Friday, August 25, 2006

not a normal night

so although i wasn't sure about what i was going to do, at about 8:00 that night (doors opened 9:30, the venue started at 10) i finally sat down and made some final decisions. i was given the opportunity to do between four and six poems, so i settled on five - three without the notebook and two with the notebook, and the ones i chose to do with the notebook had been done enough for me to not have to rely on the notebook for every single word. i took about the next hour and a half going over the poems, making sure i felt comfortable enough to get through the set without embarrassing myself, and with the ability to keep my energy and some real feeling in every line.

i picked out a dress my mama gave me, some earrings and bracelets, and high heeled silver slippers, just like dorothy from wiz (at least that's what i was thinking when i put them on). i packed a couple of props (more on that later) and headed out. from rehearsal, my voice was a little strained, so some lemon tea helped my throat while i waited to go on. in true procrastinator fashion, i set my notebooks out in front of me to do some last minute cramming, going over the words with my eyes, 'cause you never can prepare too much, and i knew my preparation was on the lean side, anyway.

i paid attention to the room - the traffic in and out of the room, whether or not people were paying attention, whether or not the energy was low, or high, or what. about seven or eight poets came on before me. i tried to pay attention to what they were doing like on a normal night, but this wasn't a normal night - i was a little nervous and i wasn't sure how my set was going to go...

one good thing was that i was following some act out of los angeles - i liked their style enough to enjoy them, and they finished their turn up with a really nice cover of s.ade's is it a crime. i knew i was going next, and i was as ready as i was going to get. so after my wonderfully warm introduction from the host, i got up, lit some incense, took a gourd out of a canvas bag, and hopped up on the stage...

i needed the props to add to the parody of my first poem, deep. i have a tendency to speak to the audience before i start my pieces - perhaps it helps me to build a rapport with the audience before i start to share myself, but really, the bigger purpose it serves is to help me deal with my nerves before i begin my poems. but i wanted to grow a bit, and i decided to get right into it. thing is, there were some folks back by the door that were making a little too much noise for me to get started so i waited... (which reminds me of a story that just popped into my head as i write this. when i started school, and it was my turn to walk across the front of the class holding a pointer up for each letter of the alphabet that was on that banner above the chalkboard, if i wasn't satisfied with the class's pronunciation of a certain letter, i would put my hand on my hip and linger, pointing at the letter again with the pointer until my classmates got it right. i can't imagine how much the teacher must have wanted to laugh her behind off every time i did that.)

but anyway, just like when i was on the step team, or in the gospel choir, or starting a monologue on stage when i was in the drama club, the second i opened my mouth to speak, the nervousness took a backseat to the necessity of hitting the mark, the note, the timing, and giving the people my best. i gave them my satire on stereotypical revolutionary poetry, entitled simply, deep. (i didn't need the incense after that... i wonder what they did with it after i handed it to the audience???) then i introduced myself as a writer, "i write stuff," and cautioned them to love me anyway even if i was going to do some of the poetry from the book instead of off the dome. the folks were with me - favorite poets encouraged me to do what i do, so... i did. i got into the next piece, "just cause," which is a love letter to a friend who needs to leave a relationship that harms her spirit, punctuated by a chorus that i sang. (talk about relief at the end, after i didn't go flat. the benefit of writing my own words and performing the results of my own creativity, is that i got to sing in a comfortable range and at a comfortable pace. i didn't have to blow folks away, i just had to carry the tune. nobody cringed.) i did the first two pieces without the book, and picked up the notebook for my next piece, "me too." i love this poem. it talks about body image and self esteem, and how black nationalism and cultural pride are intertwined. and it's really personal, causing me to get really familiar with the audience. i've gotten so much love for that poem from sisters who understand exactly what i'm talking about.

i thanked the audience for riding with me through the feature, and told them that i had just a couple more and then i'd yield the stage. i brought back an older piece that i hadn't really done in months called, "he wants to be assassinated," which is my adaptation of a well-known traditional piece in at jus words, which is the name of the event. the first pieces were all by men, who were expressing their desire to be so influential in the elevation of our people that they'd be shot at - my piece talks about that from the woman's point of view. it's an energetic piece, and the audience rolled with me. i knew that one by heart, but i read my last poem, "regal tresses," straight from the notebook. i think it was right when i was in the middle of it that i noticed the whole place was quiet - and it was all i could do to hope that it was the sound of folks listening with interest instead of the sound of folks waiting patiently for me to shutup. it's hard to tell when you're on stage and the lights are in your eyes and you can't see faces, just bodies.

before i knew it, my poems were over, my set was done, i thanked everybody for listening, and i scooped up my stuff and bounced off the stage, relieved and happy that i got through the set. i got applause, i got daps, and when i asked for feedback from people i trusted, the most common response i got was that i didn't seem nervous, and that i seemed like i was just comfortably being myself up there. *smile* that sounds good to me!

i just wanted to let y'all know that i survived.