Many of you want to know how to get started performing Spoken Word and poetry in public. There is no 1 answer. There is no blueprint. Everyone’s journey is unique.
Now, let’s be real. I know some of you don’t want to hear this hustle and grind shit. It’s like blah, blah, blah. LOL. But, I will not (and cannot) call Russell Simmons’ cell phone and say, “Hey, put so-and-so on!” Some of us have really unique stories of instant Def Poetry success; however, for the most part, even those folks will find themselves using the same methods I will share with you. So trust the few pointers I’m going to give you…I do this shit man!
It really boils down to a few ideas: either use what’s already available to you, create something new and unique for yourself, or both!
If you’ve ever downloaded my CD, attended one of my live shows, or participated in one of my workshops, you’ve heard my story of going from a ‘closet writer’ to being a ‘virgin’ on open-mic at Uptown Comedy club in Atlanta, to HBO Def Poetry in New York. From there I began touring colleges and universities. Today, I double as an agent helping book gigs for other artists. All of this gives me some experience to offer a few suggestions to you all.
Simple, huh? You can’t make it as a Spoken Word artist if you don’t have words to speak. Now that we got that outta the way, during your writing process you want to find your voice. Open-mic lists fill quickly these days. Most hosts and promoters are not interested in hearing copy-cats. Keep in mind that they have an audience to entertain. That audience wants the real deal—no replicas!
Hone your Skills
I know poetry is expression, art, and all that fluffy stuff people say when you don’t like their shit. Well, yes, Spoken Word is all of that and more–it’s the MORE part that eludes people. Spoken Word is performance and interaction. There is an element that requires you to engage your audience. Don’t ever think you are that damn good that you can get on stage and X your audience out. This is give and receive type energy homie. And, yes, if you’re getting paid–you ARE entertaining! Your audience isn’t your girlfriend who is obligated to listen to you—they have to want to listen. Hone your pitch, tone, and delivery. Remember, this doesn’t mean copying the slurs and shouts of other poets–it just means finding your poetic style, then practicing and developing it to best represent you.
Eventually you’ll just have do it. You will have to be courageous enough to sign that list and go on stage. Open-mics are extremely important. If nothing else, it’s a great place for you to hone your craft. Also, there’s a lot to learn from other poets—either what/what not to do. You never know who may be there to help you. My first time performing at an open-mic, I just stepped off stage from reading my poem “Street Life.” I didn’t have it memorized…I read directly from my notebook. Anyway, I walk off and this guy was waiting on the side. He shot me his business card. Now, he was looking to manage artists, but I really wasn’t interested at that time. However, he connected me with another guy in New York who held a high position at the APOLLO. So, again, some connections may turn out to be business, others may lead to great associates and friendships–both are important. Which leads me to my next pointer…
Be a Part of a Poetry Community
I can’t begin to tell you how great it feels knowing you have poetry peers who support you on your journey. It’s invaluable! Many of the Def Poets went on to host their own venues, start their own agencies, appear in films, commercials, stage plays, etc. And, guess what…when you have a network of poets/friends that actually give a damn about you…they remember to mention you when opportunities arise! Not only that, but they become voices of encouragement, motivation, inspiration and great sounding boards for new material! It’s good to help one another grow in craft and business.
Start Your Own
Some of you may live in areas where there are no open-mics or poetry communities. Others may live in areas where those communities are filled with back-stabbing haters. These are, perhaps, the best situations for bringing something new to your community or campus. This way, you can set the tone for your own open-mic! Now, I have never done this before. As of today, I have no desire to host my own open-mic. I hear it’s hard work with lots of responsibilities. Yet, those who do it well will most certainly agree that it’s a very rewarding experience (sometimes financially too :-)). Don’t forget there are online communities too. Use online poetry platforms, social media, and contests to build your brand name.
Ok, so I wasn’t able to respond to all your e-mails individually. But, these are great starter tips. We haven’t even discussed going on the road yet! That is a long-winded discussion that we’ll have to get into another day. But, I hope the information I provided thus far is helpful.
BTW, reach out to some of those supportive friends I mentioned earlier for additional tips: Jon Goode, J. Ivy, Georgia Me, Verbal Slick, Tommy Bottoms, M’Reld Green, Amir Sulaiman, Derrick ‘Abyss,’ Gina Lorring, Christopher ‘Cocktails’…the list goes on!
Be fearless, faithful, diligent, and authentic! REPRESENT YOURSELF WELL!