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National Poetry Month, Age 16
I was not accustomed to setting foot inside churches. Though I had witnessed my share of baptisms, Bar Mitzvahs, and Buddhist meditation, I was not one to frequent anything designated a holy space. And yet my first major reading as a poet took place within a house of God. It was National Poetry Month—April, that is—and I was 16 years old. Somehow, somewhere, I had noticed a call for poets and I had applied to read at a poetry and jazz festival. Needless to say, the church was a hippie church, and I was ecstatic when I found out I had been selected to clear my throat and sing my poet’s song. But the opportunity also terrified me.
Whether you are a poet or a non-poet, you are probably familiar with the dreadful ‘poet’s voice.’ It’s slow, almost drowsy, yet emphatic and even a little condescending. It is exactly the way, even as a 16-year-old, I knew I did not want to sound. I had heard it too many times already, mainly because my mother had schlepped me to more city open mics than I can recall. (A cool mama she is, yes.) This was her way of encouraging me, but it was also a way of scaring me. Is this how poets are supposed to sound? I often wondered, as the poet’s voice style of reading dominated these open mics. I just want to sound like myself, only slightly more confident and with better enunciation.
The festival turned out to be a placid affair, almost a dream. It was a beautiful spring day with cherry blossoms and daffodils in bloom. I had put together what felt like the perfect outfit at the time: a weird, slightly furry top, a flowing olive green skirt, and combat boots—I guess that’s how I thought poets dressed then. The audience was large enough to keep my ego from melting, yet small enough that I didn’t faint the moment I saw all those faces in the pews. And when I read, I didn’t stutter, I didn’t stumble, and I most definitely didn’t assume the poet’s voice. I read like myself. Only better. And for once being 16 didn’t feel like the worst thing in the world.
#PoetryMonth #HighSchool #Essay
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