I’m not even sure how I ended up onstage but it wasn’t exactly something that fell from the sky either. To be honest, it was always out there somewhere. Like an insignificant dot on the horizon, taking shape, slowly growing until suddenly you realize you’re in a gigantic house and that you’ve been in it for some time.
I have been educated by poetry, by language, my whole life, so the house was, at least, familiar even if some of the avenues were left unexplained or unknown. Music has also been a deep passion of mine from the time I was very little and whether rock and roll or Jazz it was all about attitude and a very personal voice. Poetry is part of this voice and the earliest tales, whether creation myths or great journeys, were sung. The Greeks did tragedy on a grand scale and the heroes, villains and other universal themes still run through our own stories and are present in our own songs. Poetry, I’ve discovered, takes a very specific voice and one which can run contrary to societies aims. Rebelliousness is an intriguing thing and most of the artists I’d admired said or did things that the established circles frowned upon. I was hooked on what these artists were singing about, they spoke to me in the simplest adolescent terms but there was some great poetry in there as well. Looking back on it I think the catalyst to spoken word had been karaoke. It felt good to be up on stage after a few beers belting out some choice cuts at my favorite pub on a sultry night. There was a familiarity there, an inclusiveness, or it was just the drugs? Whatever it was, felt like magic and people were, at least, amused.
By the time I began writing poetry in earnest it was a dead language. I know this because not only had I read about its demise in countless articles but the signs were all around me. Friends tended to drift off around Oscar Wilde, and no one found French symbolists much to write home about either. I wasn’t fazed, however, their refusal to see the light only strengthened my resolve. I began to feel like some errant knight bringing religion to the heathens. My Don Quixote would fight a million windmills and dive even deeper into the imagination until reality itself seemed a dull copy. The question was how to get these clearly cut poetically developed insights across to masses at large? Why was this important at all or even necessary? Of course, you’ve heard about the analogy of why mountain climbers climb mountains? Well, this wasn’t anything like that, this was inventing the mountain and the climber. Poetry has gotten a bad rap over the years, the whipping boy of rules driven scholastic system. Educators had tried their best to keep poetry tied to the page but eventually it had broken free and music had given its wings to soar. As I write this a young kid bounces along the sidewalk outside of my house rapping out loud. It’s there as if our language is always finding new ways to present itself. We want to tell our stories and we want to have them heard. To perform poetry or some spectacle at the very least to the public in any capacity is a nerve-wracking, humorous and dangerous undertaking. The first time I performed I was heckled pretty badly and it caught me more than a little off guard. I was beginning to have second thoughts about my calling but didn’t want to throw in the towel either. The dangers were making themselves apparent to me and I was reminded what they had done to Socrates.
I put myself back in karaoke mode with a vengeance in the upcoming weeks but this was just compensation for the bad reception my words had received. I began hitting up coffee shops and bars all over the city and some were better than others but my neighborhood crowd was still at the back of my mind. I needed to get out and look around, though, research was vital in these things. How did other places present open mic events? Was it the deep divide it seemed, between raging drunks and well-intentioned literary types? The coffee shops came prepared with their own attentive listeners but some of it felt a little too complacent, clapping at any ill-conceived party trick they heard. Bars could be exciting but sometimes a bit too much excitement which can blur the lines of intelligible reading. I’ve even done a stint at the back of a bowling alley that was thankfully broken up by an overly religious owner berating me for bringing the devil into his house. I even went to some great poetry events full of people who could make the phone book sound exciting and gradually I relaxed and loosened my grip.
This I found was my secret that it isn’t as important to get every scratch of cleverly placed wording exactly right but the general feel of the reading. This is what I gleaned from all of my rock and roll friends who put just as much emphasis on the roll as on the rock. Besides most of the people in the audience were drunk and wouldn’t remember a thing the next day anyway.
But occasionally they do and one evening a young girl approached me and said that she too wrote poetry but had never thought about reading it until she saw me on stage. This is how it starts for anyone interested in testing the limits of imagination. All you need is a voice and something to tell the rest of us.