Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Parramatta Poetry Slam: my first performance


Would I ever stand in front of the mic and face the crowd ...?

I have been meaning to perform at a poetry slam or open mic for a while. Poetry in the Netherlands is dead. The people here in Sydney have a greater appreciation for this art; I've seen numerous writer's festival and poetry events pass by, and so I promised myself that I should stand in front of the mic at least once before I leave this city.

Two days ago I found out about the Caravan Slam, which would take place coming Thursday. It sounded like some serious event and I have been nervous because of that fact, yet I didn't really have a choice since I'd be leaving in December. I tried to sign up for it through the Facebook event's page, yet I hadn't received an answer. Today, I stayed at home, studying some coding and binary, while I kept checking on the Caravan Slam Facebook page, hoping there would still be a spot for me. Then I saw something at the suggestion's bar pop up: Parramatta Poetry slam, taking place in 4 hours from then on. I have never been happier with Facebook stalking our likes before.


Or would I join the decoration at the Parramatta Poetry Slam venue?

I searched for the location, and it turned out it was much closer to where I stayed than the Caravan Slam's venue. This is beneficial because up until now I have always had to miss half of any poetry slam because I had to catch my train. I thought: it is now or never. So while I donned one of my favourite dark-red lace shirts, I recited one of my very first poems that was written to be spoken out loud. By now it has been so many years that I could almost dream about the poem that revolved around my self-criticism as a damsel in distress / hopeless romantic in a country where a strong female/feminist mindset is valued.

The poetry slam itself would start at 6:30 PM but at 4:00 a free poetry workshop would take place. I wasn't really certain about performing yet, and I thought that doing the poetry workshop would help me build up some confidence, because that surely happened during Mayda Del Valle's workshop I attended a few months ago. The venue, SHH Centre for Hybrid Arts, was nothing I expected it to be. At first it was rather creepy to walk through the corridor because the place seemed abandoned and there were a lot of dismembered mannequins and paintings around. I would soon find out that the workshop would only have one other participant (excluding the host), so I must say it didn't help much in motivating me. I did find out about an inside-joke about my name, because apparently there is this ridiculous poem in the movie 22nd Jump Street that featured my name:



At the end of the workshop, when more people started to trickle into the venue for the poetry slam, I just turned off my emotions and signed up. The mood was quite nice, the graffiti on the walls in coloured lights, the music, the random beds/bathtub/couches ... it was cosy and alternative, it reminded me of the Underground Pubs of Budapest which I love so much. Yet all of this artistic beauty didn't help to calm my nerves down. I was literally shaking, hearing poem after poem. When it was my turn, I got introduced as 'the tribute to 22nd Jump Street'. I was still nervous as hell, despite the giggling that bubbled up in my belly from that introduction.

I walked to the stage accompanied by dramatic film music which quite amused me. There I stood, in front of the mic, and the first thing I uttered was: "well, I guess you guys are gonna take my virginity too." That was just in response to the host, who had thanked another guy before me 'for letting them take his virginity', as he was also a first slammer. I am not often considered to be funny but I guess that went well even though I just babbled.

So for those unfamiliar with the poetry slam scene, this is how it happens: one mic, three minutes, 5 random judges from the audience, scores will vary between 1.0 and 10.0. People will snap their fingers or clap or go 'yeah!'/'whooo!' when they like what you say. Quite sadly I still cannot snap my fingers with my weird thumb which can bend 90 degrees backwards, so most of the time I just clap awkwardly. I never expected to get so much applause as I stood there with shaking knees. I just zoned out like I always do during presentations, my mouth did the work, I relied on muscle memory. Sometimes through the daze I would hear some clapping or snapping or laughing, I didn't know I had it in me to make people laugh. One of the most beautiful moments was when I blacked out for a moment and had to grab my phone to remember my text again. Instead of being met by a disapproving silence or boo'ing, the crowd clapped for me, encouraged me to go on.

When I finished, I heard a big round of applause I had never received before. I just stumbled back to my chair while getting some side-glances from people, telling me I did a good job. The muslim woman who sat next to me rubbed my back and told me about how much she enjoyed it (to my surprise, because I talked about masturbation and virginity). Say goodbye to stereotypes! The
judges gave me nothing but nine-point-somethings, if I remember correctly. I almost started to get greedy, imagining how awesome it would be if I won this thing and managed to be featured in the Parramatta Poetry Slam Anthology. I will have to admit that as the following 3-4 poets were performing, I was hoping that their scores would be lower than mine. But one can't get too lucky
and I know that I shouldn't expect much from a poem I wrote years ago and only practised during the last two days.

Once all 8 poets had done their talk, 10-15 minutes would follow in which the scores would be counted. That 10-15 minutes wait was an egocentric one, because given my scores I had a good chance of ending second or third place. This greed soon faded and got replaced for appreciation and gratefulness, as people started to approach me telling me about how much they liked my performance. I had a long talk with a woman who happened to be last month's featured poet, telling me that what I just performed was full of honesty, which was the most beautiful thing of all, and that no one could take that away from me. The host approached me saying it was so good for a first time performance, and asked whether I was comfortable with performing more often. One of the judges, a guy about my age, told me I was his favourite out of the bunch and we had a long talk about the poetry scene in Sydney. For once I felt like I was doing some genuine socialising, talking about things I truly like.

I was shaking the whole time before and after my performance, my heartbeat went crazy, and I was
sure that I wouldn't join the Caravan Slam this Thursday because I believe that one heart attack a week is enough. But as I was waiting for my bus ride back home today, my nerves settled, and I started to feel content. Finally I did it, the girl who dreads phone calls or approaching strangers just stood in front of a whole crowd, ripped her mask off, displayed all of her ugly facets, and got applauded for it. In the end I didn't make the top-three, probably because of the rules around the final scores: the highest and lowest scores would be excluded from calculating the final score in order to bypass biased scores. I might have made fourth place, but that is just a speculation.

Yet, I can't wait to go to the Parramatta Poetry Slam next month again. It will be my last chance, but I'm not sure if I will perform again, because I am still letting the thrill sink in. All I know now is that I fulfilled yet another promise to myself, this is something I am proud of.






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