My trip to a literary event…

Brace yourself; this is a little long.

Yesterday evening, I planned on going to a poetry and fiction reading at the Museum of Art at seven. I already had plans for the night with my friend Molly, so I asked her if she wanted to join me. She is in a different creative writing section, and her GSI had told the class they should attend this event if they could make it – so, it worked out perfectly… Almost.

Living on north campus, I don’t have the luxury of hopping out of bed ten minutes before class and walking there. Whenever I want to go somewhere, I have to leave almost a half hour early – any freshmen on north, I know you share my pain. Because I had plans later that night, I wanted to shower and get my stuff ready so I could bring it with me to the literary event and just go to Molly’s from there. I ended up running late and, of course, had to wait around ten minutes for a bus at the Bursley stop (in the freezing cold).

By the time I got to central campus and was walking through the diag, it was about seven-thirty or so. I called Molly to let her know I was almost there, but she wasn’t answering. I ended up going into the Museum of Art by myself, and what I thought was the literary event was still going on right where I walked in. Then I noticed I was the only white person there, which was pretty odd, and I didn’t know if I was in the right place. The performers were reciting poetry though, so I sat down eventually.

I had never been to an event like this before – hearing poetry aloud is completely different from reading it on a page, and watching it be performed live is a whole different experience than watching a YouTube video. These writers presented their works in such a rhythmic way, causing the audience to notice those carefully placed rhymes that aren’t necessarily at the end of a line. The poems all flowed really well, and the emotion in the speakers’ voices made them so much more powerful. Also, when a particular part of a piece would get really intense or emotional, the audience would repeatedly snap, rather than clap, during the performance, which added to the build up. Hearing and seeing these poets recite their poems made me realize how much a poem can change when it’s read the way the author intends it to be read.

Towards the end, after all the planned performers had finished, walk-ons were able to recite their work as well. This one girl – I don’t remember her name – volunteered to go. She was a short, tomboyish white girl with short hair and skinny jeans, and she got on the stage kind of nervously, paper in hand. When she started her poem, I was almost embarrassed for her, because the audience seemed to find it amusing. She started off with, “He was just a guy.” I thought, Oh great, she’s reading a poem about a crush when everyone else has been talking about shootings, proving disappointed mothers wrong, and the emotional scars of a breakup. She continued, describing his appearance and his habits – “He had a goatee,” “he took his shoes off at the front door,” and “he was tall” – because “he was just a guy.”

Then, as the poem continued, we started to pick up that something was off about this guy. He took her to his house and they watched Boondock Saints. He put his arm around her halfway through the movie, and he tried to kiss her; she wanted to leave. He corners her in the kitchen and tries to kiss her again; then he takes her to his room, where “his bed was made.” She then tells us, “he was just a guy” and she “was just a girl.” He pinned her down, since “he was tall” with little effort. She didn’t use any gruesome descriptions; she simply said she “remembered two moments.” The first was when she “thought she still had a choice,” and the second was when she “realized [she] didn’t” – and after that, it was all a blur, all “the same.” She went on, mentioning putting her pants and shoes back on. She also mentioned that “his bed didn’t stay made.” All the while, she repeated that “he was just a guy.”

In reciting this, she started out very timid and casual, but as the poem went on, she was shouting, and her voice was full of emotion. When she finished, the audience went nuts with their applause. I had tears brimming in my eyes. She had actually evoked that much emotion in me to make me tear up – and let me tell you, I do not cry easily. Her lack of description of the actual rape, the way the poem built up to the unexpected, and her repetition of “he was just a guy” made her poem very effective. While, she wasn’t as rhythmic or fluid as the other performers, her presentation was emotionally powerful. As she read it, I felt like I was “just a girl” and that it was happening to me.

A couple more poets recited their work after her, a couple reading from their cell phones or a piece of paper like she had. What amazed me, though, is that most of them were not reading from anything. They had these long poems memorized completely, and they performed them perfectly. I thought that made it even more impressive. Still, the girl’s poem about being “just a girl” who met “just a guy” was my favorite by far.

Then, as the event was starting to wind down, Molly called me. I went out to the entryway to talk to her. I had been texting her the whole time with no response, and I had called her when I got to central campus, but she didn’t answer. On the phone, I said I was in the entryway, and she said she was in the entryway. When we eventually found each other, we discovered we had been at different events completely, and she hadn’t had signal in the auditorium. She had gone to the poetry and fiction recitation, while I had mistakenly attended “Tribute to Dr. MLK Jr.: Bringing the Dream to Life.” Apparently it was hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. – Epsilon Chapter and the U-Club Poetry Slam and sponsored by Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs.

Molly had arrived before me, and they noticed she was out of place, asking her if she was there for the creative writing event and pointing her in the correct direction. I, too, felt very out of place when I first got there but was intrigued nonetheless. While I missed the literary event I intended to go to, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the one I watched instead. Needless to say, I had quite an interesting night.

– Rachel.

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2 responses to “My trip to a literary event…

  1. Nicely written narrative, Rachel. In some ways, I bet the poetry slam event was even more useful to you as a writer. Missing Molly may have been a blessing in disguise. God bless the late bus. Anyway, it might be interesting to attend some more “traditional” readings this semester, but these kinds of performance events can really remind you about the power of language. Slam on.

    You documented your experience very effectively here, and that bodes well for your upcoming creative nonfiction essay. Strong narrative instincts. Your initial reaction to the “he was just a guy” poem reflects the advice I’ve been giving you about disrupting your readers’ expectations. It seems that by the time you got to the end of that poem, you were nowhere near the place where you’d begun. The movement — emotional, thematic, or whatever — makes all the difference.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

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