I recently met a woman who fancies herself a storyteller. I can’t comment either way on her skill, as I’ve never seen or heard her perform. I was surprised, however, that she’d never heard of a poetry slam. In my opinion, the poets who are good enough to compete in juried slams are true storytellers. They must write their own work, develop one poem into a theatrical piece – performance art at its best – without the use of props, music, or anything other than the power of their own voice and body to bring the poem to life. The good ones are really good. Of course there always seems to be at least one angry feminist and a couple of sex poems in the mix – but even those are sometimes extraordinary. The trick, as an audience member, is being open to enjoying the poetry, relishing the art, losing yourself in the moment of the performance.
All that said, I’m not much of a poet, myself. Although I was a creative writing major in college, I skirted the poetry requirements (against my advisor’s advice), and have subsequently regretted it (as my advisor suggested I would). Nevertheless, I enjoy poetry performed aloud and definitely admire those who write it well.
This past weekend, poetry showed up in my hands in two unexpected episodes. First, I picked up a package at my PO Box that had been there for a few weeks. I was moving and kept thinking, “I’ll go stand in line next time I’m here,” every time I went to the post office for about three weeks. Finally, I made time to stand in line, and was rewarded with a book of poetry created by my 7-year-old niece’s class. It’s a hard-bound book with full-color illustrations. Charlotte wrote two poems: “Oak Tree” and “Fashion.”
The second event was the next day, in the parking lot at a local shopping mall. It was just starting to sprinkle when a man clad in green plaid shorts, a green rugby/football/soccer jersey, and brilliant green sneakers approached me. He explained that he was a vet just trying to earn $5 for a food box. He offered me a tattered piece of paper containing the poem, “Believe,” which he recited for me on the spot. Sure, the grammar is imperfect. The line breaks nonsensical. But the poem is sweet and he had such heart.
He told me, as I offered the only cash I had in my purse, “It’s autographed, in case I become rich and famous someday.” As I accepted the wrinkled paper from him, I remembered my husband buying a couple poems a few years ago from a guy who’d come door-to-door through our neighborhood – the one we’d just moved away from. I’m pretty sure those were Eric Hamilton creations, as well.
So whether you write poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction, are you taking steps to get your words out into the world? Have you ever attended an open-mic event and just read for the practice and experience of reading out loud in front of a group? It’s a little humbling, a little nerve-wracking, and a lot rewarding. Printed out your book or story in any version? Distributed it – for free or for money – anywhere? Here’s the thing. If a group of first graders can do it (yes, their teacher helped, but you’re a grown-up, so you can help yourself!) … if a homeless vet can do it … you can do it, too!
Here’s to taking your words to the street – or the mail!
We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.
If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!