I Am Not A Poet, Except For Maybe Sometimes?

About a month ago, I went to an open mic night I’d heard about. I like open mic nights. I like the combination of experience and knock-kneed newbies, the featured poets and the new storytellers. You’ve got five minutes and a mic, and whatever happens, happens.

The whole time I was there, I was kind of in awe. Poetry is not my forte. I like prose. I like the way I can go on and on and on or keep things short and simple. I like the look of a paragraph, the indentations on the page, the way thought after thought can string together. Poems intimidate me. They’re so visual, every line break adding meaning, enjambment giving emphasis or double meaning or….well, yeah. Poetry is hard and scary and beautiful and wonderful and I rarely try to write it. Mostly out of respect for the form, but also because I hate failing at things, and I think I would fail as a poet.

But something about that open mic made me say, “Hey. I’m gonna give this a shot.” So for the last month I’ve been working on a poem. Yes, you read that right. One poem. Sometimes people get confused and think that poetry should just flow out, that it’s all emotional and not about storytelling at all, that poetry is some kind of lazy form that just gets spouted out and left alone.

Wrong.

I have stared at some of these stanzas far, far longer than I’ve ever worked on a paragraph. I sat for two hours one night and changed three words. And then I changed two of them back to what they’d been originally.

So last night I let people read them for the first time. I went on a killing spree yesterday, you see, I killed all my darlings, every line I loved from the very first draft of this poem is gone. And I needed to see if it worked. I was completely terrified, I’ll admit it. You see, I’ve gotten to know a lot of really talented poets over the past few months, and I’ve seen incredible performers. What makes me think that I can do that? What makes me think I deserve to be a part of that world? Aside from arrogance, that is. Aside from some part of me saying, “You’re talented, too.” I mean, it’s just 5 minutes and a mic. It won’t kill me.

I sent my scary little poem off to two trusted friends, caring people and talented poets, and I waited. I’m in the middle of submitting stories to contests and sending out job applications and waiting for grades, and this terrified me more than any of those things. And the crazy thing is, they liked it. They liked my poem. My poem with its month of revision after revision, the poem that I have recorded myself reading over and over, that I have painstakingly read out loud and listened to over and over and over again, looking for a faulty rhythm or a repeated word…they think it works. They like it.

Now I just need to figure out how to read it in public without dying of stage fright.

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