I attended a workshop a while back on honesty in a poetry performance. As writers, we tend to put the truth or as much of the truth as we can inside our work. As poets who perform, at times we get on stage and somehow the meaning of our writings gets lost in our presentation. The audience doesn’t feel the emotions we are aiming to bring forth because there is a disconnect between what we are saying and the way we are saying it.
The workshop facilitator, RJ Eldridge, asked us to define what honesty is. Among the various answers, someone stated something to the tune of “honesty is fact” (now, that is not word for word because I have terrible memory, but that’s what I got out of their statement). This prompted someone else to point out that honesty is not necessarily restricted to facts alone (and again this is not verbatim, just what I took from it). What I mean is, more than one person can experience the same event and have a different “truth” about it. These truths could quite possibly contradict one another and yet they exist.
As writers we put our experiences into words. As “performance poets” we take those words and share them with complete strangers who know nothing about us other than the things we share with them in about three minutes. When you lack honesty or vulnerability during that time all you do is cheat the audience and yourself. In my opinion, the best Spoken Word artists have mastered the art within the art of submerging themselves wholly into their words. They mean what they are saying because the words mean something to their lives. When I’m in the audience watching and listening to a fellow poet perform I’m looking for sincerity. Does this person look and sound like they understand what it is they are expressing to me? Do they believe or agree with their own thoughts?
I am still learning how to present my work in the most up front and honest way possible. I’m finding a really important step for me to attain that level of clarity with the audience is to have a moment (that brief, silent moment you see poets take once they’ve adjusted the microphone then step back). In that moment I don’t think about the words or the people in front of me. Instead I think about why I wrote the piece I’m about to perform. I picture the who, when or where it’s about in order to go back to the emotion that spurred the words. Whenever I do that I connect with what I’m saying and that’s when the audience connects with me the best.
I just wanted to share my thoughts on the topic. If you are a spoken word artist or thinking of becoming one, I hope you will remember to always go back to the heart of your words while performing. I know that can become increasingly difficult as we find ourselves repeating the same poems over and over on a weekly basis at times. It’s easy to let the words just flow out without actually listening to ourselves, but I believe it is important that we hear our thoughts as well when we’re on stage. Every time I don’t allow myself the chance to go back to the emotion or memory of the piece, I feel how different it is, how out of sync I am with what I’m saying. I could kick myself each time I do it, but the thing about performing is that it’s sort of trial and error. You learn the best way to move and be moved by your words by getting up there and just going in.
I want to leave you with the definition of honesty in performance by the super talented RJ, well, I may mess up the wording a bit but come on, you should know me by now!
“You have to surrender yourself to the truth of your writing.”