Once upon a Friday night, my beloved cousin, a friend and I, headed on down, to Das restaurant in Westlands. We were told there was to be a poetry gig. She had been telling me repeatedly, to ‘Get out there… share your poetry.’
I had rehearsed one piece. Rephrase; I had rehearsed reading one piece. Practiced where to pause, reading out loud front of a mirror. I had preplanned where to go fast, where to go slow, enunciating my own punctuation. The piece I was preparing is called Original Sin. It’s a sentimentaly guilty piece. Where the persona could be Eve, unable to say anything about anything, because she started the trouble, at the beginning. Own composition. It has very little surface meaning, which tends to be a disadvantage in spoken word performances.
We arrive at the steps, and when I say I want to share a poem, I am asked cheerfully, ‘ Your slamming? Talk to Kennet B when you get upstairs.’ I was slightly confused as to what slamming was, but I did as told.
Amidst aromas of ndorowot and injera Kennet B, duly explained what slamming involves. It was blatantly obvious that i was seriously underprepared. I had a dilemma, I couldn’t let Lian down, I had given her enough excuses, and had already chickened out of going to another poetry gig, and upset her. She’s not an easy person to upset. My second problem, was that it had taken a whirl wind of courage to atempt this step. I had practiced and was fully charged. If I turned back at that point, I was not going to try again. I was reasonably sure that the experience was not going to kill me, so my safest option was to try and live through doing the reading.
The first two slammers, really put me in my place. They performed in a way I had not imagined possible before. Brimming with confidence they flung rhyme after rhyme, at an explosive audience! Wow!
When it was my turn, I went up to the stage. I was physically mortified. My stage fright was making me feel like I was in deep malaria. Sweating, heart pounding, I was hot, cold, hot, cold, in quick succession.
I was shaking violently, and at a very high risk of falling flat on my face over nothing at all.
I read that poem like a hostage, forced to deliver impossible ransom demands.
That paper shook the carefullying rewritten letters in and out of focus. Wa, karatasi ilipepetwa, the sound of the crackling paper was my only confirmation that the microphone was working. I could hear the paper sounds coming out of the speakers, not not my voice, which I seemed to have swallowed before my performance began.
I was standing front of roughly thirty people. Some had tried at first to pay attention, but had lost interest by the second verse. My table and the judges faithfully looked on. When I finished, the judges gave very low marks, two kinder judges gave me a seven but the rest were under five. It would not surprise me to find out that was the lowest score ever recorded at Slam Africa.
I deserved much less. It was a fail. I had jumped off a ramp and landed nose first.
As we left, my cousin asked, ‘ Why didn’t you do it like you usually do it for us? Don’t worry, you just need to relax and work know your confidence.’ She was right, but I had made up my mind.
Performance poetry is not for me.