At long last! Thursday the 13th I finally had my first public reading, in front of 60 or 70 strangers. In the Galway City library, once a month there’s a literary event, so to speak, where a few published poets and writers will give a reading. Afterwards, there’s an open mic and people get the chance to read anything they’ve written, be it a short story or a poem.
So… there I was… one amongst 12 other writing fanatics, thinking I was ready to, oh so simply, read a poem from my book. Easy done, right?! Just open the book, read the words and sit back down! But, holy smoke… how wrong was I!
As I waited my turn, the nerves were rising… ‘breathe, breathe, breathe…’ It worked for a few moments, then my heart started thumping against my ribcage… Way too soon my name was announced. I had to take my stand… ‘Okay... I'm breathing, this is okay! I can do this… I’m excited, I’m eager to share, this is easy-peasy!’ And, to generally introduce the book, very briefly, I felt was actually really easy! But then I opened it… ‘Oh god… here we go…!’
I let my eyes fall onto the page, and never raised them until the poem was done. I couldn’t look at the audience and was terrified to think of what I was actually doing. I had to do everything I could to keep the poem flowing from my very very very dry mouth! ‘Oh god… Niamh breathe, breathe, take it slowly, enjoy your moment, don’t rush your words… calm calm calm…’ I was managing to breathe, but could hardly move my body… Any movement would’ve interfered with the stream of words.
As I made my way through the poem, I felt bouts of emotion rising, I felt the silence in the room becoming heavy… I knew everyone was feeling the pain behind what I'd written so long ago (even if I'd chosen the lightest and brightest from the whole book!). My emotions came through however, even if I didn’t resort to tears. Everyone could feel the intensity underlying those lines as I was relaying the words as I continued to seek strength so I wouldn’t lose my stream and consequently the impact I was making on the listeners.
How can a person be so terrified of losing their words, when the words are written down before them… and nothing other than READING is what that moment requires? Well… it’s not an easy assumption to make… even if it’s what I too had assumed, before taking my stand in front of 60 strangers. Regardless of their warm smiles, friendly nature and their sincere interest in poetry, I felt out of my comfort-zone.
Afterwards, I can’t say I was relieved. Instead I felt emotional, overly sensitive, exposed, I couldn’t hear the applause and I sat back down unable to grasp what had just happened. I guess I was in silent shock! Meanwhile, the next readers were introduced, one by one, each getting a chance to share their work…
It wasn’t until the event was over, that I started to feel okay again. I didn’t hang around for any feedback. I didn’t need it. I knew my reading had made an impact and I felt I'd given myself enough exposure for that moment. So I shot off. I needed SPACE to sort out what had just happened! And wow… I realized I’d given myself an unexpected shock to the system, bigger than I’d imagined, bigger the book launch even! It was the exposure that threw me off… You’d think I’d be getting used to it by now… I’ve had 5 or 6 radio interviews, I’ve been in the paper a few times, I’ve had a signing… and at the launch I spoke openly as well as reading from my book… But this was the biggest step of all.
It’s quite a delicate thing to do… reading poetry… in public. It’s something so personal and deep… Yet, it can be relatable to anybody, if the moment is captivated. And the moment can only be captivated, if the reader is fully THERE. I was there, and happy to be! Even if I struggled. I realized afterwards that being in a room with people who showed-up voluntarily because they appreciate other people’s talents, inspirations and openness is a setting that actually IS in my comfort-zone… I'm just warming up... and so there's no doubt that the next reading, wherever or whenever that may be, will be easier… I'm not scared off by how intense it was… Nope. I understand the first step is always the hardest, but it sets us on our way every time!