The first time I read my poetry in public was last November at an open mic night at the Poetry Cafe. Agnes Meadows was reading that night and said she liked my stuff and I should go to the night she does there, Loose Muse. So I finally did last Wednesday.
Agnes is currently on a six month sabbatical in Singapore so the evening was hosted by Dfiza Benson instead. Loose Muse was originally set up as a monthly evening, where women can read their work to each other and talk about it. There are normally one or two readers, followed by question and answer sessions, and some open mic slots so that anyone (female) can come and read their work.
Catherine Brogan performed her poetry first. She is originally from Belfast but now settled in London. Her work is personal, witty and dynamic, relying on rhymes and pace to hook the audience in and grip them. She has been performing her poetry since childhood and brings enthusiasm and infectious energy to what she does. After performing her work there was a question and answer session where Catherine talked about her experience of performing poetry; how she writes and what she is interested in and how she got to be in Radio 4 on New Year’s Day.
It was a completely female environment, with an intimate audience of about ten women, although men do often attend they are prohibited from performing or reading their work. As Agnes says on the Poetry Society web site, “I don’t mind whose £5 I take but only women can read, unless you wear a wig and call yourself Susan”. Two other women apart from me read poetry, and both were excellent poems. The first was about not knocking the over-sixties , and was well-delivered, witty and biting. The second was about the experience of a daughter looking after her father in his last days, which used beautiful imagery and was very touching.
I read one of my poems but felt very nervous and did not do justice to it at all. I was unsure about going at all that day, just one of those days I think, but made myself. I received some positive, very kind and encouraging feedback from all three professionals, and will perform again. I am hoping that it will be more of a performance next time, and less of a self-conscious shuffle, especially as I have done my fair share of performing in the past! This is a new experience and not like the singing I’ve done before. There was no separation between me and the audience- it felt much more raw and honest- or maybe that was how I felt. I am glad I did it- but I am not happy with how it went.
Dfiza Benson performed a fantastic poem about the Hottentot Venus and then introduced the second guest of the evening. Zena Edwards is a performance poet, with great experience and who runs various workshops and has an ongoing project called Conversations running at the moment. She also has a one-woman show, Security. She is interested in languages, sonics and people, and these are captured in her poems and spoken word performance. She uses sounds and rhythm and accents to conjure up different people and places. I particularly loved her poem “Tube Sage” where she mimics the sound of the train on the tracks as a connection between the different people she describes. She also uses music and played the kalimba and sang beautifully.
In the question and answer session that followed she discussed her reluctance to accept the tag of performance poet and all of the associations that go along with it, until she was ready to make a commitment to it, because as she said she would have to approach it with a “wanting to be the best” attitude. There was also an interesting discussion between all three performers about the current poetry scene, which is disparate and too-many stranded, and the problems of funding and earning a living from being a spoken word artist/performance poet.
Zena Edwards offered me some great advice at the end of the evening, saying that I need to be able to offer my poetry as a gift, forget about all my “stuff” and be there for the poem. The poem is the important bit, not me. I was in denial about reading my work on Wednesday, until I actually said I would do it when I got to the Poetry Cafe. So although I had taken a folder full of work, I hadn’t prepared a poem to read, even if I had thought about what would be suitable.
Performing a poem, rather than just reading it out, makes you consider your words in a different context. They take on three dimensions and you have to work out how to communicate that and whether what you have written is going to work in a live setting.
Dfiza suggested going back and doing it again and I will, until I find my poetry ‘feet’. For anyone (female) wanting to try performing their work, Loose Muse is a great place to start, and find out more about the craft of poetry. I learned a lot and enjoyed some great poetry!