The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Lights, Bushels and Microphones

by Tricia Dower

I came back from this year’s Victoria School of Writing summer session even more pumped than I did last July. Greater than the sum of my own parts, you might say. Being a “veteran” had helped. Knowing where to register on Monday morning; the location of the washrooms, water coolers and dining hall. Mary from my writing group was there, too, giving me a built in best buddy right away. The biggest difference, though, was that I knew about the open mic readings in the Music Room and I'd prepared something not a second over the five-minute limit. About 800 words if your words aren’t on the order of supercalifrgilisticexpialidocious.

Last year I wimped out: My stories are too long. Why would anyone want to hear five minutes of one of them? They wouldn’t know how it turned out. They’d think it was boring and stupid. If I were a poet, it would be different. If I were a poet, I'd have a five-minute piece with a beginning, middle and end. Everyone else in my workshop got up at that microphone and read something.

For a year I was infected with a mild case of self-loathing for not getting up there, too, for withholding my vulnerability as well as my words. So this year, I signed up for the first night. Second on the list, after the evening lecture. Nervous, but nowhere close to fainting as one woman claimed she was. I had practiced the first five minutes of the title story of my someday to be published collection. I read in a clear, not too wavery voice. The audience listened and applauded. I returned to my seat with a satisfying sense of redemption. What happened over the next few days, however, proved the greater benefit. People came up to me in the dining hall and on the grounds wanting to know more about the story and how I came to write it. I entered into conversations I wouldn’t have if I had not stood at that microphone. I had allowed myself to become part of a community. I spoke with others about their readings, too, and, by the end of the week, felt I knew most of the fifty or so other students, even though only ten were in my small-group workshop.

This idea of community through sharing was reinforced a few days later when, on the one free night of summer school, Colin and I witnessed a Poetry Slam at Floyd’s Diner down the street from our house. We went to show our support for the performance poets we’d met Canada Day weekend (see Colour Me Hip), expecting the turnout to be paltry. Instead, the diner was jammed with mostly young folks, noisily showing their support for the ten poets who braved the microphone for a chance to represent Victoria at the Canadian Festival of the Spoken Word in Halifax, October 10 – 13, 2007. I ended up being a judge, subjecting myself to (good-natured) jeers when my scores didn’t please the crowd. What we witnessed, in the parlance of MC Shayne avec i grec, was “awesome.” If I had been courageous, the slammers were scaling Everest in tennis shoes. They had memorized their work and delivered it with choreographed moves and energy, occasionally throwing in beat boxing and singing. And the audience was with them. Poetry was alive and rocking in Floyd’s Diner that night. After two rounds, four of the ten slammers were chosen. I wish we could send more.

Don’t hide your light under a bushel, the Bible says, sort of, in Matthew 5:15, an admonition to broadcast your faith. We use it nowadays to mean don't hide your talents — not easy for those who’ve been raised to be modest, to not show off. After experiencing the community feeling of the Music Room and Floyd’s Diner, I can see that letting ‘your light shine before others’ is not a who-do-you-think-you-are expression of conceit. If you let your light shine, others will feel free to do the same and we’ll all be richer for it.

Next week: what else I learned in summer school.

Below: three members of the new Victoria Slam Team, left to right: strong cottonwoods, M. Power, and Steven J. Thompson. Jane B. completes the team.


Blogger Anne C. said...

A rite of passage. Good for you, Tricia!

Sat Jul 28, 12:24:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Hey, thanks, Anne. I thought the only rite of passage I was still young enough for was death, but apparently not.

Sat Jul 28, 10:16:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

I find it both reassuring and annoying that there will always be something new to learn.

Sun Jul 29, 08:49:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Good for you, Tricia! Lept out of the comfort zone and into the spotlight, and it turned out so well.

Can't wait to hear more about summer school!

Sun Jul 29, 06:29:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Andrew. I'm compiling my notes right now.

Sun Jul 29, 08:55:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

I'm so happy for you Tricia! A great way to extend your learning by embracing every opportunity the school offers.

Mon Jul 30, 08:52:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Very Brave, Tricia. Congrats.

Mon Jul 30, 08:42:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Jen. Thanks, Steve. I wasn't all that brave, seeing as how everyone else was doing it. Kind of like trying a new food.

Tue Jul 31, 03:49:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Oh, I could learn a few things from your gumption here, Tricia. I've always been terrified of readings; so far, I've managed to avoid it for the most part. Congrats on crossing that one off your list!

Wed Aug 01, 04:17:00 pm GMT-4  
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