Putting Yourself Out There: Advice from Chrystos on Public Readings, and a Poem from BCP
By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Photo by Jeannine Pitas
I participated in the International Festival of Poetry of Resistance #4 last Sunday. And I’m participating in We Are Who We Are a night of performance tomorrow. The opportunities just keep coming!
It feels good to be asked to perform my poems. Validation is a good thing. You gain self-confidence and you feel a sort of compensation for all the work you do as a writer. But there is more to being asked to read than being validated. It’s a chance to put your self out there.
In my first ever interview for blackcoffeepoet.com my favorite poet, Chrystos, shared her thoughts on the importance of reading in front of people:
Read your work publicly, an audience will teach you what is boring, scary, unnecessary, & so on.
Lets break that down.
Boring: That is the last thing you want to be. How many times have you stopped reading a book because you can’t get past the first chapter? You don’t want people to be looking at their watch or phones as you read.
Scary: There is always some fear when performing in front of people. Whether you are a poet, actor, or fighter, getting up in front of an audience always has an element of fear. You just have to push through, keep doing it, and it gets easier.
Unnecessary: Now that is important. Editing things by looking at them is one thing. But when you hear yourself read out loud, whether alone or in front of others, your ear catches things that your eye doesn’t. This is why Chrystos also advised:
Find an isolated bathroom (parks can be good), with tile walls above shoulder height in which to practice. Old gun bunkers also work –whatever will echo your voice to you. Use an old fashioned tape recorder to listen to yourself. Get a friend to video you.
I had not read in a while before last Sunday. I don’t hit enough open mics. I’m not into spoken word; being in a room dominated by men talking about their sexual exploits is of no interest to me. I’m a book poet. But part of being any type of poet is reading in front of folks.
So, as I stood in front of the small crowd this Sunday at IFPOR #4 I put my poems to the test. I read poems that had not been read in front of anyone before, and one old poem that has. As my eyes moved across the page with my voice following I messed up, but I kept on reading. The show must go on! When you watch the video of me reading that comes up this Friday you might not notice my mess up, but my brain has now registered where my stumble happened and what I have to work on for next time.
One poem I read, The Great Crime, was published a few years ago in the YU Free Press, a lefty newspaper that came out of York University. I messed up while reading. Still, I got a beautiful email from an attendee about my poem:
I’ve walked down Bloor twice now since Sunday and have seen it a lot differently since your poem!
Knowing that I can’t rest on my past success, I’m back to writing, re-writing, reading, re-reading, and I want to start hitting up open mics as well as reading my work out loud in different places like Chrystos suggested.
If you do not know Chrystos’ work see a review I wrote of her book, the book why I’m now a poet: Not Vanishing.
Enjoy reading my poem below and see the video of me reading it in my next post.
The Great Crime
By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
I think of Balzac’s words—
“Behind every fortune lies a great crime”—
When I remember seeing my Indigenous brother jaywalk North across Bloor Street.
Dressed in black,
Hair flying in the wind,
His feet danced across the asphalt,
Like the ancestors on grass,
ROOTS were for nourishment,
PEOPLES didn’t care or kill for diamonds,
HARRY ROSEN hadn’t stepped on a boat yet,
H & M and the 24 other letters in the english alphabet didn’t exist,
WINNERS meant all members of a tribe.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Friday October 19, 2012 for a video of BCP reading at International Festival of Poetry of Resistance #4.
Thanks for performing at IFPOR, Jorge. You helped make Sunday the artistic success it was!
Thanks so much for reading the article and for inviting me to IFPOR.
Absolutely fantastic post and poem. Wonderful, BCP! xo doyali
Thanks so much for reading and sharing my work.
Your comment means a lot as you are such a talented poet!
We should collaborate on something in future.
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