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My first time: reading at an open-mic night

Alex Webb shares his experience of performing his poetry at an open-mic night for the first time, and encourages others to do the same


Reciting poems brings them into a new light, and a good reading really shows a poet’s skill. Poetry is at its best when read aloud, showcasing the emotional involvement the writer has with a piece. Here the genre becomes a vulnerable and earnest art. Reading a political poem gives you a good idea about the piece but hearing it brings the content into the room. With this in mind and following my experience of spoken word poets two weeks ago I felt inspired to try it myself at Withington’s Solomon Grundy.

Getting ready for the event was the hardest part of the day, having only decided to join the line up 12 hours before the event. Reciting your work back to yourself helps establish a good tempo and clear delivery. These are vital for the spoken word, and I practiced by recording my recital. Being brutal with yourself is fundamental to getting better and it improves delivery no end. 11 hours and 70 photobooth videos later I was ready to go on stage, a little sick of my poems.

I arrived with a friend for moral support way ahead of the 8pm start and settled down at the back. At 10pm I was on, after an amazing reggae/blues performance by Calypso George (a Jamaican man who sang us songs about parrots telling him that his wife is cheating on him… seriously). I had not really felt nervous the whole time until my name was called, when my hands started shaking uncontrollably. I took to the microphone and introduced myself. Talking before starting my pieces really calmed me down, and, after a brief introduction to the first piece, I began. As I am sure a lot of humanity/drama students have been told, “people will feel like you are ignoring them if you do not look at them,” and this was my biggest challenge. Holding tight to my paper and hiding behind it definitely seemed easier than projecting to a crowd, but it was important to take a breath, look to the audience and speak. After a relatively successful first reading I moved onto the second piece, a response to the Sochi Winter Olympics and Russia’s attack on the LGBTQ community, which drew a stronger response (thankfully, all applause). I thanked the crowd and went to take my seat and listened to the rest of the night with other amazing offerings from other young writers like myself.

I’d survived my first spoken word night and I am already looking for more. The experience really liberated my writing, and I would encourage anyone who is undecided about whether to try this to just jump in. It is one of the most rewarding things you can do.

A huge thank you to the M20 Collective, Joel White and the UoM Creative Writing society for giving me this opportunity.