So your tutors are giving you good feedback, and you’re happy with what you’re writing, but what’s the next stage in sharing that with other people? People you don’t know, people whose opinions matter, people who are part of a wider community of poets?
In this series I’m going to write a few posts about ways of getting your poetry out into the wider world, if you’re looking to widen your audience and looking at different ways to do it. I’m always interested in hearing what your experiences have been, what you’ve found daunting and how you think the OCA blog might be able to offer advice on the ‘real world’ aspects of creative writing; performance, publication and so on.
One tried-and-tested answer to this is the open mic night. I have a friend who tests every poem he writes at one open mic or another and has come to rely on them for first response audience feedback. This method might not be for you, but it is definitely worth having a go at least once in your poetry career if you can overcome your nerves.
Most larger towns and cities are going to have poetry and open mic nights on now and again and so there should be one coming up near you. Poetry Kit have an extensive list and the London Poetry Library also list regular events so these can be a good starting point, as can local events websites.
If you live a long way from populated areas or find it difficult to reach them then there are more and more online open mic nights springing up which are doing great things in terms of accessibility. You can find a huge range of them online which are open to poets all over the world.
Some things to help you prepare might include:
• Research the night you’re thinking of reading at. If at all possible, go along as an observer to get an idea of the feel of the night. It’ll help to get an idea of the framework of things, whether they have guest readers, whether they mix music and spoken word and of course you’ll get plenty of dos and don’ts from other readers which might be very useful when it comes to taking the stage yourself!
• Practise reading the poems you want to read aloud beforehand to beat easy mistakes – you are much less likely to fumble that long line if you’ve rehearsed it a few times. If you keep tripping over the same words it may even be a cue to edit the poem! Don’t be afraid to pause where the poem needs it, either, as this will help the audience absorb everything that you’re saying.. Nerves can cause us to speed up when performing so stay aware of this. Don’t forget to breathe!
• Watch the time limit! Some open mics are really strict about this and will come and chase you off the stage or blow a horn if you go over time. This is also part of practising and planning your set, but consider that less can be more under these circumstances – it’s better to read two poems well than try and breathlessly fit in four back to back.
• Think about other peoples’ safety. We live in an age of content warnings and although you don’t want to ‘spoil’ the poems by giving away everything, do warn your audience if your poems contain violent imagery or elements they may find disturbing. You don’t want to ruin someone’s night after all…
Open mics are always a good source of community and I wish you all the best in finding ears to listen to your poems. Please do comment and let us know what your experiences are.
Image credit: Max Pixel under creative commons license