In the cultural imagination a poet appears in several different incarnations. There is the ecstatic nature lover who wanders the hillsides making declarations on beauty. Another is the tortured genius locked away in his garret room busily penning dark revelations, as he drinks everything including turpentine (which no doubt belongs to the equally tortured painter living next door). What is appealing to many young writers about these images is the poet’s ability to avoid social interactions. After all the job of the poet, or a writer of any kind, is to sit in a room in front of a blank page or screen and fill it with words; you don’t need anyone else in the room with you. In fact, you are given the right to chase them out.
I know that this solitary image isn’t the only one, there are the geniuses followed by their adoring fans or the beatniks in their smoky coffee houses ruining bongos for the rest of us. However, I always gravitated to the lone artist image. Growing up I had few friends and a speech impediment. Other people were horrifying. I wanted to lock myself away in some isolated, fashionable, and low rent room to write, read, and drink my neighbor’s turpentine.
The problem is that this gets lonely fast. We’ll always want a friend that will stop by or call the ambulance when we get alcohol poisoning. Also, we want to see how our writing affects others. As I hold my contributor’s copy in hand, I know my poem is in the world, but I don’t know if someone will choose to read it. I want to see the reader’s reaction. There is a limited number of time I can force my friends to read my poems while I watch before they stop calling an ambulance when the need arises.
Because of this need to see how people respond to my work, I find myself on stage quite often. Open mic nights allow us to feed the inherent narcissism that all writers have; we see and hear an audience’s reaction, we discover other poets, and finally we get to make new friends and enemies. Through open mic events, I’ve learned about different places to submit to. I’ve even been featured in other readings. It is frightening and exhilarating, especially if you have a speech impediment. While we may want to hide behind our written pages—sometimes the best way to get an audience is to go out and find them.
All of this is, of course, is a lead up to a link of a video of me reading on stage. It is for the Encyclopedia Show, Albuquerque. The theme for the night was vice-presidents, so there was a lot of interesting stuff. Enjoy!