The Open Mic Night

I’ve been feeling more than a little low the last few days for a variety of reasons. Mainly, though, I think its the lack of adult interaction. There is, after all, only so many times you can jump on the trampoline or watch ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ before you find yourself staring off into the middle distance, asking painfully adolescent questions like, ‘What does it all mean?’ and, ‘Why am I here?’ and if you’re not careful, if you don’t nip it in the bud quick smart, you’ll wake up in the middle of a full-blown existential crisis, going to bed in the same clothes you spent the day in, not bothering to wash, let alone brush your hair or cut your nails and convincing yourself that you may as well build a little stick hut, grow a beard, learn to talk to animals and live out your days as a hermit, because, really, what’s the point anyway? What has modern life ever offered us apart from bad animated movies? (I have it on good authority that the Bondi caveman was looking after children before he decided to pack it all in and live on the cliffs of the Bondi to Bronte walk)
The truth is, though, that modern life has many things to offer. Like the internet. Where you can find a website called the ‘People’s Republic of Cork’ (, which gives you listings of all the things happening in Cork on any particular day. The other thing modern life offers is the open mic night.
Yesterday, feeling fairly miserable, I decided to search said website for something to do. I could have, of course, just popped down the pub in Bandon, but I tried that on Saturday night in Castletownshend, and it didn’t work out so well. Well, it was fine for a while. I had a few pints of cider, read my book at the bar and talked to the very attractive Turkish bartender, who was terribly fascinating, particularly when I haven’t spoken to any boys over the age of 4 or under the age of 48 for a while. However, after a few pints, and wanting desperately to ingratiate yourself with the locals, you find yourself laughing and nodding along with whatever is happening around you, in the hope that someone will talk to you. You usually look a little bonkers, especially when no-one picks up on the hints and you’re just sitting next to a group of people smiling and nodding and being ignored. In the worst case scenario, you can’t actually understand what is being said, but you nod and smile anyway, and then, suddenly, someone turns to you, to share a joke, your ear tunes in to the drunken, West Cork accent, and you realise, that, horror of horrors, the people you have been trying to make friends with are making racial slurs about the black boxer currently on the TV and you have to try and back away, awkwardly disengaging from the conversation which up until this point you had seemingly been enjoying. Or is that just me?
So, I was on the search for a group of people that I might have more in common with. And, I thought I found it in the Open Mic Night being held at the Slate Bar, for singer/songwriters, musicians and poets. On a mad, mad whim, I decided to take along two poems I had written at the start of the year and perform them at the open mic night. One was very serious and sentimental, all assonance and alliteration and free verse, the other was very very very silly, with a strict rhythm and rhyme. So, no connection whatsoever, except for the fact that I wrote them.
I took the opportunity to get out of my ugg boots, wash my hair and put on some make-up. I swear I will never rail against make-up companies again (well, lets be honest, I will, but…) as there is nothing like the feeling of getting dressed up because you have somewhere to go. There is nothing like the feeling of seeing your plain, drab face turn into something pretty and sparkly and pleasant. No sitting on the couch eating banana bread for me. I was off to meet people! To make friends! To humiliate myself in front of a room full of strangers!
Walking into the bar, I started to panic, as I noticed some very effortlessly cool people in flat shoes, dreadlocks and no make-up walking in behind me. Oh, crap, I thought. I’ve completely misread this place, and I’m going to look like a fool, with all my necklaces and high heels and shimmery eyeshadow. They’re all going to be sitting around, gently strumming their guitars, drinking beer, being carefree and my sentimental poem is going to look self-indulgent and my funny poem is going to seem neurotic and over the top. Oh god, oh god, oh god. I think, well, I’ll just see how the night goes, and if its the wrong vibe for the poems, then I’ll just listen to the music. When I get into the pub, I see that the only people who are inside are there for the open mic night. There’ll be no hiding in the corner for me, unfortunately. I head straight to the toilet to plot my next move.
Cider. Obviously it has to be cider. I go back out to the bar and buy a pint.
A couple of sips and I think, screw it, and head over to the MC, tell him I’m a poet and would like to perform tonight. He’s friendly and enthusiastic. My fate sealed, I go and sit back down again to drink as much of my cider as I can before heading up to the microphone.
The first act gets up. Its a middle-aged man with a guitar. I think, ‘great, they’re not all cool.’ Then he starts to sing a song about God and I start to panic again. Have I totally misread the place? Are they all Christians? Are they going to get offended at all the swearing in my poem? I’m suddenly feeling very religious and hoping that what this man is singing (God’s love and grace surrounds us every day) is true.
The MC comes over to me again and we have a bit of a chat, he asks me when in the program I’d like to get up. I tell him whenever is fine. I’m going on 3rd after a young Irish man who is about to release his first CD. He’s very good. Crap.
My one comfort has been that everyone seems to keep talking through the music. That won’t help the poetry, but at least I can be comforted that ‘all eyes won’t be on me’, so to speak (anyone would wonder why I decided to become an actor…). However, as soon as I stand up and talk into the microphone, the room goes quiet. Everyone’s faces are turned to the stage. Is it my accent? Do I have something on my face? This is weird. Is it literally just because I’m reading a poem and people don’t know how to react? I feel like stopping and saying, ‘No, really, its fine, go about your normal lives, don’t let me interrupt you, don’t feel you need to listen or anything.’ Standing up there alone, being able to see every single face in the room is a terribly intimidating feeling. That’s why I like stage lights – you can’t see a single face in the audience. And also, while we’re on the subject, who decided musicians were allowed to close their eyes when they were performing? How is that fair? You don’t have to look at anyone and you look cool and totally into the music. But you’re not into the music, are you? You’re just shit-scared and trying to hide it.
Anyway, to end a long story, I did the poems. Everyone listened. I didn’t fall flat on my face. People came up to me afterwards and told me how much they had enjoyed them (particularly the last one – the funny one). A lovely Frenchwoman came and told me in broken English that she was very lucky to have come on the night when I performed, as it was very ‘different’ and ‘unexpected’ (I love compliments from people who don’t speak fluent English, they always come across more bluntly, because the intonation they use on the words is different – you get a totally different impression of what was trying to be said). The MC in particular was very friendly, he gave me a free CD of his own music (nice gesture, or can he not get rid of his CD’s? I haven’t played it yet – I’ll let you know) and told me about a poetry specific open mic night on a Monday at a place called ‘The Long Valley’ in Cork (nice gesture or was he trying to get me away from his open mic night because I was so crap?) Anyway, that’s where I’m going on Monday. I’m also going out tonight to my course in Cork, I’m going to Kinsale tomorrow to work with my director, I’ve decided to go see a trad. session in Clonakilty on Saturday and a singing session in the same place on Sunday. I’ve been so busy, I hadn’t noticed that I haven’t actually made any friends yet. I’ve got lots of nice people around me, and I see them when I’m doing various activities, but no one that I would feel comfortable calling up and saying, ‘hey, lets go for a pint.’ I am on a mission to rectify this, hence all my hanging out in pubs. Still, I think I need a better opener for conversation than just smiling and nodding – it hasn’t seemed to work yet.

