Saturday, August 23, 2008

I Get Intimidated

Thought I was immune by now, but at this month's "Loud Mouth" hootin' & hollerin' open-mike reading at The Mack, a bar in South St. Louis, which I'd dared myself to read at, I got intimidated. I didn't read the poem I planned to road-test -- a feminist poem that would have filled my entire five-minute slot. Instead I played to the mostly-male audience's Bukowski fixation and lost all my respect for myself and whatever respect the audience might have had for me. I was one of two female writers on the bill of ten. The other wore a tube top. The emcee, a student of mine five years ago, now a stand-up comedian manque, had never recovered from the final "B" he had earned in my class. He introduced me thus, "Have you ever really wanted to get back at a teacher? One of those mean teachers who tried to destroy you?" --and so on. (I fail to see why "B" is such an injurious grade.)

Most of the readers knew one another and had brought their own entourages. I had sensed I would need one, so I dragged in a long-suffering, patient couple, the husband a fine poet I thought might get a chance at the open mike. He was cajoled to read a poem, but refused to be part of this historic lineup. At least one of the readers, volcanically loud and incoherent, was certifiable; and the others were terrible, or terribly impressed with themselves -- like the bewigged 70-year-old Parisian who stopped his reading to accuse me of laughing at him (I wasn't laughing, just unable to repress a smile). A kindly nebbish read a 9/11 poem he had laminated. The other female reader actually said, "I wrote this this morning, about 11 o'clock" -- and then there was yours truly, all rehearsed, who jumped ship on myself and gave a terrible performance. Final grade for me: D. Pride goeth.

A good learning experience and proof that I still need to work on confidence. If it is at all possible for you, learn from my mistake.


  1. Until recently, I'd been doing the Writers Guild open mic nights regularly. A couple months ago, at my last night at the Mack, I realized that would, in fact, be my LAST night.

    The crowds for Open Mics-- especially at the Mack, where there's drinking, etc., want to be entertained. It's not the right venue to expect anyone to do any mental work and the best responses seem to be to stand-up comedy (of which there's plenty). There's too much commotion there for the crowd to respond to things like the subtleties of rhythm, and layers and meanings crafted in over time.

    It gets disheartening, I know. Don't take it personally.

  2. No, no, Catherine: do not beat up on yourself. Both of you, Catherine and Julia, are heroes to me just because you dared step out of your comfort zones and read at a venue that is publicized as being edgy.
    Not all adventures are meant to be pleasant. So you learned that once (or a few times) is enough. Good on you, and I'll be seeing you at the saner reading venues.
    I'll be reading at the launch party for UNTAMED INK, at Lindenwood's Graham Chapel, 5 pm on Tuesday, Sept 16th. That should be calm!
    g g.p