On a Friday evening in March, I read at open mic poetry night for the first time. I had attended with my husband for the first time in January and planned to read in February, but, instead, we had to travel for my aunt’s funeral that weekend. So that brought us to March. B wasn’t feeling well, so I went alone.
There were fewer people this time then in January, but over half of us were reading at open mic for the first time. (Actually, we meet at RiverRead Books and don’t need to use a mic, but it’s called open mic anyway.) I had signed up to read second, so that I could enjoy hearing the other poets without the distraction of having to think about my own reading.
Barrett, who began the monthly open mic program at RiverRead five years ago, did a welcome and read first, including a new poem he had just completed about visiting the Holocaust Museum. (Barrett is part of the group of poets that I began meeting with last August. We meet twice a month to hear each other’s work and offer comments. Were it not for that, I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to show up and read.)
I started my reading with “Moonlight” because it is my most well-received poem and my good luck charm. It is the poem that I submitted for National Poetry Month in 2013 to “Off the Page,” a local program on WSKG public radio; they put listeners’ poems up on their website every April. (Well, they used to. The host retired in 2013, so that year turned out to be the last hurrah.) I was so excited when it was chosen to be read on air! The host, Bill Jaker, read it. It was the first time I had heard someone else read my work aloud.
I say that “Moonlight” is my good luck charm because one of the guests on the program was Nicole Santalucia, who began the Binghamton Poetry Project (BPP). That was how I first learned about it, which led to my attending the spring 2014 workshop. I included “Moonlight” in our anthology for that session and read it at our public reading. After the summer session, our instructor helped me find and join the critique group where I met Barrett and eight other local poets. With their and BPP’s help, I have learned a lot about poetry, about myself as a poet, and about how to make my work stronger and better. And it all started because of:
In the narrow valley of youth,
the moon was distant,
as though at perpetual apogee.
Cocooned in darkness,
I slept soundly.
In the broad valley of adulthood,
the moon is close,
casting sharp shadows.
Bathed in eerie light,
I lie awake.
I also read two newer poems, “(Not) the Aunt I Remember” and “Downy,” which I can’t post here because I hope to submit them to journals. My reading went well- I didn’t drop anything or lose my place – and then I got to sit and enjoy everyone else’s work. We had eleven poets read, with the first-time readers outnumbering the veteran readers six to five.
A curious thing happened. I had to remind Barrett and the other poets from our group that it was the first time I had read at open mic. While I am painfully aware of my newness as a poet-in-public, it appears that I can project at least some level of competence, which feels good.
Or it could be my silver hair just makes it seem that I must have been around a long time…