Digesting the Stone

“Which poems will you read?” Brad asked, to which I responded, “I guess it’s between my concerning ones or my really concerning ones”. And that’s not a stretch. I don’t write poetry in the hopes of one day publishing. I harbor no ill-conceived notions of being crowned a laureate or lyricist or zany wordsmith. Rather, I write poems when red-faced. I write when I’m mad or sad or any intensified emotion that allows the emoter, me, to bellow in unconventional syntax. And it works. I write and write until I’ve exhausted myself. And when I’m poetically tuckered out, I’m usually in a place better than I was before, which is important when one references the titles of some of my poems, namely: “Your Living Wake”, “My Sister’s Eulogy” (note, she is still alive), “Eulogy For the Ugly”, among others.

Content aside, the titles suggest a confessional mouthful for the reader and I’m not in the habit of force-feeding, so I have never shared my poems. I could be gallant and claim that I try and spare my friends my pain, and to some extent that’s true. But I’m also in the business of bastardizing metaphors. I take them to such lengths that a simple description of the moon becomes the suicide attempt of a fallen angel father literary device literary device reference to the soul, mythological postmodern love. In other words, what have I just written? Even more, I’m scared that someone, likely a someone I know well, will read some sad poem and tell me “It’s great!” with a very obvious face that betrays their lie. And I don’t want lies. And I don’t want to be a bad poet, which keeps the craft clean. I write for myself and cook up concerning lines whenever the mood strikes me.

It’s all fine and good to have a hidden passion until that passion begins to spoil. Not having shown anyone my work I just assumed it worthless. If I tortured myself I became tragically sad. If I was tragically sad I would write poems. Then one poem would bully another and this great daisy-chain of deep and dark poems were written at odd hours about obvious boyfriends.

And had I shared those, the boyfriends would win. Because they were really bad poems.

So how do I regain composure and write something I’d sooner share? By being forced into a public performance, of course. I convinced myself to read my forthcoming poems to an audience at a book store in mid-Missouri many years ago. Being conscious of an impending performance I took pride in my work and discovered a voice, not always cry-eye inherent in my words. I got excited. I purchased a typewriter. I smoked cigarettes and drank and purchased chapbooks from independent book sellers. I spent 3 years preparing to read what was three carefully considered poems, living a carefully calculated poetic lifestyle, when I arrived for my first reading. Two friends accompanied me and I signed my name to a blank sheet of paper, line-itemed for open mic performers. I looked at the stage, at the dankly lit room with a microphone duck-taped to a podium, at two local men clutching moleskin journals and left. I just left without notifying my friends. I walked out to rain (how obvious!), got in my car and drove away. It was two years until I wrote my next poem.

I didn’t stop trying to be less morose, and I still dedicated time and energy into the work, but I knew not to be a self-doubt hero and try and read aloud. That is, until I decided to dispel certain worry and engage in a bunch of self-reflective crazy shit throughout the year. So in assessing my many, many fears reading my words aloud was at the forefront. It seemed the only next appropriate course of action was to find an open mic, stand tall, read a few carefully selected poems and grow big and strong from the experience. Surprisingly, the prospect wasn’t all that disheartening. That is, until my friends offered to spectate.

Queue Jane, Brad, a re-surfacing of the German Alex, and Rebecca. Jane writes and writes well. Rebecca is a powerful lady with strong business sense and a no-nonsense attitude. Brad completes me so much so that a concerning couplet might ruin our good-great-best relationship. The German, well, the German is jovial and kind. He tells a pacing me that reading is not a scary thing. He tells me I should read more than three. Basically, he tells me to go whole-hog.

So now I know that it wasn’t the small stage or conferring poet-types in Missouri that made me run. I didn’t want to disappoint my friends. I’d led everyone to believe that I could write. I said, “I am a poet” more times than I should have mentioned. But that’s the sneaky seduction of writing; anyone can claim the craft without having anything to show for. However, now I was forced to display my hand, in a tiny art gallery in Cambridge with three people that know me well and an eager foreign visitor who suggested incredible faith in my product.

I’m prompt and armed with Brad and Alex. My name is one of very few on the open mic sign-up sheet and I nervously jot my full name under slot number seven. It’s early and we have plenty of time, so we leave for coffee at a shop down the street. Note, I still have my coat, and my bag and my friends. The gallery had a cat aimlessly wandering and I remember that Brad is allergic to cats. It stands to reason that if Brad is allergic to cats that he can not sit in on my reading. And if he’s alone, it’s best that Alex join him. In which case, it might behoove Ms. Jane and Rebecca to keep both men company if they are remiss at having missed my performance. Lucky cat! I suggest the scenario and Brad dismisses me. Bluntly. Alex tries to instill some confidence, but I’m no ears and focused on the poetry print outs I brought along. I had three poems to read. It would take me all of five minutes. And perhaps Jane and Rebecca were held up in traffic?

So we trod back to the gallery which has transformed into a hot-spot of packed folding chairs and cardigans. Jane and Rebecca have arrived and are seated in a side aisle.  Rebecca is equipped with a camera and Jane had to fend off the reading moderator to recite one of her own poems because she is said to resemble a poetess.  I don’t know who’s reading so I mentally map the potential poets. I chose anyone with a nervous habit; the nail-biter in the front row, the man who won’t stop tapping his foot, the man in the driving cap because I want him to be a scapegoat.

We are introduced to the Stone Soup Reading Series and a very anxious moderator reads published poems of merit. She sounds lovely, and the poems lovelier and I sit and squirm in my chair. Then the open mic symphony starts. A middle-aged man reads more loquacious poems. Our friend in the driving cap spits and snarls as if he owned the beat-eras voice. Finally I’m invited up, but not without considerable attention. “Kimberly is next. She has never read before and has brought a battalion of friends with her.”

Aye yi yi. Now all the poets that preceded me might hate me for my introduction. I feel compelled to compete, somewhat. And of course, I see my friends with cameras in hand and wide, approachable grins, and I look down on the podium and see the title of my first poem and read. Initially I’m a rushed reader, but I slow and intone and even make some motion with my body by the second and third poem. It’s not until the third that I think to look at my friends, who are focused on me. And their attention is unsettling in the way we think we may one day be responsible for something great. They heard my words, and perhaps they heard them as they were intended. But what they processed meant little. I stood there exposed and vulnerable to a trust I’ve not known throughout all those years of pen to paper.

I read my last stanza without consulting my paper. It was drawn out, but not for linear effect. I just wanted to look on them once more, before I took my bow.