Practice What You Preach
One of the things I’ve been trying to improve on is my on-page performance which quite frankly, sucks. Memorized work goes along more smoothly for me but that is because I’ve studied the hell out of the poem and know all the nooks and crannies of the piece. Originally, I was under the impression that whoever reads from the top of their head was some kind of poetry god that could do all kinds of amazing things. I have three poems totally memorized and can fake enough of ‘Leticia’ to get by and they all make for real good performances but after seeing so many people rock the mic with paper in hand I realized that I have to step up that part of my poetic repertoire.
Seeing Jeff McDaniel was what really won me over to the page side of the debate and I try to picture him when I practice my page work. The workshops I have been attending and facilitating have also helped me get the best out of my voice when the paper is there. The rough part is trying not to take too many pause when the line breaks and imagining the author’s intent and then mimicking that with your tempo and tone. It should be pretty easy when you are doing your own work but there are a couple of stumbling blocks. (New poets, take notes) Always read with clearly legible work. If it’s printed, make sure you use a large type (for me 14 point works well) Write it in a book or tape the page inside a book. (The weight of the book will keep your hand from shaking.) Highlight or underline major points in the poem. Hold the book or page in front of the mic so that you are reading at the crowd instead of directing your voice to the page.
I’ve tried all these tips and still haven’t been able to translate that into my performance… until yesterday at the Asian American Writers Workshop. I go to support Jayme, who is reading on the Open Mic, and when I get there two of the organizers recognize me from 13 and ask if I’ll read. No problem. Then they ask if I mind going first. No problem. The host is almost saying my name in the intro when he remembers that the house rules are that if you’re not Asian you have to read an Asian poem first. Marc (one of the organizers) and I are frantically looking for a book and come up with one that is all Jesus poems. Why, in a workshop that is chockfull of books, we can only find THIS one is beyond me but that’s the situation. Now we have to find a suitable poem and I know enough to find one that is about a minute long (epics don’t work because the crowd gets bored and the reader gets bored/haiku and five line poems make it seem like you don’t care) I find the right length poem and hit the mic.
Reading that sucker like a pro. Clear diction and good flow. “Dear Anne…” it starts and I am doing great until I get to the part where the author compares his fascination with Jesus and his homoerotic fantasies. I just keep plowing through and finish the poem as if my life counted on it. Finish up and then hit the crowd with the “Ceviche” poem. Performed it well and got a good off stage reaction but little response from the crowd while actually doing it.
Afterwards some people ask Jayme if I was gay or not as their gay-dar said that I was straight but my passoinate reading of the homoerotic Jesus poem (Yes, the poem said the word ‘homoerotic’) left them confused.
Careful what you wish for…