Most of us performers have been there. Everybody has to start somewhere.
In hindsight, I should have slowed down when performing. I should added more pauses and practiced my performance more. I should tried to connect with the audience more. There were a lot of things that I should have done, but these are things I've learned after a little more than two years of performing.
That, my friends, is what community is all about. Spoken Word has helped me so much as a human being, because it has given me a platform to talk about my life and thoughts. It has given me a voice. As I stood there in the bar talking to Allison, I felt like my voice mattered to somebody, and it meant the whole world to me.
Here I am 2 years later, and a much better writer and performer than I used to be. I am getting booked for shows, I am holding my own in poetry slams, I just made my very first National Poetry Slam team, and I owe it all to the encouragement from amazing community members like Allison. I think we can all learn something from her.
In slam poetry, it can be easy to forget what it's like to get on a stage for the first time. It can be easy to get lost in the scores and the rankings and the competition. We sometimes forget about the people who don't make it to the next round - and when we do, we are hurting the community.
Slam poetry is about hearing the experiences and viewpoints of different people. Fostering those new voices is how we grow as a community and make ourselves better as artists. Without those new voices, we only hear the same voices over and over again. The poetry slams become monotonous. Poets who are successful become complacent.
Because of the encouragement I've received from people in the community, I have grown as a writer, performer, and a person. I think that it's only fair to pay it back by fostering community, and it doesn't take that much effort.
Real talk - this community can be incredibly intimidating to new performers. We are one of the best places for spoken word in the country. Most of the people who get on stage at our poetry slams are accomplished writers and performers. As a person just starting, it was scary as shit to go up against such talented people and losing. I sometimes felt disheartened; however, when I got on the stage and heard the snapping of fingers and the "mmmm's" coming from the audience, I felt like I could go somewhere - that I could be somebody who could compete against the likes of the many nationally ranked poets in this city.
I realize that sometimes the pieces new poets put up on a stage can be rough, but remember, even the best poets were novices at some point. I'm not saying you need to fake enthusiasm for a poem. I try to be vocally honest about how I feel about pieces. I'll admit I have booed some poets when they put up works that offend me. I try to hold people accountable for what they put up on stage. I simply think we need to be more encouraging of new writers. If you like something in a poem, make it known. It will make a world of difference, and make the new poet feel so much more at home. If you don't care for a poem, but it didn't offend you, thank the poet for getting on stage. It's not dishonest and is still encouraging. If something a new poet did on stage offended you, tell them respectfully why it offended you. Most of the time, the poet doesn't realize and never intended for the piece to come off that way. It's a learning moment.
Performers, remember your first time on stage. Remember the feeling of having all those eyes on you, the adrenaline, the fear of forgetting your piece or tripping up a word. We've all been through those nerves. Now, think about the people who have inspired you and helped you on your journey as an artist. We all have the ability to be that person. We don't just owe it to the community - we owe it to ourselves.