Last Tuesday (August 9th) I had the pleasure of doing a full 20-minute poetry reading at Palisade Gardens in my hometown of Cobourg.
What happened was this: in an effort to stay in touch with my friend Ned over the summer while the Rowers Pub Reading Series is on break (it’s the only one I really attend regularly), I decided I would send him the occasional poem now and then. One day, I happened upon a poem I had jotted down into a blog a couple of years ago, and decided he might be interested. As an after thought, I carbon-copied it to a few other people.
One of those people was Eric Winter, a fellow who used to be Poet Laureate of Cobourg back when I was in highschool, and had been one of the people involved in starting the Cobourg Poetry Group.
Eric liked it so much, he forwarded it to James Pickersgill (or as Brian now calls him, Jimmy Pickles), the current organizer of the poetry group. It seemed that he was putting together a reading night that had poets who had previously read at a Young Poets Night coming back as adults and reading their current poetry. He asked me if I had read at a Young Poets Night, and I was ashamed to admit I couldn’t actually remember- I only attended the poetry group for about a year when I was 17/18 (before leaving for university) and I DO remember participating in some kind of group reading, but to be honest it was about ten years ago, so I could hardly remember.
At any rate, it seemed appropriate to have me there, since I was present for the group’s inception and probably one of the first teens to be involved. So he asked me to do the reading.
At this point, there was only a week separating me from the event, and I had not touched my poetry in any serious way since putting together a short anthology for my friends and family back at Christmas. My strongest poems were scattered across as span of about 6 years.
I fretted. I could tell that the other girls in the reading were not only younger than me, but had probably been working on their poetry at lot more regularly and recently than I had. I’m just a video game writer with a fondness for poetry and a rather unusual career. And a tendency towards stage fright.
In trying to script out my “banter”, most of it came out entirely wooden at first, and when practicing it at home to myself, it just didn’t sound right at all. Then one night I was laying in bed thinking about the conversations I used to have with Eric, and how supportive the group had been when I was just a terrified teenager, and I promptly jumped out of bed and jotted down some much more sincere comments that actually sounded a lot more like me and a lot less like a puppet.
To make matters worse (or better?) I quickly realized I would have to read in the second half, since there was a strong possibility that my boyfriend Brian and Eric Winter himself were going to be a little bit late. Historically, this is a bad thing for me: generally if I’m so nervous about speaking in front of people, it’s best I go first and get it done. Otherwise I have trouble enjoying the rest of the night.
When I got there, I realized the other readers were just as nervous as I was, and the wife of the man who had suggested the event in the first place said to us: “Don’t bother about the 20 minutes, just read as much as you want, for as long as you want.” Which made me feel a lot better.
Over dinner, I started to worry about some of the content of my poetry, since I was reading to an older crowd. So I asked her and her husband if they had read/liked Ginsberg. They said yes. With that, I resolved not to censor myself.
Eric showed up early, but I still ended up reading in the second half. James gave me an extended intro I didn’t really expect, and apparently he had found this website. (Hey, that’s what it’s there for) So when I got up, he’d already said some of the things I was going to say, so I had to wing it. Oddly enough, it worked out fine.
From there I went through my reading no problem as I had laid it out, and even ended with a Zombie Recipe I had written for work. I got a lot of reaction from the audience, which is nice, and I tried to make eye contact once in a while, since I know it’s always little off-putting when the performer never looks up.
Afterwards, some people came up and complimented my work and everyone there who knew me already said I didn’t seem nervous at all. (Actually, my hands were shaking throughout the whole thing, but I guess that wasn’t too obvious) I was given a little bit of money for the reading, which I promptly used afterwards to buy myself an ice cream cone, and a pint of Rickard’s white.
The other girls in the reading were fantastic- Alice McClintock, Kate Hunter and Ashley Elizabeth Best. All had very intense, beautiful poetry, but each of them was also very unique.
All in all, a wonderful night. Could not have been more perfect for my first time doing a full reading. It has probably made me significantly less anxious about reading again.