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Saturday, 20 November 2010

Making it verse

I'm hammering a poem into shape.

Last month, my university started a creative writing open mic night. I performed, and I'm going to say here what I haven't had the courage to say elsewhere: I'm actually really disappointed with how I did.

I hadn't known in advance that it was going to be competitive; I don't think many people did. I've never been a particularly competitive person, but once I knew that's how things were, I accepted it. I've been writing poetry since I was 14 or so, and I thought they were pretty good. What I hadn't thought about, however, is the huge difference between the verse you find in poetry collections, and the incredible passion and power of spoken word poetry.

I didn't expect to win, not once I'd seen Leeum perform. It was obvious to all of us, I think, that he is incredibly experienced at this; an extremely talented performance poet. From the beginning, when he spoke of "the rocks He told me not to throw," I was alert and listening more attentively than in any lecture. Anyway, my writer-crush aside, I didn't expect to win after that.

What sucked, and again this isn't something I'd happily talk about in person, is that I failed to come in the top four. Ben did. Ben, my housemate, came fourth with a poem I had helped him refine. It's a good poem, but Ben's a novelist now and poetry - well, poetry was always my thing. I was jealous. And disappointed. And when he confided in me, on leaving the cafeteria where the event took place, that he was disappointed he hadn't placed higher, I selfishly replied "Shut up, Ben. I can just about pretend that I don't mind not placing, but you have to pretend too." I'm not proud of this side of myself. Lately his success has been highlighting my insecurities, and through no fault of his own I've become a little bitter.

Since then, I've been working on one poem. Just one. Ordinarily I'd write two or three a day in one of my creative phases, but I'm trying so hard to get this one just right that I keep coming back to it and chiselling, refining, reshaping  and rewording it. And next time - on the 25th of November - Leeum's going to be compering, not competing, and I'll hopefully be in with a chance. And Ben - well, if I'm not better than him at something, I'm going to cut his dreads off while he sleeps.

(Just kidding. I would never do that.)


I've been compiling this youtube playlist of my favourite spoken poems. By all means check it out! You might be surprised.


  1. NO! Don't cut off poets dreads in their sleep, just sew them to the pillow so they wake up with a pillow sewn to their head!

    (all credit to my gf for that idea!)

  2. I remember going to see some performance poetry back in uni a hundred years ago (approx). I didn't enjoy it that much, but that may have been down to frustration of never being particularly skilled when it came to poetry. Much like not being able to sing, that deficiency hasn't stopped me from doing so anyway (I do like texting a silly set of rhymes to cheer people up). I did think that it still didn't appeal to me, but you can consider me surprised, as I loved that playlist. Especially that first one. If Henry Rollins had become a teacher instead...

    Would using YouTube itself be something that could help you?
    Asking for feedback on, say, the piece you were disappointed with.
    Being YouTube, you'd obviously have to deal with the obligatory nasty and utterly irrelevant comments ("@badboi577 I was really after feedback, but thank you for informing me that my nose looks like a shoe." etc), but amongst that do you think you'd get some tips on delivery and fine-tuning?

    Let us know how it goes.

    PS: bloody hell, less than three for the Leonard Cohen one!

  3. Suffice, I'm so glad I found some stuff you like! I've considered youtube as a medium for sharing my work, but I think there's a reason all those performances were done live. Delivering the stuff that makes us human to a tiny camera lens wouldn't feel natural. Not that baring your soul to a crowd is exactly natural either, but you get what I mean!

    Hopefully I'll do better next time, and maybe even perform elsewhere if I really step up. x

  4. Don't be too hard on yourself. Competetive, spoken poetry is a very different creature from written poetry. Next time, you'll have a far better idea of what's involved. I reckon you can do it.

  5. Don't cut his dreads off!

    Public speaking is an art and a knack in itself, far beyond merely writing poetry. It's also a talent that Ben has honed over years of roleplaying - a theatre that you have only recently joined.

    While I agree that you want to keep coming back to the same piece until it is finished, you also need to know when to let go of it. It might be perfect without you realising it. It's only with perspective that you can judge a poem, and for that you need an element of distance.

    Be good to yourself, praise yourself for your success, don't damn yourself for perceived failures. And at the end of the day... have fun!


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