Thought I was immune by now, but at this month's "Loud Mouth" hootin' & hollerin' open-mike reading at The Mack, a bar in South St. Louis, which I'd dared myself to read at, I got intimidated. I didn't read the poem I planned to road-test -- a feminist poem that would have filled my entire five-minute slot. Instead I played to the mostly-male audience's Bukowski fixation and lost all my respect for myself and whatever respect the audience might have had for me. I was one of two female writers on the bill of ten. The other wore a tube top. The emcee, a student of mine five years ago, now a stand-up comedian manque, had never recovered from the final "B" he had earned in my class. He introduced me thus, "Have you ever really wanted to get back at a teacher? One of those mean teachers who tried to destroy you?" --and so on. (I fail to see why "B" is such an injurious grade.)
Most of the readers knew one another and had brought their own entourages. I had sensed I would need one, so I dragged in a long-suffering, patient couple, the husband a fine poet I thought might get a chance at the open mike. He was cajoled to read a poem, but refused to be part of this historic lineup. At least one of the readers, volcanically loud and incoherent, was certifiable; and the others were terrible, or terribly impressed with themselves -- like the bewigged 70-year-old Parisian who stopped his reading to accuse me of laughing at him (I wasn't laughing, just unable to repress a smile). A kindly nebbish read a 9/11 poem he had laminated. The other female reader actually said, "I wrote this this morning, about 11 o'clock" -- and then there was yours truly, all rehearsed, who jumped ship on myself and gave a terrible performance. Final grade for me: D. Pride goeth.
A good learning experience and proof that I still need to work on confidence. If it is at all possible for you, learn from my mistake.