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
There’s nothing wrong with starting the new year with some extra motivation in your step, taking on the “new year, new me” mantra and seeing what it can do to help you achieve something with your spoken word or poetry, whether it’s just performing on the open mic more, finally releasing that chapbook you keep saying you’ll do or something major like going on tour or starting a new gig.
Whether that means you follow through, or only get half way there, new year’s resolutions shouldn’t be about berating yourself for the ones you abandoned last year or not trying because you know you won’t get there.
If you do choose to make some resolutions for 2019, here’s a handy guide to making the most of them.Make them public – post them on Facebook, blog about them, do a Facebook Live video, something to declare to your friends and the world that this is what you want to do. At the very least, your friends can cheer you on and support you, and if you want, you can choose to use this to be held accountable. Give your friends permission to give you that extra push if they haven’t heard you say anything about the progress of your next book.Break them up into smaller goals – some goals look too big it’s hard to see what the next step is, so breaking them up into smaller goals, maybe things to do each month, or certain obstacles you might face might make it seem less daunting. It makes sure you can make incremental progress over the year, rather than leave it to the last minute when it’s too late.Make resolutions you have control over – whether it’s winning an award, getting published, getting booked, there’s plenty of things you want to achieve that might be outside of your control so if they’re things you’re aiming for, make resolutions for the parts you have control over whether that’s memorising a poem each month to win the slam,
You could decide to write a book, go on tour, win a slam, or run a gig. All awesome things to make resolutions for and some of you probably will. But there are a few forgotten resolutions that spoken wordsters can make to make their 2018 in spoken word extra special for everyone.
Stop apologising If you need to explain a bit about your poem, do some preamble before reading it on the open mic, do so, but do so quickly, but make it your resolution this year to not apologise or sell your work short before you show us the poem. Don’t apologise for not having memorised it, don’t apologise for first drafts, or if you think people won’t get it. You sell yourself short before anyone’s given a chance to realise how dope your writing is. Own the space. It’s your turn on stage. You deserve it just as much as anyone else.
Tell a poet you liked their work Someone’s just poured their heart on stage, they’ve probably said a line that your ear twinkles because it gives you chills but you’ve never heard anyone say anything in that way before. You might whisper to your mate, “holy shit, that was good,” or join the chorus of applause but go and tell the poet who read the poem, especially if they’re new or you’ve never seen them before. You don’t know but your words could be something they really needed to hear.
Go to a gig you’ve never been to before With thirty-five or so regular gigs in Melbourne, you’re bound to have not gotten to them all. That gig you’ve seen advertised but none of your friends go to so you think you won’t know anyone…go to that one. Bring your friends. If it’s on the other side of town, get a carpool together and go check it out. Check out that gig where you don’t know who the feature is. Read the poem you’ve read a million times already to a new audience. If you say you don’t write slam poetry, enter a slam.
Slam. Is this once agent in changing the way we produce and consume performance poetry still relevant?
For those who are not familiar with slam: Slam is a competition format in which poets are given a set time limit to perform their pieces and are then scored by a total of 5 randomly selected audience members, the scores usually range from 1-10 to the nearest 0.1 with the top and bottom scores being dropped in order to avoid bias, giving each poet a final score out of 30. The poet with the highest score at the end of the night wins. There are many variations on this basic format (which was first introduced by Marc Smith) employed by poetry competitions across the globe.
Slam boasts origins in the idea that the people should have a say in the type of content they are presented with. That is, that those who are the predominant consumers of performance poetry or spoken word; the audience should be the deciding party in the kind of work that is allowed recognition and reward. This has given rise to a style of poetry unofficially termed “slam poetry.”
Slam poetry is a term used to define the type of poetry, both in cadence and content, that is likely to score well at slams. A poet who presents poetry predominantly of this style may be called a slam poet. And while slam, by definition, is a format for competition, the world of slam poets and slam poetry is a rapidly growing one with poets who have attained worldwide recognition for their execution of this style of poetry. However, over time and particularly on our extensive and hugely varied poetry scene, the idea that the poetry presented in slam is of an inferior quality is becoming an increasingly held one.
That is to say, there is a specific school of thought which views slam through a lens that portrays the art that is presented on slam stages as simplistic, repetitive and lacking in any depth beyond the concise point that the artist is trying to make in the allotted time limit.
Do you have a fitness coach? Well good on you. I don’t. Probably why a flight of stairs leaves me huffing and puffing.
But if I did, I imagine it would function for my health the way critique workshops function in my writing life.
A critique workshop is where a group of artists meet regularly to share their work with each other and give feedback. This group can consist of peers or might be facilitated by a teacher/leader. Groups can be as broad as a meeting of mixed artists, to something as specific as a group of speculative flash fiction writers wishing to publish in journals. I’ve experienced the full range and gotten benefit from every meeting. Melbourne Spoken Word’s free Sunday workshop, We Work This Shop, is a poetry/spoken word specific one to try.
Generally, a critique workshop has the following structure:Warmup: the purpose is to pull people out of their daily lives and get them in the mood for their art. In some groups, this is social, for example updating each other on recent progress. In others, this might be a free-write or specific writing exercise. Sharing & Critique: participants take turns to share their work, other group members take turns to provide feedback.
Now I don’t want to lecture you to join a critique workshop anymore than I want you to evangelise to me on fitness. But if you are interested in giving it a go here are some tips (not rules!) to getting the best out of a critique workshop.RECEIVING CRITIQUE Don’t apologise for your work: Your co-participants are about to invest their time and consideration into helping improve and progress your work. Show this investment due respect. If you have to, provide information about what stage you’re at, “This is a first draft/ I haven’t written the ending” etc. But disparaging your work skews people’s evaluation before you’ve even started – you won’t get the objective feedback you’re seeking. I