Advice from an Infrequent Reader

This Friday, the Writer’s Center in Bethesda hosted an Open Mic Night for members and nonmembers. The reading drew a crowd of about twenty five people, most of them readers, a few were supporters: all were supportive, well almost.

Many of the readers were members, some were avid readers, some had not read in years and for some, tonight was their first reading. There was a pleasant sense of camaraderie and a surprising hint of animosity.

First, the camaraderie: All readings have etiquette.
1. Food and drinks were to be secured before the reading, during breaks, but not during changes in readers.
2. Cell phones were to be turned off.
3. People who did not adhere to item number 2 were to be immediately shamed by the turning of heads of all who had conformed and the silence of the reader. The ending of the shaming coincides with the reader’s continuation of the reading and the silencing of the phone.
4. No laughing during anyone’s reading, unless the writer waits awkwardly for said laughter or unless the line, word, look, tone, is supposed to be funny. Because I lack poetry skills, my cues are off. I did not laugh.
5. Relax
6. Enjoy yourself
7. Project your voice
8. Make eye contact (which is different from allowing your eyes to roam freely and I dare say creepily around the room)
9. Introduce yourself, these people don’t know you and even if they do—introduce yourself.
10. Please, do not introduce the piece. If it is important for listeners to know the piece is about your ex-boyfriend who deserted you on 695, dooming you to walk where no pedestrian should, as you learned the difference between the inner and outer loop: write about it (please). But, please do not tell readers this and then read a piece to which this knowledge is relevant or not relevant. If it belongs in the piece, put it in the piece.
11. When you like something about a piece, let the writer know. Encouragement is appreciated.
12. Please read your own writing.

Now to the animosity: I was surprised when a fellow reader approached my supporter and I to ask if we had come expecting to learn “to speak alien.”
“It wasn’t on the website,” I diplomatically replied.
I was equally surprised to learn he was not referring to his own poem.
“I could just kill him,” he said, slicked-back hair slicking.
“You’d have to write about it,” I joked, not certain he was joking.
“I wouldn’t really kill him,” he said, finally.

If only I were reassured.

Open Mic Night at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda offers a largely inviting atmosphere to listen to writers in various stages of their craft. The welcoming vibe, all-inclusive turn out, the support of fellow writers, the promise of snacks, and the free cost to participate, makes this venue a nice place to practice thesis readings while appreciating the community of writers wherever you find it.


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