Thoughts on Reading…
This year has already been a tumble of experiences that feel completely unreal to me. It began in January, where I had the opportunity to read the title poem of my forthcoming book at Powerhouse Books in Brooklyn. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure how I would do with that, it’s been a long time since I did anything resembling a performance. Throughout my career I have often had to speak in front of people, either to present business plans or to educate others in my field. I’m comfortable speaking in front of a group and doing those things. That led me to believe that I might not have any real issues with reading my poetry in person.
I’m usually the person in a group presentation responsible for calming down everyone else. So, though I felt nervous, I figured it would pass. It turns out that reading something intensely personal is a different experience. I had the chance to talk with another poet at a recent open mic and he said to me that he feels poetry reading is different because you’re inviting people into a strange little world that belongs only to you. That’s definitely true. When I write poetry it’s a solitary experience. Sometimes poems happen all at once and others come out lines at a time over days and weeks. I never force a poem to come out of my mind and I tend to let them grow organically. I don’t censor myself. The result of that can be poetry that makes others uncomfortable, including myself. Having those words on a page and sending them out to be published or to be read by others is still a less immediate experience than reading them aloud in front of people. Even though I understand all of this logic, it doesn’t mean that I process it without emotion. That emotion is what works me up before reading and takes a tremendous amount of energy.
When I was in high school I was involved in competitive policy debate and forensics. I did everything from debating resolutions for social policy changes to dramatic interpretation and duet acting. This was an ultra competitive sport to me and if I look back at some of my fondest memories they are surrounded by preparing for and participating in these activities. The confidence and passion I felt helped drive me to achieve. Aside from the external awards and accolades, I found that it really lit up something inside me. I have been missing that for a long time. I remember my debate coach approaching me on a bus and asking me to help out by filling in for someone in the Poetry Event. This didn’t involve knowing anything about poetry. It involved holding a small binder with a poem selected by the participant and giving a dramatically interpretive reading. If he had asked me to give an extemporaneous speech about whether or not the United States should legalize euthanasia (an actual topic at one time), I would have been more comfortable. But, I was a team player so I agreed.
All along that route, I read the poem over and over to the back of the bus seat. I worked on hand gestures, I tried to understand what the poem was saying to me and how I could express that to others. I’ll be honest, though I was willing to do it, I didn’t have the kind of heart invested in it that I had in the events I had prepared for over the last several months. I didn’t worry about being ‘good’. I knew I was going to go compete in rounds where others had been preparing on a daily basis and where others were passionate about the work. I was just filling in and I would do the best I could.
Something strange happened when I stood in front of the room for my first round. As I opened the binder and took a deep breath, my voice lifted into the air and I fell into that poem. The moment electrified me and it informed every other performance I had during that weekend tournament. I received a third place medal that day and it was the beginning of my love for poetry. I wrote little poems in secret, tucked them into my prose. I never shared my own work with anyone. I felt ill equipped to write poetry, even though I was drawn to it. I never dreamed I would be reading my original poetry and performing it as an adult. Maybe I wanted to dream that, but I wasn’t quite brave enough.
Now, I am.
I’m starting to find my physical voice, after working for the last year to find my authentic voice through verse. It’s a process. Sometimes my voice shakes at a reading and I get frustrated by that. But, I’m finding that the more I do it, the more my confidence grows. I feel empowered putting my words out there, standing up and saying ‘hey, I want you to hear this!’ More than that, I’m enjoying it. I’m still working on how to care for myself before and after performances. I’m still working on how to handle the jitters and the adrenaline that like to flood my system. I have so much support from my loved ones and friends in the poetry community and that counts for a lot.
I will continue to read and I’d love it if you came to watch me. I love even more to meet other poets and people interested in poetry. So, be sure to check out my Events page to find out where I’ll be next!
Publication Update: Mother, May I?
Mother, May I? is the title of my debut collection of poetry that is set to release now on April 25, 2019 from Animal Heart Press. Pre-orders continue via my Bookstore .
There are two options for pre-orders. The first is simply the book, which will ship directly to you from the press. The second option is for one with “Grace Notes”, which is how I refer to my annotations. If you choose the annotated version, you’ll get personal handwritten notes alongside some of the poems, as well as my autograph in the book!
Additionally, if you pre-order within the month of March (in either format), I’m including a never before published poem about motherhood in celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.
I recently received the proof copy for this book and it is beautiful. I’m proud to have my name on this book and to share it with the world. The outpouring of support for my poetry has been tremendous and I am so thankful for everyone involved. This really is a dream come true for me and the beginning of a poetry career that I never thought I could have. Every book purchased helps support my dream and vision as a poet and I’d love it if you purchased a copy.
If you’re in the NYC area, I’ll be reading from Mother, May I? as part of our launch at Pen & Brush in Manhattan on May 1, 2019. I’d love to see you there and if you have a copy of the book you’d like signed when you see me, I’d be happy to do that!
Thank you so much for reading and here’s to a poetic spring!