It’s an odd thing to confess you write poems. You hide them away in books, in old shoe boxes and under the bed. They’re treated like a large spot on the end of your nose. You walk with your head to the ground hoping nobody notices, or worse wants to take a good look. It’s a hard thing to let someone else read your poems because it makes you feel vulnerable. When you’re writing nonfiction it appears in your head as if you’re conversing a subject with another person: you’re just explaining what you think about the topic. But a poem doesn’t form at you fingers in the same way. It’s more automatic than the talking stroll of sentence. In truth, it feels more sensitive and there’s no guarantee the reader will understand it, let alone think it’s good.
I have been writing poems for a few years. They always stay in word documents, notebooks and on scraps of paper. Rarely I’ll share them with a trusted friend. However, in December I was brave (through much encouragement) and stood in front of over ten people and read five of my poems. Apparently, this is referred to as doing a set. Standing before so many people, reading what is normally clandestine was terrifying. The recording will show the shakes of my bones and at the time I was too caught up in the fear to enjoy the experience. Strangely, as soon as I’d finished and the adrenaline had ebbed away, I wanted to do it again. Only the second time I wanted to do it better, the way I’d practiced in front of the mirror. I now know that reading in front of others isn’t just exposing- it’s freeing as well.
That night there wasn’t chance for another try and I only had one other poem prepared. The other acts took the stage. There were a few guitar players/singers, other poets and a girl with a ukulele. They all were brave and brilliant, showing their talents for a good cause. The aim of the evening was to raise money and awareness for a mental health charity named CALM.(campaign against living miserably). Their focus is prevention of male suicide, a cause which initially confused me until I learned that 3 out of 4 suicides are male. The organisers of the event (at the Nexus Art Cafe in Manchester) are an art collective called Datura who produce original plays and are starting their first film later in the year.
I’m grateful to have people who challenge me and I’m inspired that there’s people reaching out to those who most need it. I hope to engage in such an important event again and next time I’ll aim to slow my words and shake less throughout the set.
The poem I didn’t read that night:
In the beginning there was the word
lighting on tongue of Gods
but when it first cracked out his human skull
I misheard it as “hello”:
His eyes that saw Pangaea split, continents drift
apart on sheets of ocean foam,
Lost warmth when I turned the body over
into frost soft pillows of snow.
I pulled the spear from his sleeping head
thanked a God for battle well won
with lines that ran my face in blood
praying conflict, never war.
With one last breath of wind or luck
the dreamer shook out a jigsaw of bone,
I sat among the red, rearranging the hieroglyphs
until his mantra formed:
“Cool down the spear,
heat up the pot and
with open ears
pass my message on.”