Ode to an Open Mic

wherein I attend a poetry reading and decide that, if other writers can write poetry, maybe I can…what?!? Me, write poetry?

Last night, I attended a poetry reading, followed by an open mic. This particular gig, the 2nd Saturday poets, has been running in Delaware since 1983. That’s right, ’83. That’s a lot of rhyming words under the bridge.

Except that poems don’t necessarily rhyme anymore, and haven’t in a long time. Even I know this.  For the 2nd Saturday crowd, readers don’t have to read a poem at all. Prose poetry is acceptable. Flash fiction is cool, too. Whatever piece of art you’d like to share with the group is good.

I didn’t read last night. I attended the event because members of my critique group are regulars. I also wanted to check out the event because I’ve been asked to do a public reading with a fellow Delaware artist. The reading is not until August, but already I’m considering what to present. How to showcase my work. I’m in the supporting cast of this reading, so that gives me flexibility—I don’t feel the need to share something perfectly polished to impress the audience. I can experiment, maybe read a goofy piece, or a work I’m not sure will ever get published, but is fun to read out loud. Not a lot of pressure on me, because I’m reading to support a friend.

Last year, when Bob Davis and Abby Millager and I did the public reading required by our Delaware Division of the Arts fellowships, we hosted an open mic. Our grants were a show of support from the state and its taxpayers; we wanted to be gracious and give other artists the opportunity to share their work in public. Writers I’d never met signed up and got up on the podium and affirmed, again, that a writer’s desire to share is stronger than  shyness or insecurity or nervousness, or rejection.

I didn’t read last night because it was my first time at 2nd Saturday, and some kind of rookie etiquette told me to wait and see. After Jeffrey Little and Josiah Bancroft, the featured readers, did their thing, a dozen braver souls than I approached the open mic. Some were funny, several were touching, a couple (I confess) were a bit incomprehensible to my unaccustomed-to-hearing-live-poetry ears. One moved me to tears.

There was no pay to read; no published credit or critique. The reader got nothing out of the couple or three minutes before the crowd other than fulfilling the desire to share their words, to participate.

It takes a lot of things to be writer: courage, perseverance, good grammar, a story to share, a desire to say. It takes something else to stand before a group, even in a trusting atmosphere, and read your words. Courage? Ego? I don’t know, but I felt it—and something else.

I wanted to write a poem.

The problem with that is, I don’t write poetry. I haven’t since high school. I’m not sure I know how. I write fiction, non-fiction, some memoir; I write for adults, children, young adults. I’d write for aliens if I knew the right language. But poetry is the foreign land of writing to me, and I have no idea how to navigate it.

And yet, last night at the open mic, listening, I grew an idea. A poetical idea. And now the open mic is speaking to me, too.

This is a surprise, and because of that, it feels like a gift. And to use a cliche, who looks a gift horse in the mouth? This is the allure of art. I listened to poets read, and it made me want to write poetry.

No wonder this group has been going since 1983.

Ramona


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