I’ve been performing poetry now for about five years up and down the country. I’ve been to parts of Britain that I wouldn’t normally go to, like Wolverhampton and Swindon, Salisbury and Cheltenham. And I’ve met some great people who have become friends. But there’s one constant which won’t ever go away, and that’s the state if nervousness I get before a poetry night.
It’s been there since the start. I thought it would go away with practice, but it doesn’t. It starts as a dull ache in the chest and a funny feeling in my stomach, and then as the day goes on it increases.
I don’t think this is necessarily about the performance, either. Yes,it is scary to stand in front of strangers and do poems about ostriches and goats, and to tell jokes which they might not laugh at. But the nervousness which I get usually comes from realizing the logistical details of getting somewhere, finding the venue, arriving at the right time, performing, then spending the night somewhere.
Because I’ve got one of those minds which always thinks of the things that can go wrong. And while I try to plan in as many escape routes and procedures as possible to negate the effects of Something Going Wrong, there’s always the chance that Things Might Go Terribly Wrong.
I remember taking part in the Wolverhampton Love Slam in 2014. By chance it was the same day that the railway fell into the sea at Dawlish. It took almost twelve hours to get to Wolverhampton from Paignton. The first person I bumped into was Jonny Fluffypunk. That’s when I knew that everything would be okay. But the whole day up till that point had just been one huge nervousorama.
I used to be the host of Poetry Island. I loved the nights themselves, there was so much energy, it was the poetry equivalent of being in a tornado. But there was so much organizing to do, and so much worrying about all the minor details, that in the end it wasn’t worth doing. I would spend the hour before going to the venue lying on my back on the floor and staring at the ceiling, trying to calm myself and run through everything in my head. That can’t be normal behaviour, now, can it?
I’m sure it’s the same for other performers. But the results far outweigh the nervousness. I’ve been to such wonderful gigs this year already, and I’ve got loads planned for later in the year, that I’m not even thinking about the nervousness.
Lately, I’ve been pursuing a new tactic. It’s called Operation DontThinkAboutIt. The day before a gig, I just carry on as normal. And even when I’m changing into my poetry outfit, I’m not thinking about what it is I’m about to do. And then I lie on the bed and I listen to pop music on my iPod. Loud, disco beat kind of stuff. The upshot of this is that it all makes the act of going to the gig and performing almost natural, and it seems to work. I’ve been having much more fun when I get there, less nervousness, and I reckon I’ve been performing better, too. If I stress too much over the minor details, then the actual reason for being there gets left behind. But now I don’t stress so much at all and it’s cleared my mind, made me focused on what it is I am meant to be doing.
Having said that, I’ve got some gigs coming up further up the country. So I shall see how it goes! And as long as the railway line doesn’t fall into the sea at Dawlish again, things should be okay.
Anyway, for no reason whatsoever, here’s a poem I wrote late summer while staying in Brixham.
Too hot out
For serious contemplation.
I sit in the cool of my room
At my parent’s
Net curtains twitching on the slightest breeze,
Car tyres on the concrete road surface,
The stipples ceiling has cracks.
Little roads through a mountain landscape.
But instead of being round the world is
( Except for a slight recess in the east).
The capital city is the light fixture.
The explorers are ever so brave
Who reach as far as the
Outside in the summer heat,
The plaintive honking
Of something that honks.
I’m a city boy so I don’t really know
What kind of animal honks.
But I wish it wouldn’t.
It gives me the willies.
I imagine the room filled with
It’s so hot
I try to visualise somewhere cool
Like an airport air conditioned coffee shop.
Actually the honking is probably
Just the shed door
Creaking in the breeze.