(First published on ThanetWriters.com on 2017/04/06 by Connor Sansby)
I’m always surprised when someone says they’re “never going on stage” or “getting behind a microphone” to perform poetry. I’m not saying it isn’t daunting, but a lot of things are. We accept an initial failure in so many areas before we get better but the idea that we may not be perfect onstage seems to trouble a lot of us. I don’t think anyone rode a bike perfectly the first time or swam without first flailing a lot.
That being said, I will let you in on a little secret…
Poetry audiences are the nicest audiences in the world.
Over the last three years I’ve been to around 100 poetry events throughout the country, and in that time I have never seen anyone booed of stage. In fact, I have never seen anyone receive anything less than applause.
The thing is, poetry audiences are made up of two kinds of people: poets and poetry fans. Poets have been on the stage and therefore know how hard it can feel to get up there; poetry fans appreciate anyone who has written a poem and gotten up to perform. Even if you don’t knock it out the park, the people in attendance will still give you the respect you deserve for standing up and saying something.
Going onstage and either reading or reciting from memory (because both are fine) is an exhilarating experience, no matter how nervous you are beforehand. Being appreciated for it, applauded for it, that’s a special kind of validation. You’re not being thanked for doing stuff for someone else, you’re being thanked for doing it for you. Writing and performing should always be done for you. Philip Larkin once said, “Poetry is the business of the poet and everyone else can fuck off.” You don’t need the validation of the audience but they will give it to you anyway.
Performing gives you the confidence to perform again, which inspires you to write more. As creatives, getting scared once in a while and seeing new people at events can act a fuel for so much more work.
I have been bad at performing, like really bad. I’ve also been okay as well. I’m lucky that I’ve had people around me who I respect give me advice and lessons that have helped me. I’ve also met dozens of poets who have never gotten up in front of the mic or on stage because of the same things I’ve struggled through.