I asked my social media followers and friends if they have any questions about writing poetry, and Aaron Burrow asked, “Where do you find the confidence to share your poetry?”
The transition from just writing to writing and sharing isn’t easy. It certainly wasn’t for me. I started writing poetry during junior high as an emotional outlet. It was what you might expect from someone that age–sappy, self-absorbed, sloppy. Part of me knew that I had more to offer, but it would be a few more years until I started calling myself a poet.
I claimed that title near the end of high school or beginning of university, but I had only shared a few verses with close friends. It would be a few more years before I started sharing my poetry with an audience beyond those few. Those friends deserve much credit. Without their urging, I may have forever hidden my words, myself. When I began sharing my poems publicly, I was overwhelmed with fear of judgement and a good dose of stage fright.
But I did it. I scouted out a few open mic events. I mumbled my lines. I sulked to my chair hoping people would leave me alone. Thankfully they didn’t. A few people stopped by my table and let me know how certain lines affected them. In a good way! I didn’t know what to think. Were these just nice people who complimented everyone, or was I finally becoming a poet (several years after I started calling myself one)?
These early experiences didn’t magically fill me with confidence, but they were encouraging. I started sharing more often, usually two or three poems at open mic night. Each time, even though I was still apprehensive about sharing (and about hearing my voice amplified), was easier than the previous time. I also began writing more. I felt that some people were beginning to care about my work (Fans? Can I call them fans?), and I wouldn’t want to let them down by reading the same poems each week.
Confidence was sneaking up on me. The act of reading publicly still frightened me, but I started feeling better about the quality of my work. I also began feeling limited by the 10 minute sets at the open mic I frequented. I was ready, or at least my writing was ready, for longer readings. In December 2010, I gave my first full-length reading. I read for about 45 minutes to an audience that included about 15 friends and a coffee shop filled with students studying for finals.
That reading impacted me more than the lot of short readings. People who hadn’t come to hear my poetry approached me. A writing professor I’d invited had many kind things to say. My friends didn’t give me pithy compliments as I feared. They were engaged. They had favorite poems and lines that they wanted to discuss. I realized that my simple words had changed the atmosphere in the room.
A few days later, I was contacted by the manager of Ida Red Boutique about giving a reading there. That morphed into something that wasn’t merely another one-time event. A few months later Third Thursday Poetry Night got started, which I still organize and host each month. We’ve moved to Topeca Coffee’s Roastery, but it’s still going.
When I started sharing a few poems three or four years ago, I couldn’t imagine that I would be not just reading but hosting a poetry event. Am I confident now? I don’t know. Microphones, spotlights, and waiting audiences still scare me, but once I start reading I let my poems, in which I do have confidence, do their work. For me, confidence wasn’t a prerequisite for sharing. It’s something that’s coming along as I go.