I remember when I first started performing poetry as a teenager. It was intimidating but the best kind of exciting. I compare public speaking to the best adrenaline experience and high that is legal. I’m not a center of attention type of person, but I’ve always gotten joy and such a challenge from speaking my words in front of people.
I figured this part of myself out in Speech class back in college. Everyone hated it except for me. I took it as a challenge, and it was an evolution to get better each time. My hands shook when I brought my outline up with them. I secretly whispered to myself one of these days. We’re going to have our stuff memorized.
Memorizing is easy and difficult for me. Performing just comes with whatever poem I’m speaking. I remember what brought this poem into life. I remember its creation and the feelings I had surrounding it. Then, I let the lightning strike, don’t deny them, and go full breath into the poem.
The problem is that I have a low threshold for stimuli. I get overstimulated easily. Noises, music, and anything can make my mind focus on that instead of what I would say next.
I’ve always found ease with telling stories versus poetry.
Stories I know like my backhand and the lines in my palm.
Poems are structured to carry rhythm, rhyme, syntax, alliteration that if I miss just one word, the whole structure is thrown off balance.
So, how do you get comfortable performing?
Like anything, repetition, repeat, and repeat until it becomes a second tongue you wear. I have to see the poem, index cards go into the visual, hear the poem, and combine holding the poem too (kinesthetic) to get it to solidify.
When I recite a poem from memory, I can see it in my head like my finger is moving down its length. But, this works best in a quiet environment. So, I’ve started practicing outdoors on walks, in my car, and in other places where I can’t control the setting.
I love when people start reading and then move to perform their poems. There’s such power in hearing your words out loud. If you trip up, don’t go back and fix the word. Move forward. People will forget the slip-up, and it also works to keep your confidence up. Everyone messes up. It’s how you recover from the stumble that defines you.