This weekend I attended the Poetry Society of Virginia's annual Festival. I admit, I was worried about pretentious poets and standoffish crowds, but I found the group completely welcoming, open, and friendly. S'hew! What a relief. There were workshops from Jim Peterson, Henry Hart, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, and Bill Glose. I got to hear readings from the current poet laureate of Virginia, Sofia M. Starnes, as well, as from three poets nominated to inherit her position, Tim Seibles, Jim Peterson, and Henry Hart. I enjoyed, just as much, the readings from many other members of PSV at dinner Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
I had never read formally in front of an audience. I've read poems for critique in class with Susan Hankla at VMFA, and to my husband (he is not a poetry guy). Never in front of a large group of poets. I was terrified. I decided to add my name to the reading list before I could chicken out. I had already passed Friday night, rationalizing that high heels and chardonnay did not pair well with standing at a podium (I'm a flip flop girl anyway). But, I'm in my 40s now and it's time to stop being such a wimp and letting life fly by without at least trying to grasp hold of the tail and hang on for the ride. So, I added my name to the list of readers first thing Saturday. Number 11. And the countdown began.
By the time my number came up, I had drowned the butterflies on my skirt in sweat. My arms felt weak and I worried about walking across the room in even the sandals, I had swapped out my heels from the night before. I passed on the more risqué poem I'd stuffed in my pocketbook for a tamer one. I made it to the front of the room and mic and said: This is my first official reading. So, if I have a heart attack and die...just drag my body from the podium and proceed. Everybody laughed. I could see on their faces, they wanted me to succeed. I got through it. I think. Hell, I may have skipped a line for all I know. The shaking got worse as I read and I thought I might actually have a heart attack. (See photo: my deer-in-the-headlights face). But I finished and everyone clapped and cheered. Many, many people came up to me later and hugged me, touched my hand, patted me on the back. Told me they still remembered their first time reading and how scary it was, but that, trust them, it would get easier.
It felt good. Encompassing, like I was connected to something more. Something bigger and better than just myself. To be totally corny, it felt like love. Love for the timid poet inside each of us. I am so glad I made myself read. I am so glad I made myself go to a conference with a group of people where I knew no one. I am so glad I can connect with other people in their journeys. And, I am so glad that I finally realize I am a poet.