|I can so relate to this|
Julie Owsik Ackerman
I entered a slam poetry contest last week, without really know what a slam poetry contest was. I don’t recommend this. For a while now, I’d been wanting to check out a slam poetry contest, so when I read about one happening at a place called the Mount Airy Art Garage, that started at 7 PM, I thought, perfect, we can bring Daniel, support our local literary scene, and be home by nine. This is my kind of Saturday.
When Carl asked if I was going to read something I said no. “Why not?” he asked. I realized I did have copies of two recent poems I’d written in my purse, so I thought if the spirit moved me, maybe I would.
We were some of the first people to arrive at the venue. The organizers were so happy when we said that we were there for the slam, they actually cheered. Buoyed by this reception, when they asked if any of us had anything to read, I thought, what the hell, and said I would read something. It seemed like such a friendly place.
The fact that there were rules should have tipped me off that this wasn’t an ordinary open mic night, but they didn’t. I took my seat and waited while people filed in. They announced the order of who would read when. I was first, which seemed good. I could get it over with. Except the special guest poet, who was award-winning, with published volumes of poetry was reading before the slam. Huh? I had to follow him? That didn’t seem to bode well. But he was great, so I listened to his reading, and lost myself in it.
Then my turn came. I didn’t feel nervous. I read my short poem, pretty well, I thought, and took my seat. I understood that there were judges, but what I didn’t know until I sat down is that they would each announce their score to the whole audience. That I didn’t like. “Lowest score first,” said the host, scouring the scoreboards. Some confused murmurs spread through the crowd. “Is that…no, that’s an 8, right?” she said.
“No, it’s a 3,” announced the awful witch of a judge.
People actually gasped.
That’s right. I read a poem. In public. In front of my toddler son. And someone rated it a 3. On a scale of 1 to 10. And announced that in front of the crowd.
I don’t know what the other scores were. I think there was a 7, an 8, an 8 ½ . Maybe there was a 5. I honestly can’t say because I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. My face was hot with shame. I wanted to flee the room. To crawl under the table. Who did I think I was? To show up and read a poem? Who did I think I was, to participate in a poetry slam, when I didn’t even know what a poetry slam was? It was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had.
The two other poets read their work. Yes, there were only three poets in the competition. And at the end of the first round, the poet with the lowest score was eliminated, and that poet, was me.
So, I should’ve known better. I should’ve been prepared.
But you know what? Actually, I’m proud of what I did. It is totally unlike me to show up somewhere, especially to something that I feel I should be good at, like a poetry competition, unprepared, and say, what the hell, I’m just going to try it. And I did it. And I was a terrible failure. I didn’t know the rules. I didn’t know the format. And one of the judges penalized me for that, and I came in last place.
I hate losing. I hate getting low scores, oh boy do I. But you know what I hate more? Sitting on the sidelines, wishing I had the guts to play, and not having the guts.
On Saturday night, I had the guts. So yes, getting harshly judged hurt. It did. But standing on the stage, sharing my work, that part felt awesome. And I plan on doing it again. Maybe next time I’ll read the rules first. Or maybe not.
So without further ado, my beautiful poem:
First Love Found
rushing back to me—
a word you taught me
in the breakup.
For years I only
remembered the pain,
driving through golden leaved streets,
the smell of summer’s surrender
to our beginning,
fall in New York,
a surprise encounter,
your wide smile
Today I remembered
I felt it.
I missed it.
I was glad.