I was asked to feature at an open mic last year, which was humbling because I had just entered the poetic scene a couple months before then and I was unfamiliar with the host. I asked how did he come to know of Kai Love and he responded that someone had heard me speak at another open mic, sent him to my Soundcloud account, he listened to “Feed Me Energy” and fell in love with my voice. I was like, “dope” and agreed to the non-paid feature.
So the event came and it wasn’t well publicized, but three people did show up. That didn’t matter to me as I was grateful and humble that anyone would take time out of his or her schedule to be present. Additionally, as a new artist sometimes the smaller audiences help to build your confidence up for larger audiences.
Funny thing about me, I speak to very large audiences all the time. I’m a Professor, Trainer, Motivational Speaker, Lecturer, Yoga Instructor, Translator, Political Advocate, and Community Organizer. I don’t even blink at speaking publicly if I am relying on the more academic side of my brain. However, my creative work is a different story.
I AM IN LOVE WITH WORDS AND LOVE TO WRITE! And I can write about anything. I only suffer writer’s block when I place censorship on my thoughts because I’m scared of what I am about to say. My short stories, poetry, and songs stem from a different place; an almost sacred place that was meant for my eyes only. It’s a bond between my soul, a pen, and paper that has comforted me more than any human or deity ever could. So reciting my inner most thoughts in a public space makes me a bit nervous.
Back to that open mic–I read about three pieces that evening that included some original song lyrics. I thought I did a good job. No word fumbles, no cracked notes, and plenty of personality. I received some claps and compliments, which helped to boost my confidence. Two of the three attendees were also poets themselves and amazing feminine spirits that I have come to respect even more since then. After the open mic ended, the host walked me to my vehicle and said, “You did good tonight, but no one is going to respect you as a real poet if you don’t memorize your pieces.” I was crushed and drove home trembling and upset. Not because of what he said to me personally, but because I felt like he shitted on the art of writing. Writing has been my refuge, my savings grace, my everything…
I felt like he basically told me that my literary heroes like James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sonia Sanchez who have been seen reciting from a book often were not valued because they read. I never said anything to anyone about that incident, until it kept coming up. Fast forward to a couple more open mic features, where comments were being made about artists such as, “I would feature her, but she reads from her phone” or “I’m not giving them any money to see people read!”. I even recall at a couple of open mic nights where noted poets asked audience members if it was okay to read or apologized for having to read. Really?
I remember speaking to a fellow poet about why I read and how important to me it was to keep on reading because to me, it paid homage to the great writers and reciters of our time. Months later I saw that same poet at another one of my features where I didn’t read and he was so complimentary of my performance and stated, “if you have three pieces memorized, I will give you a feature.” Unbeknownst to him, I have over 500 original pieces of written work and about 80 of them are memorized, but I still felt devalued and judged in that moment.
I wonder how many others who sit in the audience at open mic nights with their books, journals, or cell phones in hand never make it to the microphone because they too felt that spirit vibrating? I know so many self-published authors and I never get to see them recite from their books outside of book releases and signings. Moreover, I felt sad for the status of literature among my peers. Has poetry only become a series of punch lines that rhyme and only those who seemingly can spit from the dome on a dime get the featured time? #Bars
I never intended to create another open mic opportunity. There are plenty of spaces and places to share creative expressions hosted by people way more popular that I ever care to be. However, I felt like there was room for people like me who love to write and love to recite, where the value of the performance is really placed on the words versus the delivery method or messenger. And that’s why Eye Recite. I hope to see you out …