The audience’s eyes were no longer on drinks, friends or the beautiful city as I walked on stage. I tried to speak, but my nervousness made my throat feel closed. I was completely silent.
My nerves were getting the best of me, I needed to pull myself together. I took a deep breath, and introduced myself. I said my name and who I was dressed up as, then started reading my poem.
There was no conversation during my performance. All I could hear was ringing in my ears, and it didn’t stop until the crowd erupted in screams when I walked off stage.
That performance was my first since joining the Babel Poetry Collective in September 2021, a poetry group featuring artists enrolled at Temple University. Despite my nerves, it taught me how to handle pressure from the crowd and remain calm while performing.
I had written poetry for two years before joining the group. It started as a stress reliever but after a couple months, it turned into a passion. I attended an interest meeting and auditioned to join earlier this fall, and I was soon accepted and welcomed with open arms.
My first performance took place at an apartment building off campus a week before Halloween, where Babel hosted an open mic for its performers and artists throughout the city. Each performer wore a Halloween costume, and I chose to dress up as former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens. He was a dominant athlete on the field, and I wanted to have the same reputation when I performed.
I questioned everything about my performance up to my arrival. A few hours before the show, my anxiety started when I stared at my outfit, scrutinizing my pads, jersey and cleats.
Would my cleats make me slip? Should I grab a helmet to add to its authenticity? How would I get my pads on? Maybe my costume would be too distracting for people, and they wouldn’t focus on my poem.
My fingers would not stop fidgeting and my hands quickly became sweaty. I tried to ignore it. I needed to put my hands in my pockets to prevent anyone from seeing them.
The next 30 minutes backstage helped calm my nerves before my performance. Instead of thinking about what could happen in the next hour, we admired each other’s costumes.
But my anxiety returned when the audience sat down and the lights turned on. Minutes later, our host called my name.
As I walked off stage after my performance, I felt amazed by how far I had come. Two years ago, I started poetry as a hobby. I never thought I’d have the confidence to perform, but now my poetry was something I could share with others.
This achievement meant a lot to me. After my performance, I realized I overthink everything. That night alone I was fixated on the idea of messing up or if people would like my poem.
My poem was titled “Days before Halloween.” It was fictional, describing a person who hunted murderers, and was my first story that was completely my own.
I always thought I had to model my performance off of others, but in the end, the audience wants the same thing I want: to see me as me.