Friends, over a week ago I had what I could only describe as the best experience performing poetry that I have ever had. Ever.
I was invited by the Westerville Library and the City of Westerville, Ohio to perform a fifteen minute set of my poetry at on August 10 Rock the ‘Ville, an event which is part of Westerville’s Year of the Arts initiative in 2013. I, five other amazing poets, and our families and friends gathered at Java Central at 20 South State Street in Westerville that day where we each shared our words, our hearts, and ourselves. We learned a little about each other, and I learned a little more about the craft of poetry. I and my fiancé walked away happy, enriched, and with a renewed faith in the art form.
Mark Hersman, president of the Ohio Poetry Association, performed first at 4:00 P.M. a set which included poetry about archeology, which is his non-poet profession. During the Q&A session at the mid-way part of the afternoon, Mark responded to question I’d asked by saying that his poetry and archeology are meant to bring to light the stories of past people so that they are not forgotten. It reminded me of how poets can be storytellers…this art form in human language began as a way to preserve and pass down our stories, and I believe that poetry still serves that purpose now. We as poets are very good at telling our own stories, but when we turn that pen over to tell the tales of another human being then that, my friend, is very powerful. And that is what Mark does. For an example of this, check out the video below of his performance of “Where Nine Kinds of Woodpecker Live” from a 2009 poetry reading.
Jennifer Hambrick, a host at WOSU Classical 101 FM, performed at 4:15 P.M. a set which included poems about relationships. Besides being a medium through which our human stories are preserved, poetry allows us to speak of our relationships to other people, as well as how we perceive those other people, in ways that sometimes straightforward descriptions and prose cannot. Jennifer uses her gift in just that manner — one great example is one of the poems she performed that day, “Snow Cream”. I also found footage of her performing poetry from last fall at an event called “Paging Columbus”. In the video below, she performs several poems including “Wild Turkeys”, a poem that she also performed at Rock the ‘Ville.
I performed at 4:30 P.M.…but I will talk about myself later. After my performance was a 15 minute Q&A session which was followed by Meg Freado’s performance at 5:00 P.M. Meg Freado is an amazing slam poet who now runs the Pen and Palette poetry night at Travonna Coffee House in Columbus (Dave Phelps posted a generous review of that poetry night with pictures on SocialColumbus). Unfortunately, I cannot find any examples of Meg’s work online to show you how awesome she is, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I can tell you that Meg’s work is emotionally evocative with a tendency to use language in fresh and unusual ways, and if you’re in Columbus you will have to check out Pen and Palette to see what I am talking about.
Joan Moos performed at 5:15 P.M. Joan is a former dance and gymnastic teacher who with her husband has taken lessons in glider flying – and indeed, her poetry is soaring and does give you the feeling of wanting to soar. She performed poems from her book, To Soar: Life is an Attitude.
Finally, Betty Bleen performed at 5:30 P.M., reading selections from her book Bad Red Shoes . Her poems are alive and vivid, full of color and honesty – the phrase that comes to mind when I think of her poetry is as if a hidden gem or treasure were yanked out of the corner of someone’s jaw – or heart – and given a microphone and allowed to speak. Below is a video of her reading the title poem from Bad Red Shoes at Comfest 2012.
NOW, I will talk about my performance.
My set included four poems: three from my new chapbook, Novena (remixed) – “Icarus”, “Gulf Song”, and “You Don’t See It” – and one poem, “Fables”, from an earlier chapbook, word. Those who know me intimately know that I’ve had trouble conquering stage fright and have sometimes not felt comfortable on the mic – but that day, I felt no nervousness, no fear, and no doubt. I felt as if I was amongst friends…maybe it was the small group of people gathered there, maybe it was the venue, maybe it was the positive vibes and attitude I felt from those who were listening, or a combination of all of these. Most importantly, I felt comfortable sharing about and being myself on the mic – and that is the best thing I could ask for as a performing poet. I revealed what I care about, my autistic/Asperger self, and my thoughts and feelings.
And…I have video of my performance. A lot of you are long distance and couldn’t make it to my performance, so as I promised, I’ve uploaded several videos to my YouTube Channel – the first video below is of the entire show and is seventeen and a half minutes long.
I also uploaded individual videos of each poem I performed that day – you can find them on my Rock the ‘Ville playlist on my channel. Just to give you a sample, here is the video for “Icarus”:
My performance was followed by the Q&A session I mentioned earlier. I received a lot of positive feedback about my poems, but one man’s comments startled me and made me think (if you’re reading this, my good man, please forgive me as I do not know your name – I only remember you as the gentleman wearing the Lizard King shirt). I mentioned during my set that I began writing at age twelve, stopped when I was eighteen, and did not write poetry for ten years until my fiancé encouraged me to begin writing again. This man asked me why I didn’t write for ten years – I responded that my family of origin had not been very supportive of my art when I was a teenager and once I left high school, I just…didn’t write. I don’t have any regrets about it anymore, and although I do sometimes wonder how my life might have been different had I kept writing during those ten years, I understand that — to borrow a phrase in danger of becoming trite these days – “it is what it is”. This man then responded that I didn’t write because I was learning how to speak. I don’t know if my jaw actually dropped, but I certainly felt it.
And I think this man was right. When I was seventeen, you could not have dragged me up in front of an audience to read my poetry and if you had even succeeded, I would have been absolutely terrified. Never mind that I’d won an a local chapter’s Optimist International speech contest during those years in Middletown with the coaching and encouragement of my eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Way (a woman who I will never forget and who helped put my feet on the path of poetry in the first place). My own family was tearing me down at home, and as I confessed to my fiancé a few days ago – and even after the Rock the ‘Ville performance – I begun to believe subconsciously that by “performing my art” (as Jim Morrison would put it) that I was doing something very, very wrong and bad. It has taken me years to try to overcome false guilt for writing, which is something that is as natural to me as breathing. During those ten years, my gift was still there, but lying dormant – but within the last five years I have absorbed the words of other poets, had spoken word and slam wonderfully invade my ears, have taken an oral interpretation course to help me better perform, have tried to find and use the Divine energy that I believe flows through every human being as well as creation as a whole, and have benefited from my fiancé’s love, encouragement, and coaching for performance.
Yes, friends, after a week of cooling off, editing the videos, and being extremely swamped at work, I finally have told you about my experience at Rock the ‘Ville. Thank you for being patience with me whilst I walk through this madhouse of the last 11 days! And in closing, I do have a few requests:
- Please check out Novena (remixed) and take a moment to read the sample poems, listen to the sample audio, or watch the videos (if you haven’t already done so). If you like what you see, then buy the book!
- If you can’t buy the book, would you please help me get the word out? I am a one-woman promotional machine and I can only do so much. I would love to see it shared far and wide. Please share/tweet/post about Novena (remixed) using the various sharing buttons on that page, including all the cool sample “stuff” I have there.
- Check out my YouTube channel – and if you like what you see, please “like”, share, and subscribe!
Thank you! I’ll be back with more soon.