Page Poets & Performance
As a page poet, I've learnt that performance is critical to a successful reading.
I've been to many poetry readings. The majority of page poets are nervous when they get up to read, and it appears as if they think standing very still, keeping a monotone voice provides safety. I have my doubts that poetry audiences are a ravening horde, but certainly the death-like stillness does dial down the energy of the room. OK. Enough levity.
If you've never been to a poetry reading or to a poetry slam, I encourage you to go to both and judge for yourself which is more fun.
I can absolutely say I am not a good performer. For one thing, it is really hard for me to move. I also am prey to vast headaches, nausea and (at the time this video was shot) sudden temperature spikes that left me sweating. (Yes. Menopause.) Partly, I'm not a good performer because I can't read the room. I'm not good at emotions, faces, or body language. Still there are things I learnt from all the years of going to slam performances like the one I took part in below. One of them is that the people there are rooting for you to succeed. And shyness doesn't help at all. It doesn't matter what you look like, but it does matter how you behave -as if the floor is yours- that's the trick.
This is a performance I gave (on request) some years ago. It was a bad night for pain for me, but the band was great, and the audience super supportive, and in the end, I had fun. I also drank a couple of vodkas, which helped with the pain for a while. (drank 2 straight shots after I was done - was afraid of falling off the stage - super light-weight, that's me).
I'm still learning how I can increase the performative aspects of my craft, which is the page. In the age of Zoom, things are different, and they require us to adapt. Performance changes in the virtual world. There are things I should do. For example, memorize more. It is better to watch the audience, interact with them eye-to-eye. Memorization also leaves the hands free for periodic gesticulation. I think I should have had one of those vodka shots before the stage, and the other after. Little tricks you know.
Some of the other performers that were there that night were truly stellar. A number of them went to clown school. It's something I've wanted to explore, but haven't. There are in-person schools of course. NY has one. So does LA. There are also online classes now. Covid was good for some things. The only reason I'm telling you this is that there are avenues to help you loosen up, learn how to perform, that aren't acting classes, or toastmasters. Afraid of looking like a fool? Uhuh. Sure. Most people are. But what's the worst thing that can happen? Realistically. The world isn't going to end, and, frankly, it's better to look like a fool than to be one.
Your craft matters. Your art matters. It doesn't mean much if it never gets the recognition you think it deserves. It does matter if you don't do everything you can to make your own expression of self the strongest it can be.
That video - it might not be a great poem. It sure isn't a great performance. But it went against the grain. I was asked to do it - and I did, although I much prefer being an audience member to being part of the show. But I learnt something that night, and I still think fondly of it, and of the people I shared it with.