How does it feel to perform more than one of your poems in front of the Egyptian Consulate? Undeservingly thrilling.
The first time I ever performed a poem in front of people was at the Divan Orange bar, in Montreal, this summer. I’m not used to bars, neither am I used to perform, but I thought I could give it a try because I knew I would regret it if I didn’t. The result was me being so nervous I interrupted myself setting up the microphone properly for a good five minutes. I was then judged by amateurs and was given an average of 6.9/10 for my performance. That stabbed me, right through my heart. However, I left there with a bag of lessons learned. Yes, one night can indeed teach you a hundreds of things, but for the sake of this article, I’ll only list the two most important.
I first learned about the art of performing, more specifically of reciting poems. I’ve performed in musicals, plays, and shows, but poetry performance is a completely different art to master. You cannot perform any kind of poem because you have to take into consideration your audience. Some poets only write to be read and others write to be read and heard. An audience watching spoken word poetry is usually composed of intellectuals, artists, and other writers. They are knowledgeable enough to understand your play on words or references and feel your rhymes, rhythm, and intonation. Therefore, when performing, you have to write/choose a poem that includes all these characteristics. Spoken word poetry is to put together a performance on its own. That may involve music in the background, props, or even teaming with another poet. When I took theater classes in my CEGEP years, I learned two crucial things: to get out of my comfort zone and myself completely (in other words, to have the ability in being in someone else’s shoes) and to not fear ridicule. It has always been hard for me to accept the fact that it might take months or even years to master and embody these principles, but it’s obviously worth the hard work and effort, especially when people root for you.
In addition to that first lesson, to be limitless is the second thing I learned. You shouldn’t set limits in the way you perform, in the way you write, in the subjects you write about, and in the places you perform. When I came back to my seat after my performance, I analyzed every performer and realized that they were all somehow “known” in that little community of poets. They already had performed (more) than a couple of times before at the Divan Orange bar and at other places too. They never stopped trying and they mostly recited their poems out of pure pleasure. They also wrote about everything they knew and weren’t scared at all to be explicit. I have to admit I more nervous about my mother being present, listening to sexual explicit content than I was performing. Regardless, it was a nice and memorable experience and it made me want to fearlessly try other styles and improve mine. The thing is my poem wasn’t that bad, but my performance was, and it didn’t mean that I should stop writing, or just stick to it and never try performing again. On the contrary, I had to prove to myself that I could break those walls of fear I had built and become a professional performer. All I need is patience.
One day, maybe three weeks ago, the editor-in-chief I write for, Farid Zemokhol (El Ressala Newspaper), was preparing a spoken word poetry night for Arabic writers and I was invited to perform one of my poems. On that Saturday night, I wasn’t in the mood to perform at all, but I wanted to taste some Arabic literature even if the Egyptian dialect I speak leaves unfortunately much to be desired (I am also illiterate when it comes to Arabic). I hence decided to be limitless.
I was really surprised to be the youngest and the only “Arab” who was born in Canada. When I was unexpectedly asked to read one of my poems, I felt like I had an important mission. I was representing poets of my age, my color, and mentality. Maybe I didn’t represent these people too much, since it’s a little particular for a Copt like me to study languages, love arts, be open-minded, and practice continually her religion, yet I still represented the youth. Although I was unprepared and nervous (especially knowing the Egyptian consulate was present), I performed better than my first time and felt that I was finally taken seriously. I had found my place amongst these experienced writers who weren’t judgmental, but encouraging. They all came for the same reason: to listen and to be heard. There was such a different and nicer atmosphere than at the bar that I automatically knew to where I belonged.
The second time was only two days ago, at the same place and in front of the same people (yes, the consulate was present for a second time!), but this time, the whole room was full. Nevertheless, I was prepared; I knew what I would say and recite and I was quite excited to show my talent off, which I did with confidence, humor, and heart. I wasn’t the best performer at all, but at least, less than worse. I was proud of seducing the audience in my broken Arabic. I didn’t know I could be that comfortable, knowing they were all Arabic literature freaks. I indeed was so comfortable I ended up reading four poems instead of one. What surprised me the most of myself is that I didn’t feel intimidated, not even once. Maybe it was because of the good vibe, or maybe it was just because I had decided to be myself. In fact, one member of the audience stood up after my performance and said, “you’re so lovely, please continue writing,” then greeted me as though I was finally part of the community. Well, Madam, I promise you to remain Maria Magdeleina Lotfi and to write even if I bleed.