At the Open Mic

Especially for a poet or writer reading at an open mic for the first time

After signing up and announcing your intention
to speak and to be heard, don’t worry–
these are merely the mechanics of the thing:
the kettle drumbeat of your heart,
the walk up to microphone or podium, negotiating
steps and other hurdles, fiddling with the mic,
adjusting it to an appropriate height. The mic is your friend:
it isn’t there to defeat you. If the mic isn’t working,
this is merely a signal for you to raise your voice and project.
Concentrate on your material, and insist on being heard.

Poet, when you step to the mic for the first time,
you are reigniting something ancient and new.
If you have trusted yourself in your writing,
trust your words and trust your voice.

If you are excavating down and then down further–
through layers and layers of memories and experiences,
and sifting through, weighing, and cataloging artifacts,
trying to get at the heart of things, at the heart of what
it is you want to say and share, trust yourself. If you
are being honest with yourself, trust your voice.

Poet, don’t worry–
these are merely the old fears rising:
fear of forgetting lines you have committed to memory.
Fear of the audience, fear of being heckled.
Fear of being found unworthy.
Lay these fears aside. Trust the audience.
The audience wants to hear you. You are worthy.
You are worthy.

Experienced readers suffer jabs from shards of doubt and fear.
You wonder: am I good enough? Yes.
You wonder: is what I am trying to say important? Yes.

Poet, when you step to the mic for the first time,
you are reigniting something ancient and new.
Poet, your listeners are waiting. When you step to the mic
you are carrying fire. Now, speak–
and relight the world anew.

Andrew Shattuck McBride
April 10, 2011


I wrote this for the (new) poets at poetrynight, and I did so–in April 2011.

It is certainly true for readers of poetry, essays, short stories, novel excerpts, lyric essays, haiku or other Japanese-style short form poetry–just about anything–at any open mic.

Now, back to your writing!

Blessings, Andy

About Andrew Shattuck McBride

I am a writer, editor, writing coach, and consultant. I work in a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction. I also have a couple of novels simmering on back burners. THANK YOU to Nan Macy of Village Books for taking this photo (June 2011).
This entry was posted in Andrew Shattuck McBride Writer, Authors, Notes on the Literary Life, Samples and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to At the Open Mic

  1. I think I’m going to need to memorize this one.

    You’re so right: sharing our poems is not about the poet; it’s about the fire.

    Thank you, Andy, for this timely wisdom, beautifully conveyed.

    • Thank you Jennifer. “it’s about the fire”–so well said.
      I find it amazing that I wrote this rapidly in a few drafts in early April 2011 and that I was already thinking of “excavating” and “artifacts.” Talk about “museum” poems!
      You are most welcome.
      Blessings to you and yours, Andy

      • Sounds like you were “carrying fire” as you were writing this poem! Thanks so much for the “reigniting” you’re doing by sharing it here.

        I’d love to read more from you, at some point, as to what cosmology you subscribe to, such that poets have a role in “relight[ing] the world anew.” (This is something I believe to be true, but haven’t been able to articulate why.)

  2. Thank you Jennifer.

    Carrying fire, perhaps. In April 2011 (nearly a year and a half ago!), I was moved by watching new poets of all ages step to the poetrynight open mic (and new writers of all ages step to the Village Books open mic or the CSWT open mic) for the first time. I wanted to write a tribute to them and to all who would follow them.

    Absolutely. Cosmology? Well, it’s figurative: relighting the world and reigniting change to make things better for all humans and all creatures here on earth. I think we all have a role in relighting/reigniting change around the world. Change is occurring everywhere; where there is change occurring for the better, I would venture to say that poets are leaders and/or participants.

    Two examples: one historic, and one contemporary. Václav Havel (died 2011) was a poet and dissident in Czechoslovakia before he became a politician and the leader of his country (Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic). In Mexico, poet Javier Sicilia’s son was murdered by a drug cartel, and Sicilia rallied the Mexican People to march and call for an end to the drug war in their country. The drug war has resulted in more than 50,000 deaths in Mexico since 2006.

    The poet observes and thinks as a way of life, and commits her observations and thoughts to paper and keyboard, draws a net over them, comments, evaluates, and brings truths to her audience. The poet–as a close observer–can be hyper-aware of injustices and wrongs and is called to respond. The poet insists that we can do better; the poet calls us to be better.

    Blessings, Andy

    • Wow–thanks for this explanation, Andy. What a marvelous little essay! Would you consider giving its own post, perhaps expanded a bit, to share this meditation a little more widely?

      It’s wonderful to see how your mind works and how you view the larger functions of poetry. You’re a fine ambassador for the art form.

      • Jennifer, you are very kind–thank you.
        I appreciate your suggestion. OK, I’ll explore writing a blog post along these lines. I may be in hot water and out of my depth. (Oops, would that be overuse of water imagery?)
        In any case, I’ll need A LOT of COFFEE!
        Sincerely, and blessings, Andy

  3. Pingback: At the open mic | Andrew S. McBride ~ Book and Writers' Coach

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