Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A GOOD NOISE: IN PRAISE OF THE OPEN MIC

‘Cause if you cannot make yourself a good noise 
tell me what you're doing here? 
 - John Gorka 


Lynn here:

Chris Ellsworth, in his many-chaptered blog/story Slash/20, introduced me to a new term: sacking out.

It’s an old timer’s term for desensitizing a horse, a way to get him so he doesn't spook so easily at strange things.

First you tie the horse to a stout post and then you wave a feed sack at him until he quits spooking at it.

Since I pretty much equate everything to writing, I asked myself, “How do I sack myself out as a writer?”

One way, I realized, is to participate in open mics. By sharing a short piece of writing out loud in front of an audience, I desensitize myself so I don't spook at the sound of my own words.

Then I wondered what other writers have to say on the subject, so I asked a few. Their contributions are below.

Chime in, if you are so inclined, in the comments section and share your thoughts on Open Mics.

See you at the next open mic reading 

By Michael Shay 

Some beginning writers would rather get a root canal than read their work in public. They may lack confidence in their work or may just be “mic” shy. I’ve seen many newbies sign up for readings, specifically those held each June at the Wyoming Writers, Inc., conference. “I’ve never read in public before,” newcomers may say, knees quaking, fear dripping from their eyes. Still, they get up and read their own work, defying shyness for the first time. Their voices may quaver. They may mumble their words or speak too fast. But at the end of five minutes, they can resume their seats, confident that they will never again be a rookie at an open mic reading.

It’s an appreciative crowd. They have been to the microphone and survived. We’ve heard from published writers with numerous books. We’ve heard from unpublished teen writers. We’ve heard from Wyoming Poets Laureate such as Rose Hill, Echo Klaproth and Pat Frolander. We’ve heard from me, the guy who often serves as emcee. At long last, I now am a public speaker.

That wasn’t always so.

I was 39 before I dared read in front of an audience. I was in graduate school, studying creative writing. Reading your work aloud was part of the program. My first efforts were not recorded for posterity. I mumbled my work into a microphone and quickly sat. Later, I upped the volume but read so fast that only New Yorkers could have understood.

“Slow down and enunciate,” my profs told me.

I did. I watched experienced writers, especially poets. Words are so crucial to poets. I remember watching Chicago’s Gwendolyn Brooks read her famous poem, “We Real Cool:

We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk Late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Die soon. 

Brooks pronounced each syllable and moved deliberately from one word to the next. It’s a short poem, only 24 words. But she took her time, emphasized the punctuation with short pauses. Those final three words hit me like a punch to the gut.

The idea is the same for prose writers. Take your time, and don’t worry about finishing the story or chapter. Pronounce the words. Vary your cadence. Pause when needed. It’s OK to stop for a couple of beats if the audience laughs. When actor Gene Wilder died recently, tributes talked about his ability to use pauses to milk audience laughs. Words are important but silence can be your friend.

Open Mic Can Inspire Students

By Cindy Jackelen 

As a teacher, I continually strive to inspire students to write for authentic purposes. Imagine, if as adults, all of our writing was done for teachers who gave us feedback with a red pen with a grade at the top of the paper. Not a very inspiring thought, is it? However, teachers are charged with teaching students to write narratives, arguments and informational text so they are prepared for college and careers. But adult writers know writing does not always fit those neat categories outlined in Wyoming State Standards. Creative teachers find ways to inspire our youth to write creatively in many ways and develop their voices as writers.

Open Mic gives students a genuine audience to have their voices heard, regardless of the genre being written.  In primary school, many teachers provide an “author’s chair” for students to share their writing. This early version of open mic builds a classroom community of writers who attentively listen and celebrate the piece with the author.

In upper grades, teachers use Open Mic in a variety of ways to encourage students to write beyond the classroom. I’ve hosted lunchtime poetry club open mics, during which students share deeply personal struggles through poetry. A community of writers allows them to test their emerging voices in a safe setting.

In high school, many teachers collaborate with public libraries or local coffee shops to host poetry slams, a competition using elimination rounds for the reading or performance of poetry. Next year’s National Poetry Slam competition (http://poetryslam.com/) will be held in Denver, CO August 7-12, 2017. This is a great opportunity for Wyoming students and teachers.

