In my last year of suburban innocence, I took one bold step. Upon entering a darkened basement, my eyes gazed into an unexpected sight. The intensity of a beating drum romanced my senses.
“I am the party star. I am popular,” sang the band. They were covering the anthem of 90’s teenage angst, popular. Quirky artwork filled the walls of the basement. The brightness served as a lighted candle. People sat in Indian style, bobbing their heads to the music. I smiled from ear to ear. Along with my friend, Nicky, we were taking in the intoxicating bohemian surroundings in the midst of our conservative town.
We joined the other revelers and sat Indian style. It was my first foray into open mic night at Back to the Grind, our local independent coffee house.
Poets went up on stage. Each spoke eloquently of their life experiences. Nervously, I fidgeted with my notebook paper. After one poet turned his poetry into a musical number to remember, the stage was left empty. I took a deep breath and galloped on stage.
The spotlight hit my face. It was harsh and intensified, when I read the first lines of the poem. I The words flowed with a proper theatrical accent. I took one last breath and quickly read the poem without stuttering. The audience clapped. I bowed and that marked my debut as poet. “This is going to be me, forever, audience applause, thought, I.
Years went by, and I didn’t write poetry. Instead, I wrote plays and short stories. Then one day, while sitting in a most cliché of surroundings, an East Village coffee shop. I opened up my $1 black marble notebook and filled the blank pages with a spontaneous poetry. “I’m back, I declared.
Soon, I immersed myself in New York’s poetry scene, attending reading after reading. Secretly, I longed to have the spotlight on my own work. My opportunity arrived.
A poet friend told me of open mic night at the Sidewalk Café in the East Village. Joyfully, I decided to share my poetry with an audience.
That day, the skies above Astor Place were an inspirational shade of hazy grey. I made my way through east Seventh Street. Nerves were ignited like fireworks over a darkened sky. “Oy, I need to go in front of perfect strangers and reveal my soul. This sounded wonderful an hour ago. Am I mad? Asked I, walking toward Alphabet City.
I took a seat on a bench in leafy Tompskin’s Square Park, Central Park’s grungy cousin. A sweet melody seduced my senses. “What is this most serenading sound?” asked I. To the corner of my eye was a folk band playing harmonious music. Instantly, my anxiety levels subsided.
“I just need to relax. This is the East Village, where (beat poet) Allen Ginsburg was inspired and famous punk bands played. I am joining a grand tradition of creative types inspired by the clash of folk music and grit, which engulf the landscape,” said I.
I left the comfort of a park bench for the venue. “ Nervousness, what the fuck is that?” asked I, practically skipping into the bar. The nervous fireworks returned. I stared into the crowd, which was half hipster and thought “I don’t think they’re going to get my poetry.
With great bravery, I signed up. “I’ll take a glass of wine and a burger,” said I to the waitress. “Food and wine will help ease my nerves,” thought I. An uneasy feeling lingered.
The first poets stepped on stage. “Sex, cultural differences and body image issues are going to be covered & the audience will applaud,” were my initial thoughts. “Fuck, I am genius, declared I. Most of the poems revolved around those topics. The audience ate it up like a warm knish on freezing cold day.
My name didn’t come up. “That’s weird I signed up for open mic, when am I going to be called? Asked I. After one last poem about lesbian desires, intermission happened. Suddenly, I was called up for the poetry slam, where one gets judged for their work. “Fuck, I signed up for open mic. This has to be a mistake,” said I.
I had preconceived ideas on a poetry slam. Shrugging my shoulders, I gave it a whirl. The first poet went up, she read a poem about Billy Holliday, which she later turned into a story about sex. “Oy, this story makes me happy to be gay, “ thought I.
The audience clapped. She left the stage. With much shock, she was given a score by random judges. “Shit, they’re giving out scores? You get judged for bearing your soul? How can people give out scores for this?” asked I with a swift eye roll.
Escaping was not a viable option. Soon, I went on stage. I made a joke. Nobody laughed. Then I read my poem to an ocean of emotionless faces. The experience was a speedy one. I finished and left the stage. The audience clapped, politely.
My score was low, very low. Oh, my poor poetic soul free fell into disappointed. I kept a brave demeanor, but bolted out of the venue after the show ended.
“This was such a disappointment. My first show in years and nobody got me,” said I. Like many disappointed writers before me, I took an obvious step.
“Dad, the show sucked. Everybody hated me. I don’t think I want to do this again,” said I, on the phone. My dad with a giggle responded, “You had the guts to go up on stage. I am proud of you. So, you feel like shit now, but you’re the type to just keep on going, no matter how much people hate you. After an uplifting conversation, I dusted myself off and carried on.
Rather, than feeling like a failure, I walked crosstown to the subway. “ This is only the beginning and fuck, if I didn’t do well on this show. My poetry-reading journey has just begun. While crossing Fifth Avenue, I let out the following words, “fuck it.” From there, I planned my next performance. More importantly, I know I did something right, when a group of silly hipsters just didn’t get it.