So you want to try your hand at open mic spoken word or poetry for the first time and you’re either too nervous or don’t know where to start or have never done it before and are just curious on the best tips/advice to do it without making a fool of yourself?
The good news is that there are always so many more people trying it for the first time and as Hamish Danks Brown says there’s a 100% survival rate for performing, you’re not going to die on stage and will probably want to get up again.
That said, here’s some handy tips for performing on the open mic for the first time or times.Pick your gigThere are a lot of open mics and places to perform. You could go to a lot of them or you could find your home in one gig. Gigs like Bar Oussou and Passionate Tongues are great for first time performers, there’s gigs that tend to have different styles or create spaces for groups of poets like for women poets or poets of colour, so it’s worth going to a couple to see where you want to settle. Some poets recommend finding your favourite and sticking to it, others say read as widely as possible. But if you go to one and it isn’t quite your cup of tea, the good news is there’s many more to try out instead.Follow the rulesGenerally all gigs have a time limit and a way of signing up to perform. If you don’t know, check with the gig host. It’s a good idea to not go overtime (less is often more) and to respect your audience and the space created. Usually time limits either 3 minutes or 5 minutes. Sometimes there’s a theme or certain types of poems of encouraged or discouraged, you want to check whether your content fits, e.g. some places might not want swearing or adult themed content. Some open mics have limited spots and so it’s a good idea to turn up early or time to get a spot. If in doubt, ask the host.It’s ok to be nervousBeing nervous is normal, even poets that ha
Perhaps it’s slight self-interest or perhaps it’s obvious but the opportunity for anyone to sign up and get up on a stage around Melbourne and perform poetry through our city’s network of open mic poetry gigs is at the heart of our poetry scene, and the heart of our Melbourne Spoken Word & Poetry Festival.
After all, it was turning up to Passionate Tongues one wintery Monday night in 2010 that I finally felt I found a home for my words, after feeling discouraged by the submission and rejection game of literary journals, which isn’t to say that that side is worth giving up on, but that sometimes you just want to take part or be heard or start somewhere. But poetry and spoken word is unique not just in the special way it plays with language but the ways in which it brings people together and allows anyone to be heard.
It means it attracts not just people who want to be the audience but want to participate. Whether they have a particular story to tell regardless of who hears it, or if they’re trying out new work in order to refine it. The open mic features the new poets and the established, those doing it for fun or those trying to make a career out of it. You don’t need to be invited or accepted, you just need to show up.
Nowadays at Bar Oussou on Monday nights, sometimes half of the people that stick their hand up to read on stage are doing so for the first time, with host Hamish Danks Brown encouraging them by boasting of their “100% survival rate’ for first time readers. At The P Word Sessions of a Sunday afternoon, you can get established poets like Kevin Pearson coming from around the corner to share some new work and to support the featured poets on show.
You never quite know who’s going to show up, and what new work people have up their sleeve. Often poets shoot up out of nowhere, with an arsenal of poems you’ve never heard before, appearing at open mic a
Thabani Tshuma performing ‘Newton’s Apple,’ which received an honourable mention at The 2018 Melbourne Spoken Word Prize.
Thabani Tshuma was born and raised in Zimbabwe but has been globe-hopping for the greater part of the last decade and as such, considers himself somewhat of a cultural nomad. Whilst writing for as long as he can remember, he’s only actively engaged in the Melbourne Spoken word scene this past year. Thabani’s poetry is an aperture through which he views his world and the way he interacts in relation to others. Thabani studies journalism with the aspiration of immortalizing himself by leaving a dent in the literary world.
Rhiann Isaacs performing ‘Black on Both Sides,’ which received an honourable mention at The 2018 Melbourne Spoken Word Prize.
Rhiann Isaacs is an outspoken Afro-Guyanese poet that has nurtured a love for words and storytelling from a young age. Rhiann’s pieces are explorative narratives that mainly centre around identity, Pan-African issues and mental health. As a rising artist, she brings energy and passion to the stage as she treats each poem as living art pieces that deserve to take up space. Expect transparency and straight forward expression from beginning to end.
Alison Whittaker reads ‘A love like Dorothea’s’ as part Blakwork, a reading for the Melbourne Visiting Poets Program, at The Wheeler Centre in August 2018.
Alison Whittaker is a Gomeroi poet, life writer and essayist from Gunnedah and Tamworth, north-western New South Wales. She now lives in Sydney on Wangal land, and is recently returned from the US, where she received a 2017 Fulbright Indigenous Postgraduate Scholarship to complete a Master of Laws (LLM) at Harvard. Her poem MANY GIRLS WHITE LINEN received the Judith Wright Poetry Prize in 2017. She is the author of Lemons in the Chicken Wire (Magabala Books), the debut collection that established her as a powerful new voice in poetry.
Her next book, Blakwork (forthcoming from Magabala), is a stunning mix of memoir, reportage, fiction, satire and critique. Blakwork is an original and unapologetic collection from which two things emerge: an incomprehensible loss, and the poet’s fearless examination of the present.
Sharifa Tartoussi performs ‘On blood and handprints’ at Slamalamadingdong in October 2018 at The Melba Spiegeltent.
Sharifa A Tartoussi is a dentist, poet and performer. She is involved in several creative projects, most notably becoming half the founding party of GriffinSpeak; a spoken word event that creates space for voices from marginalised groups around Melbourne. Her style has been described as teetering on the boundary between the fire that warms and the fire that burns with a mix of traditional storytelling, millennial boundary pushing and raw emotion with influences from eastern and western art and literature owing to her traditional Arab upbringing in a western climate. She released her first Chapbook “ColourBlind” in early 2018.