One of my fondest recollections as a teacher is students staying after school to orally rehearse their writing for a coffee house open mic night. Proud parents and other audience members were genuinely delighted to hear the voices of emerging student writers.

Head Held High

By Darrah Perez 


Head held high, I look out into my new audience, I always get nervous in front of a new crowd. My voice a little shaky, but knowing it must be heard, slowly reciting every word.

Every time, I see the words open mic--my heart flutters, knowing an opportune door has just opened to share with an audience; my voice, my message, my world.

Being afraid, and to have fear is normal in the life of a writer. Success can be a scary thing, but, it shouldn't be. The ripples and tides that get us to sit on top of the world to peer down upon the dream: the dream of being who we really are; we are meant to be writers and poets and artists.

So you see, to take advantage of every opportunity, to perform in every open mic, and to share the message within our hearts, is indeed, exactly what we are meant to do. Open mics are considered, "blessings in disguise."

Acting Out at Open Mic Sessions

By Abbie Taylor

I was born in New York City to want-to-be actors who realized the importance of having a day job in order to support a child. That didn’t stop them from acting, though. We moved from New York to Colorado to Arizona and finally to Wyoming, and in just about every town, my parents became involved in local community theater.

As a child, fascinated, I watched my parents rehearse. Alone in my room, I acted out my own scenes. In Tucson when I was eight, I got my first role, a small one, in the local theater guild’s production of Lysistrata by Aristophanes. Despite my limited vision, I was able to acquire minor roles in high school and college plays. I was also active in the speech team where I performed interpretations of drama and poetry for competitions and won a few awards.

Therefore, when I attended my first Wyoming Writers conference over ten years ago, I was not daunted by the prospect of two open mic sessions. I wouldn’t win any awards for my performance, but it would be a great way to share my work.

The first night, I read an essay about how I thought my parents’ fights were plays they were rehearsing. After the first few paragraphs, the audience’s laughter nearly knocked me flat on my back. I’d spent months polishing the piece and reading it for practice and forgotten how funny it was. I managed to get through the rest of my performance and keep a straight face, and many people afterward told me how much they enjoyed it.

Since then, I’ve usually been one of the first to sign up for open mic sessions at workshops and other events. Because I love to sing and have been told I’m good at that, I enjoy sharing poems I’ve written that incorporate song lyrics and sing the lyrics, as I read the poems. You can hear an example at https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/when%20star.mp3.mp3 . This past summer, fellow writer Christine Valentine and I brought down the house in Riverton during this years’ Wyoming Writers conference with our rendition of Christine’s poem, “Driven Insane by Mitzi Gaynor,” which uses lyrics from South Pacific and Brigadoon. Christine has written another poem she thinks we can do together so maybe by next summer if not sooner…

Instead of being on a stage under bright lights strutting someone else’s stuff, I’m in front of a lectern in a meeting room, sharing my own work, promoting my books. My latest, a memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, is now available from Createspace, Amazon, and Smashwords. To learn more and order from these sources, go to http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com/memoir.htm.


5 comments:

  1. Yes, there is no way to calm those jitters except to keep getting up and speaking at open Mic sessions. And, reading through your material time after time aloud. That's also a great way to find places where the poem/story needs some work. Thanks for another good blog, Lynn.

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    1. I'm a big fan of reading all my drafts out loud. As you point out, the ear hears the stumble in the words, and then you can rewrite to smooth things out.

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  2. I always fight the urge to cry when I read a piece of poetry that's close to my heart, and I've been known to shake so badly that my paper rattled. But I keep doing it. It's so worth it. You never know when you will touch someone's life with your words.

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  3. Practice makes perfect - We had a monthly Open Mic session
    in Colstrip MT and I worked through the fear there. I now think of reading as a gift we are giving to the audience, and you want that gift to be really special.

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    1. I like that attitude, Chris. I always leave the WW Inc. conference Open Mic sessions with some writer's words ringing in my ears--just what I needed to hear, just when I needed to hear it. So having been on the receiving end of those gifts should motivate us to be the deliverer of them as well. Thanks for sharing that insight.

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