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Michelle's Musings

It's Open Mic Time

It's National Poetry Month, and I've managed to survive my first Open Mic poetry reading, which took place during the 2024 annual San Diego Writers Festival earlier this month. I'd signed up in advance, so I was one of the earlier speakers to read after presentations by the featured poets. Truthfully, I wasn't all that nervous leading up to the event, and I wasn't nervous during the reading, even though the attendance reportedly was larger than usual.


In preparation for my reading, I did a little online research. Not much surprised me—it helps to have a compelling poem, of course, and one should read with passion. The day before the event, I received an email from a writers' newsletter containing, of all things, an expert's advice on how to work the crowd during a poetry reading. (As is often the case for me, karma and serendipity were at play once again.) A few salient tips in this interview stood out to me. The expert mentioned making eye contact with the audience, and he addressed how some speakers are reluctant to emote for fear of appearing full of one's self. His counterpoint to that reluctance was poignant: Folks are in the room because they want to hear what you have to say. Thus, the speaker should put some energy into their reading to approximate the fervor with which they wrote the piece. This advice resonated with me. As I stated in a recent blog post, the imposter syndrome has been finding its way into my psyche of late.


So check, check, and check for what I anticipated were necessary for a good reading.


The expert also talked about similarities between reading poetry and acting. He even recommended that poets consider taking a beginning acting class. Indeed, there were some amazing "performances" at this Open Mic event, including one gentleman who recited three poems from memory in a most animated fashion. But as the featured poets read their works, I looked for some of the dos and don'ts I'd learned. A couple of the speakers did not make much eye contact or vary the inflection in their voices, which actually heightened my confidence. I rationalized it was really the words folks wanted to hear, that the audience wasn't so interested in the performative element (I've since concluded the performative element enhances a poetry reading). Overall, I found the Open Mic speakers' readings to be on par with that of the featured speakers.


Speaking of performance, I'm reminded of a recent comment from my poetry class instructor who said one of my poems sounded "performative." He spoke in a tone that suggested a performative poem was less than desirable. I've since researched the distinction between performative poetry and "regular" poetry and have not found anything disparaging about the former. I'll delve deeper into that discussion in a future blog.


To summarize, the atmosphere at my first Open Mic was welcoming and inclusive. And I think most speakers fed off that energy. I even signed up last-minute to read at another annual event two days later, also one that also saw record attendance. The humanity on display at both events was exhilarating. I'm already looking forward to my next reading!

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