for everyone, but it’s very honest, and after watching a few slam poetry events, I know that it fits in with the overall feel of what people have been performing. I think I’m more nervous about the subject matter because it’s opening myself up to some of my students, and that’s an odd line to walk at times.
The other hitch in my proverbial giddy-up is that I suffer from social anxiety disorder, and while I stay fairly medicated, it doesn’t mean that standing on stage, and performing a piece about my world to a group of complete strangers, and a handful of students doesn’t make the lump in my throat go down any easier. It’s funny though, because I play music on a regular basis – live music, in front of a lot of people. In fact, I’m playing a show tonight for 300+ people, and I’ll be perfectly fine. The playing portion is okay; frankly, it’s the getting onto the stage that is the issue. Once I’m there, I feel great. I’m alive. I strum a few chords, sing a few lines, and I feel at home. But I typically arrive several hours early, have a drink to relax my mind, and wait, and wait, and wait, and wait for load in, and set up, and soundcheck, and then continue the waiting process until I play. I’ve gotten a lot better over the years. I’m not angry before shows anymore. I no longer hide in the corners. I’ve been doing shows for 17 years, so why does this poetry slam bother me so much?
It’s the waiting. It’s the fact that the only people I’ll know are a handful of students. It’s the fact that I can’t hide behind my guitar, and that the only thing I’ll have as my crutch is the microphone, and my piece of paper – if I don’t memorize the whole thing. I know I’ll be calm once I start the piece. And it’s a very accepting and open crowd. I’ve seen people truly mess up, forget lines, get rattled, voices crack, and the audience cheers them on to keep going, and gives them praise. I know that I can do this.
Taylor Mali’s advice is right on point: If my hands shake, I should memorize my piece. If they don’t, then I need to make silence my friend. Well, my hands don’t shake, and I love making people listen to my words. I thrive off of the silence during a solo set, when you know that every ear is straining to hear each and every syllable. I can do this. It’s just the waiting. Damn you Tom Petty. The waiting really is the hardest part.