Last week I fucked up. I stood in front of a small crowd in a room, read two poems which I then apologised for and fucked off the stage. Nothing wrong with the poems. Nothing wrong with the way I performed them - other than that they were too heavy for the start of a set. I did nothing to soften up the audience. Nothing to get them in a receptive state, make 'em laugh and make 'em let their guard down. No foreplay, basically. And so having failed to properly get them revved up, I finished too early. I'm sorry. This sort of thing almost never happens to me, honest.
Today I looked through a huge portfolio file of my poems, working through them and finding which I could stand by in terms of publication, and those I could stand by in terms of performing. This was born of two anxieties I've had recently: that I need to get my performances right and start giving the audience a little more of a back rub before elbowing their attention point, and that I need to make a proper push toward getting something seriously published. In the whole set of poems I found fourteen poems I could stand to see published (with another two I'd probably grudgingly include) and thirteen I could stand to perform. They weren't all the same poems - publishing and performance have slightly different criteria, but the point is, there were so few of them.
There are times when I wish I could throw out work as fast and perform as confidently as my old self. But it's a wish I know better than to indulge. Because the old me was an arrogant prick, a monster of ego, who treated people badly and did things out of a selfish desire to be loved and then, for some time, a selfish desire to be hated. And I never want to be that person again. Ever.
I've changed. A lot. And I'm continuing to change. Part of that means learning a new language, a new way of being - a new way of speaking. Of performing. For a long time I tried to be a rock star poet because I thought that was the best way to perform, because I thought it was a persona I could wear to give me the confidence I needed. And it did. All drugs confer a benefit, for a time. But that persona wasn't me. It was something I pretended to be which eventually became me and which turned me into someone arrogant and grotesque and actually, when you got down to it, kind of mean.
And now, at long last, I'm at a stage when I want to drop all that shit - both the love-me shit and the hate-me shit, which are two sides of the same damn coin anyway, and just start being me. Perform and publish only the stuff that seems to be truly me, that I can truly own, and present it to people in a way that doesn't beg for their affection or taunt them to attack.
Today, in the dining room of my parents' house, I found an old portfolio from my Creative Writing MA. I haven't really looked at it yet, because I know it'll make me cringe, but it reminded me of how it felt to write things which, awkward and ungainly as they were, still had beauty and truth in them. To dredge something up from my sewer of a heart and say this is me, rather than to try to manipulate for an emotional reaction. And the best reactions I ever got in any case, the ones that meant the most - they were from those poems. Flawed as they were, and delivered so quietly they could barely be heard, because I was so chonically shy in those days.
I want to be heard these days, and I want to perform in a competent way, and I want to give to the audience rather than just take, so I'm prepared to work harder to make my performances interesting. But I want to do it while being true to myself this time. So in that sense, last Thursday's performance was a step forward because that I was doing. Inevitably I'd feel nervous. I'm not the guy I was. But I did it and I didn't bullshit the audience or try to fake who I was. From there I can work on the performance aspect and get better. And only having fourteen poems I'll stand by? Fair enough. Back when I was starting that MA I'd have killed to have four good poems that really said how I thought, so fourteen is frakkin' stellar.
Last week I fucked up. But I know that I'm going to get better.