Live Poetry Readings, and What I Learned from Children
Julie Catherine Vigna
One of the most frightening experiences I can think of as a writer is to read my work aloud in front of an audience – and even more so to children. I used to say that I’d rather walk through fire than do a live poetry reading; memories of being so excruciatingly shy in school that I would be physically ill before having to read an essay in front of the class still fresh in my mind, even though my school days were over many years ago.
It seems not that long ago I finally allowed my friends and family to read my poetry, and then talked myself into submitting some of my poems to anthologies for publication. Having several poems accepted early in 2012 in various publications gave me the much-needed self-confidence to realize a life-long dream of self-publishing my own poetry book, which I did this past July.
I suppose everything I’ve accomplished with my writing in the past year led up to being able to screw up the courage to schedule not just one live poetry reading, but three (what was I thinking) in the space of a week! The first was an reading for the ladies of the library board in the small town of Provost, Alberta; followed by readings several days later at both the public and separate schools in town. To top it off, I was invited to be interviewed by our community television station before the library poetry reading. Looking back, I suppose I figured as long as I was getting my feet wet, I might as well just jump in the deep end – sink or swim, either result was better than agonizing over whether to dip a toe in the water or not.
What surprised me the most is how well my poems were received— and how much I enjoyed sharing them with people of all ages. I know I’m a good writer and have lots of support and encouragement from friends and family; but having perfect strangers, children especially, come up to you afterwards and tell you they enjoyed your poems is a completely different feeling from having family say your work is good— it’s so validating, and makes the extra effort of actively promoting yourself and your writing so worthwhile.
Children are devastatingly honest, even when they’re at their most polite and on their best behaviour. The prospect of reading to kids from grades three to six terrified me. The librarian casually mentioned that they would probably ask how old I was and how much money I made, and suggested that honesty is always the best policy when discussing such matters with children. I never had any of my own and haven’t spent time around kids, so had nothing to base my fear on— just that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I entered the doors of the public school on a warm September afternoon. There were five groups, one right after the other, with no breaks, fifteen minutes per group. I read four poems and allowed for a few minutes for questions before one group filed out and the next made their way in to sit in a semi-circle on the floor in the music room of the school.
The separate school had less groups, which allowed for longer reading and discussion times, and a short break between each class. It also meant more time for the kids to probe into areas of my brain I didn’t even know existed, as they wanted to know whether I’d written poems about practically every animal known to nature, exactly how did I know what words to use in my poems and how many poems had I written in all the years I’d been writing. My head was spinning by the time the teacher announced that would be the very last question.
No one ever did ask how much money I make (thank goodness, because I haven’t made anything yet); but sure enough, every group wanted to know how old I am, and when I first started writing. They calculated that I’ve been writing for 50 years faster than I could subtract six from 56, and I wasn’t sure who was more astonished by that— them or me. They didn’t appear to hold my age against me, though, probably because I saved the spooky Halloween poem for last, and they’d forgotten all about it by then. What I really enjoyed was their rapt attention and complete enthusiasm for the pieces I read. The difference between the polite clapping when I began the sessions and the wide-eyed saucer looks in their young eyes as they discussed the flights of imagination my poems led them to by the end of the readings was a thrill I will never forget— a memory to treasure and keep in mind as I work on my debut YA adventure/mystery novel. That’s the reaction I’ll be aiming for, the bar to set my sights on and to reach for as a measure of success.
My debut poetry book, Poems of Living, Loving & Lore, is available at the following locations under my pseudonym, J C Edwards:
Amazon (Paperback & Kindle)
Barnes & Noble (Paperback & Nook)
Where to Connect with Julie Catherine:
J C Edwards Page