After two weeks of checking out open mics at Bar13 and the Nuyorican Poets Café’s Friday Night Slam, I thought I was ready to debut a poem. Did I do it because I believed that my gift for poetry was better than anyone elses? No, I did it because someone came on the mic at 13, quickly mumbled his way through a poem and then just as quickly flew off leaving almost no evidence he was ever there. He did leave an impression on me; he made me say, “I could do better than that.”
It wasn’t that I thought I could write a better poem but just that I could write something and at least present it with some kind of confidence. I wasn’t learning much from the few events I attended but I did understand that just like in catering, sales and pro wrestling (I’ve worked in two of those fields. Take a wild guess which two.) you don’t have to be in possession of the greatest product to get your point across, but you do have to convince your client that Yes! you do have exactly what they are looking for.
Of course, I was already viewing the audience at a poetry event as a client and I knew what they wanted, someone to deliver a successful poem. At the time, I didn’t know what the mechanics of a successful poem were but I did know that good pacing, confident delivery and self-confidence would help deliver the illusion of a successful poem. Not only was I working hard to come up with a poem that would put those talents on display but I was also reading up on every “Make A Great Impact Through Public Speaking” book I could get my hands on.
No greater advice have I ever found than this: The audience wants you to succeed. Nobody shows up to an event to have his or her expectations shattered.
Now I’m thinking back again to that poetry talk with the Fifth Graders last week and realizing that I reiterated that same piece of advice to the kid who asked if I ever fear an audience reaction to a poem. If I had more time to talk to the kids I would have also told them to tattoo that phrase somewhere easily readable because I tend to forget it a whole bunch of times, especially right before I am about to read.