All alone with just a microphone

My name is called out. The crowd claps and I stand, shed my jacket, kiss my wife, walk through the curtain and up the stairs onto the stage. I stand before the microphone as Archie adjusts it to my height. And then he steps away, and I’m blinded in the brightness of the stage lights. I can dimly make out the figures in the front row, and for a moment there is a buried sense of panic at being so exposed. I breathe, remembering advice about ‘savouring the moment’, and then I open my mouth and the words I’ve been rehearsing start to come out.

I’m at a Poetry Slam at The Bunker, Hotel Imperial in Eumundi as part of the Horizon Festival of Arts & Culture. There’s 15 of us competing for three cash prizes, there’s about 50 people in the intimate, windowless room and the theme is “Stories from Outside the Bunker”. I wrote a poem about not being interested in Stories from outside the bunker 7 days ago, and have been editing, reading and rehearsing every day since.

Up on stage and there’s a strange feeling of being on auto-pilot, as if the words themselves are in charge now. My body’s movements feel spontaneous as I gesture and weave in front of the microphone. We come to the first place where people might laugh and I pause for a nervous moment: reassuringly one or two chuckles come out of the glare of white lights and the silhouettes of the listeners. I breathe deep and come into the part where I go crazy and scream about crushing my enemies. I let that hang for a bit. A moment’s silence on stage is a long time. The lizard part of my brain is screaming at me to start making noise again and I’m aware of my sore right knee.

But I’m relaxing now as the words roll on, all those hours of training and rehearsing with my wife paying off. My brain begins to chill out and I remember to enjoy myself because it’s almost over. When I get to the last bit I have all the confidence to pause, mock-stumble over words and even laugh good naturedly at whatever I just said.

And it’s over. I’m coming off stage, people are clapping, telling me I did well. My wife kisses me and I sit down and listen to the next poet through a fog of adrenaline and relief.

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