A few weeks ago I posted here about my fears of reading in public. With some of my poems shortlisted for competitions or appearing in literary magazines I have been finding myself in front of a microphone more often and I wasn’t enjoying it. I hated it. The first time I did a poetry slam it was a traumatic experience and I actually worried that I might not be able to make the journey up to the stage.
Well, here’s an update. A friend of mine, David Pullen, who works with executives on communication skills read that post and contacted me. David said he thought he might be able to help reduce my fear and generously offered to travel up from Sussex to visit me.
A week later we were sitting in the summer house where I do my writing. First David interviewed me about three examples of reading my work when I had experienced extreme fear. He also asked about a place where I felt deeply relaxed. I described the path through the tramontana-swept pines behind the beach in Catalonia, near where we have a holiday apartment.
Next David took me through a sort of hypnotic journey. After helping me to relax and counting backwards slowly he asked me to walk in my mind along the path through those pines until I happened upon a television. David had me watch videos of my previous terrifying experiences of reading my work in public. I had to watch the videos both forwards and backwards and I remember finding it faintly odd, but I tried to give myself up to the suggestions he was making. It helped that David has an open, trustworthy manner and as a former actor he also has a soothingly pleasant voice. When he brought me out of the trance I was surprised to find that there was nothing else to be done. His hope was that this would reduce my fear in the future.
Since then I have done several readings. I was eager to test whether this strange hypnotic journey would make any difference so I signed up for the open mic session “Poetry Unplugged” run by the wonderful Niall O’Sullivan at The Poetry Café in Betterton Street. They get a good crowd there and I had to wait for about twenty poets to read before I got my chance at the microphone. Amazingly, I was much less nervous than I would previously have been. In fact I spent most of the time trying to calculate how nervous I was – in an interested sort of way. In the last few weeks I have also taken part in the open mic session at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, with minimal nerves and have recited one of my poems at a friend’s fiftieth birthday concert. In the last case I was the only poet to read a poem, and that would have been the most terrifying of all. Thanks to David’s treatment I actually felt confident enough to recite the poem from memory. Previously the prospect of reading my work in that type of gathering would have ruined my whole evening and I would have looked for opportunities to cry off. As it was, I felt honoured and enjoyed the chance to gain an audience for the poem and to discuss it with people during the birthday dinner.
A massive thank you to David Pullen.