Saturday, September 8, 2007

Open Mike Readings?

Last night my girlfriend went out with some of her pals, leaving me on my lonesome, so I figured I'd try to check out an open mike in the area, maybe even take a turn on the stage. Up to this point, I've avoided reading my own work out loud. I've always thought that reading aloud would put me between my words and the recipient, dilute the intimacy of a reader and a text by adding a middleman. One of the reasons I like writing as a means of expression is that it offers the chance for a message to be delivered without a messenger. (It's true that a lot of writers focus on developing a 'voice' in hopes of making their work reflect their identities, hoping their words will reveal them, but writing offers a chance to create work that minimizes the presence of the worker's ego in a way that performance art can't, which is one of the main reasons I'm drawn to it. To offer a contrasting example: it's hard to see a character in a play without seeing the actor, and only the most talented actors can erase themselves onstage.)

Plus I get nervous. I can stand in front of people and say all kinds of stupid shit, and not feel too embarassed, but reading my writing, which I've worked hard on and which means a lot to me, exposes vulnerabilities that don't otherwise exist. And I reason that getting nervous affects performance, and performance matters when you're reading something aloud, though it isn't a factor when someone is reading your work to themselves.

But whatever. I'm trying to come out of my dark little cave, and get involved with some sort of community of writers, and it seems like refusing to read makes finding a community harder to do. Plus the fact that reading makes me nervous seems like a reason to read in itself; a chance to slay one more of my dragons.

So I searched through the local weekly, and saw that Cafe International, in the Lower Haight, has an open mike every Friday night. "Authors are invited to read from their work at this regular open-mike event," the posting says.

I take the train down there, and walk into the cafe while some lady's up on stage playing guitar and singing. She sounds a bit like Cat Power--not quite as good but not too bad either. She plays two songs and steps down, and then another person gets up there with a guitar. Two more songs and then another guitarist. I look around me and notice that there are a lot of people with guitars in the cafe. They seem to sit and murmer to their friends, or read--basically ignore the performer--until the song's done. Then they clap.

Finally a poet gets up. She's a middle-aged white lady with dreads, and she reads a rhyming poem about the recent murders in the Western Addition community. The poem uses a lot of slang, references to "our people be dying" and stuff like that. It goes on for ten minutes, and I'm impressed that she recites without using notes, and I'm impressed that she keeps her passion going throughout the performance. But it really isn't my kind of thing.

She gets off stage... and another guitarist steps up.

All in all I was there for an hour and a half, nursing a beer. During that time I must have seen 14 musicians/singer-songwriters, and one poet. Some of the stuff sounded pretty good, but it wasn't what I was looking for.

Anyone know of an open-mike in San Francisco that focuses on writing?

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