The jury is out

Word count: 300                                 Reading time: 1-2 mins.

This spring, after years of avoiding it, I went to an open mike night. As I read the first poem I had written since high school, I clamped my hands together so they wouldn’t telegraph my nervousness. After that, I was invited to join Word Whips, a group led by the amazing poet Fran Bourassa. The challenge there was even greater: not only do writers read work aloud, they compose it on the spot.

“Speak only the truth even if your voice shakes,” sang The Blackout in Keep On Moving. That could easily be the motto of Word Whips as Fran’s free-writing exercises trigger deep emotional responses. Group members write powerful, often exquisite, pieces in five and ten minute sprints. In my inaugural session, both inspired and intimidated by the talent around me, I wrote a bitter poem to someone who once betrayed me. My voice quavered as I read it. When I finished, several people laughed, one even applauded. In being truthful, I had touched a universal chord.

No fear, no envy, no meanness Liam Clancy advised the young Bob Dylan in their early days in Greenwich Village[1]. There is so much to be learned from other artists, I have overcome my fear and envy and returned to Word Whips every month. When there, I remind myself it isn’t a critique group; it’s a sharing exercise, the chance to stretch artistic muscles. No fault-finding, no blame. The only thing anyone is guilty of is the desire to improve.

What are your experiences with reading your work aloud? Do you do it only in the privacy of your own home? Or have you taken the most difficult challenge and stormed through the barrier of your first public reading? Do you ever read out loud to anyone?

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Photo by: Kenny1


[1] No Direction Home