It was exactly how I imagined it. Queueing outside an East London location, walking down a claustrophobic corridor decorated with what could be described as ‘anatomical art’, and lit with flashes of bright clashing colours, and then descending worn wooden stairs into a tiny basement space. It felt a bit of a blur as I was sick with nerves having signed up to perform a piece of my own poetry.
This was an impulsive decision. I had not written any verse in quite a while and, in a seemingly random way, words just began pouring out of me to form something of a poem a few weeks ago. Looking at what I’d written I thought this piece was created to be performed aloud instead of read off the page, but I didn’t follow that thought through any further and I filed it away without showing it to anyone. Speaking to a friend about the emotional genesis of this poem last week, I thought to check and see what open mic poetry opportunities actually existed, just in case. Startlingly, I found Spoken Word London was hosting a free performance event the next day. Taking this as a sign I managed to rope another friend in for support (to guarantee I went through with it) and we met up in Dalston for a pre-show (nerve placating) drink.
Joining the queue outside the venue was about when I started shaking, which intensified after I voluntarily chose ‘pole position’ and would therefore be reading first. This was actually ideal for me since I knew as soon as I heard anyone else’s performance I would immediately assume the quality of mine to be inferior and find an excuse not to take my turn.
The compact space filled with people quite quickly. It was a rectangular shaped basement with a couple of bathroom stalls in the back holding maybe 100 people or so. The performance space felt the size of a coaster surrounded on all sides by benches and stools which were all occupied. I squeezed onto a bench in the front row and stared at the bare microphone feeling like my insides all wanted to be outside of my body, and trying not to drink my gin too quickly as the shaking persisted.
The evening began with our host, Hannah Gordon, explaining that each performer was to be given five minutes at the microphone to use however they chose. She kicked off proceedings by performing one of her own poems which did resonate with me but I also wasn’t fully engaged. Once she read my name, and declared my status as a newcomer, I went into a weird distant zone. This felt less scary than my storytelling experiences at The Moth, but this was a work of poetry as opposed to the more chatty format of telling a story, the subject matter also being far more personal and intense.
My mouth was dry and the spotlight blinding. It was also shining straight through my bits of paper I would be reading off, so I couldn’t even see what I planned to say, and I still couldn’t control the shaking in my hands. This was a moment I had been wanting to manifest for so long and it felt as if I was already creating disaster instead of reading rhyme.
I remembered that since this was a room of strangers (bar one), who did not know me and I could avoid ever seeing again, what did I actually have to lose. I asked the silent audience to be kind considering that was my debut read and rattled through my poem, trying (and failing) to adequately pace myself, and practically ran back to my seat as soon as it was done.
Hearing applause slowly brought me back to Earth, and then I heard a couple of whoops, which felt incredible. My friend also gave my shoulder a congratulatory squeeze and I realised I’d done it. I’d achieved something I’d been wanting to try for years. I stood up in a room full of people and gave them a part of me so personal I won’t even publish the poem in this blog.
It was also such a healing experience. This is an amazing community of supportive and honestly creative people who are just being themselves, which is infectious. The sense of freedom I felt was expressed by a gentleman who performed shortly after me. He announced it was his birthday the day before so he was going to perform his ‘Birthday Poem’ in his birthday suit which was astonishing and warmly received. Proof that truly anything goes in these evenings.
During the short break after the first segment of performances, a man my friend and I had chatted to in the queue, who was due to read his own works later in the evening, came over to congratulate me with a hug which was wonderful. It felt like I was being welcomed into the club.
I will definitely be doing this again. Performing live is addictive in its power and emotive expression potential. The level of sharing is so deep and personal but also funny and frank as proved by the rest of what we saw that night. Knowing this is an inclusive and receptive audience really gave the space a special atmosphere. It felt like we were exposed to personal truth nuggets that we would in turn disseminate in our regular lives. This was the human experience in all its perspectives and embodiments. I am certainly hooked.