Guerilla Poetry

I was on the phone with a local poet and had goose bumps as he described to me the old guerrilla poetry events he hosted in days past. In obedience to my awe and sense of excitement, I decided I would have to do something in that vein – and soon. First Friday seemed like a good coming-out party.

The spontaneity of doing poetry readings with little official planning was fascinating and actually felt rather natural, despite the erratic nature of my own creative process.

As a writer of prose and poetry, sometimes I wake up with a line in my head and, without trepidation, fumble over to my laptop and let the piece tumble from my brain. Or sometimes I end up stumbling through the foliage of Facebook, ending up with awkward dissonance instead.

Creativity is a dance that steps all over the toes of life and routine, and a guerilla poetry reading does that rhythm justice.

Speaking of stepping over toes: My own first poetry reading, which seems ages ago, happened last May and resulted in a confrontation with an audience member, making old ladies flush, and an emotional explosion during a poem – to the chagrin of my then-defensive audience.

In hindsight, I realize my own discomfort with the perceived formality of an “open” mic and the pressure involved with it came from me: I was overcompensating for my fears of rejection by trying my best to aggressively confront my audience in order to protect my fragile insecurities.

I realize that my own discomfort with the perceived formality of a poetry reading, and the corresponding pressure involved with it, resulted in an attempt to protect said fragile insecurities by aggressively confronting the audience.

That said, I was entranced by the idea of guerilla art as a means to undercut the formality of a poetry reading, and help facilitate an environment for creative surprise, where one can see where the sparks flew or whose cheeks blushed.

The night of the reading I was vibrating with excitement and felt proud that I was going to be sharing my poetry while also creating a friendly space for people to read their own.

Out of the 190 people I invited to the event, only five agreed to go; thankfully I collided with some close friends that night on Roosevelt Row and was able to drag them along to Jobot Coffee Shop, the reading’s venue, which was buzzing with guests ordering crepes and complaining about the bathroom being closed for the night.

We decided to read in Jobot’s back room, where the noise was softer, and set up a rickety green crate in the corner to imitate a stage (and secretly make people conscious of their weight).

I decided to do the reading a little early because some of my friends were leaving for a comedy show.

The reading was relatively intimate, which was pleasant because I enjoy sharing with my friends; but they'd heard most of the poems, so I’m sure it wasn’t so enthralling on their end.

After doing a quick set I took a break and waited around a bit before getting anxious and deciding in my head, out of the nascent fear of rejection, that I should cancel the next set and head over to FilmBar and dance the rest of the night away with drunk hipsters – the definition of poetic.

After arriving at FilmBar I noticed it was filled with people lining the fringes of the room – they were hipsters, so if I was going to dance it would have to be solo, and I had left my courage on the crate at Jobot.

Reluctantly I mustered up the courage to ride my bike back to Jobot to see if anyone else I knew was there, and to my surprise a close friend was, and seeing him immediately quieted my anxieties.

After reentering Jobot I recognized a patron of mine who always enthusiastically endorses my work, and seeing his corresponding exuberance at my announcement to perform, I quickly told some guests in line that I was performing in the next couple of minutes and that they should come, hoping that I looked more like a poet than a con-man.

For a reason beyond my ability to comprehend, the invited guests actually did walk curiously into the back area. We began the performance, which ended up being a much livelier showing on my part. But the surprising aspect of the night was when two audience members asked to share for their first time.

Without hesitation I jumped off the crate, tired from reading almost 13 poems and performing a slur of awkward jokes in between, to let the virgins commence.

Both poets read their poems nervously but with a sense of respect and reverence that was much appreciated and acknowledged by the attentive audience.

Seeing them break smoothly into poetry with grace and honor was moving, because after my initial attempt at reading poetry, I felt that I would never do it again.

 

Reach the reporter at dgburns@asu.edu


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