I barely ever wrote poetry before starting university. I’d had a stab at it a few times, but everything I had produced was quite frankly terrible. Then, all of a sudden I had to, because I was a creative writing student and it was compulsory, and I soon discovered that I liked it a lot more than I had anticipated. There was something about putting the words down for a poem that came to me a lot more quickly than did writing fiction, and I liked experimenting with different forms and trying out new techniques.
I first went to Shoot From the Lip in February. Shoot From the Lip is a slam poetry event held in Leamington which operates in four heats across the year, with the winner of each heat then progressing to a grand final. Each heat has three rounds where the audience vote for their favourite poet, leaving one poet as the winner at the end of the evening. It wasn’t until I finally felt settled into university with a good group of friends – which didn’t happen until my second year – that I went along to watch for the first time. I stood there, listening to people perform their poetry and turned to my friend: “I think I’d like to perform one day.”
I’m so glad I made that offhand comment, because my friend never let go of it until I finally agreed to perform three months later. She constantly reminded me of it, told all of my friends and tutors that I was going to do it, and nagged me as much as possible.
There was something about putting the words down for a poem that came to me a lot more quickly than did writing fiction
But the problem was that I was petrified. As a kid, I used to be really confident, and had no problem whatsoever being on the stage and showing off. But high school really knocked my confidence, and by the time I was seventeen I was in counselling with severe anxiety. It had been six years since I was last on a stage. The idea of the spotlight being on me – when I’d spent so many years trying to blend in with the background and was only just emerging from the other side of that – was filling my head with every possible thing that could go wrong. I even started worrying about things like using a microphone: what if I stood too close and it made an awful screeching sound? Or too far and no-one could hear me? I wasn’t just going to be judged on my performance, I was going to be judged on the words I was saying – words I had written myself. There would be nowhere to hide.
However, I was finding that with every poem I wrote, I could imagine myself performing it. I was writing with a steady image in my head of myself on stage; I was interjecting my poems with moments which I knew would make people laugh (or so I hoped…). I wasn’t happy with the poems just on paper – they felt incomplete, and I knew that would only change once I had performed them. So, as scared as I was, I knew that if I didn’t get up on that stage, I would regret it.
It felt incredible to be performing again, and after the first few words I settled back into it as if I did it every day
May, I finally did it. It was still terrifying, but lots of my friends came to show their support, and the fact that they believed in me was enough to make me believe in myself. I stumbled a couple of times, but it wasn’t the end of the world, and no nightmarish incidents happened with the microphone. I remembered how easy it is to forget the audience when you can only see their silhouettes against the spotlight, and I found myself revelling in the applause and clicks of approval far more than I thought I would. The third time I performed, I was still just as scared until I got on stage. I was still physically shaking as I waited for my turn, it still felt weird to hear my name called out – but it also felt incredible to be performing again, and after the first few words I settled back into it as if I did it every day.
If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be successfully performing my own poetry on a stage in front of an audience, I would have laughed at the idea. But I’m so happy that I plucked up the courage to perform – because now I’ve done it, I know there’s no looking back.