On Confidence

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.

Event–I AM Yoga, Art, and Music Festival

I’m scheduled for a poetry reading at the I AM Yoga, Art, and Music Festival in Bixby, OK on Saturday, October 8, 2011 at 4:00pm in the “acoustic corner.” The festival starts on Friday at 5:00pm and goes through Saturday at 11:00pm. I think it’ll be a fun event, so please come hear my poetry and stick around for all the other goings on. For more details, see their Facebook page or website.

Event–Rock Island Arts Festival

I’ve been scheduled for a poetry reading at the Rock Island Arts Festival in Chickasha, OK. My set is at the Chickasha Public Library reading area at 5:45pm on Saturday, October 1st. It’s just a 15 minute set, so be on time if you want to hear me.

The festival is all day Friday and Saturday at the historic Rock Island Train Depot and includes music, poetry, crafts, wine tastings, and a host of other events/features. Check their website or Facebook event page for more details.

Event: Open Stage Tulsa at the Crystal Pistol

Open Stage Tulsa is a little different than most open mic events in Tulsa. It isn’t tied to one location, and the sets are 30 minutes, instead of the typical 10-15. The next one is at Crystal Pistol Saloon in downtown Tulsa’s Brady Arts District on Monday, July 11, 2011 at 8pm. I’m on the schedule for 9:30pm, but come early; sometimes the schedule runs early due to some acts not lasting their full alloted time.

By the way, I have new poems.

Note: Venue is 21+

Making Poetry Accessible: Taking It to the People

I went to see Dr. Malone on Tuesday to pitch my proposal for the fourth and final project in his Advanced Comp II class: How may writers use social media to build community with fellow writers and to gain readers? After that chat (he likes my topic), we talked about Third Thursday Poetry Night, an event I’m organizing and emceeing(?). I went on and on. And on. Because I love poetry. He replied, “It’s refreshing to hear your passion for poetry. It helps remind me that it’s a living, breathing thing outside of this academic setting.” Fostering that “living, breathing thing” is why I do things like Third Thursday and reading at open mic nights.

While I, of course, want people to read or hear my own poetry, I seek something more than that. For too long, poetry has been left in the hands of academics, particularly English majors. People earn English degrees then write poetry to be read by other people who have, or are obtaining, English degrees.

We shouldn’t dismantle that cycle; deep literary study does have value, but we need more. We need to make poetry relevant to the general public. I’m not the first to call for relevant poetry, but most articles I read on the topic focus on book sales or making poetry more e-reader friendly. Just like the English major cycle, these things are good, but what about actively sharing the poetry experience?

Poetry won’t magically become relevant because it now sits in an Amazon.com server. We have to take it to the people, if you will. Third Thursday Poetry Night is just one new event, one I hope draws those who already love poetry and those who don’t. I’m excited about being a part of it, but I want more. If every cafe in Tulsa (and your city) hosted poetry readings seven days a week, I wouldn’t yet see the “market” saturated with poetry. I would just see a need for more cafes.

Poets, it’s time to quit whining about poetic obscurity, get out of your dark corners, and take it to the people.

Event Announcment: Night of Hope & Healing

I’m very excited to announce that I am the feature poet at tomorrow’s Night of Hope and Healing at Emmaus Road Church. The event will have music by local artists Chris McLeod, Leah Hugon, and David Christopher, poetry by yours truly, and an open mic session for people who want to share poems, songs, and stories about what they’ve overcome.

As for my part, I’ll be reading a mix of old and new poems. I’d love to see you there.

Night of Hope & Healing
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Emmaus Road Church
1609 S Boston Ave
Suite 300
Tulsa, OK 74119

Correction: I had the time as 8pm, but it starts at 7pm.