Oh… and, in case you’re interested (because this post isn’t long enough), here is the poem I read out that went down well…

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Most unfair it seems to me,
That I should love, and yet not he.
I smile and laugh, I bite my tongue,
Pretending that I am not won.
I do whatever (I even rhyme),
To get the bastard off my mind.
I toss my hair, I prick my thumb,
I kill the butterflies in my tum,
I sit myself down seriously,
Talk one-on-one, just her to me:
‘You can’t love him, I won’t believe,
Its him that makes you tear your sleeve,
And scratch your nails and pull your hair,
Knit your brow and curse and swear.
Yes, he speaks French, what’s that to you?
So do loads of Frenchmen too.
And though he has one LL.M,
I’ve met some men who have got 10.
He wrote a book, it won a prize,
Which means we know he’s good at lies,
Tall tales, short fiction and excuses,
These things stir his creative juices.
So, I can’t accept, its just not true,
You think that he’s the one for you,
Even if it takes all night,
We’ll cure you of this sappy trite.’
But still I cry and weep and wail,
Because I know she’s doomed to fail,
You see, the pattern’s known to me,
The outcome’s clear as clear can be.
First, I’ll get all good and mad,
I’ll list each thing you do that’s bad.
To make certain that the feeling’s licked,
I’ll call you names, like dick and prick.
I’ll spend one whole day cursing you,
And then when finally that’s all through,
Another I’ll spend wishing for,
You to get herpes from a whore.
If that doesn’t work, again I’ll try,
And hope that you just fucking die.
After three sad days, I’ll finally cave,
And wish to God that he might save
You from the curses I have uttered,
And, further, make sure your toast is buttered.
To add insult to injury,
When you call, I’ll say, ‘I’m free!
Yes, let’s meet up, and chat and kiss,
(I’m woozy at the thought of this)’
I’ll be joyful, you’ll be polite,
We agree to meet somewhere some night.
You’ll say, ‘That’s great, I’m sure I’m free,
I’m sure as sure as sure can be,
What time? Oh, don’t know ‘bout that,
I think I’ll have to call you back.’
And so I wait, an hour or more,
I rearrange my whole sock drawer.
And when two hours turns into five,
I wonder if you’re still alive.
I send a message, just to be sure,
I joke late calls are ‘breaking the law’.
No reply. Well, that is that.
I start to think its ‘cause I’m fat.
Is that so weird? I’m sure its not.
I’d get a call, if I was hot.
Or maybe I’m not smart enough?
Or my skin is hard and tough?
Its my laugh, I know, its irritating,
Loud and coarse and emotionally draining.
I don’t like onions, its sadly true,
But, really, does it mean so much to you?
They’re only onions and I don’t hate
Babies, sunshine or birthday cake.
Once, I said ‘Turkmenistan’
When clearly I meant ‘Pakistan’,
But is that really your sole reason
For all this tacky telephone teasin’?
If only I were more like her,
Or her, or her, or her, or her, or her,
They’re all so calm and so collected,
I’m sure they’ve never been rejected.
If only I was who I’m not,
I wouldn’t be in this tight spot,
I’d laugh and sing and dance ‘til dawn,
And never would you see me mourn,
Over cads or lads or boys or men,
In fact, I’d have so many of them,
That you would find, it would be me,
To whom the boys would yell, ‘I’m free!’
And they’d be anxiously ironing trousers,
Quietly praying I’d ring their houses.
Then, I’m sure, my stupid love,
Would be as gentle as a dove,
He’d buy me roses, he’d keep dates,
He’d say ‘sorry’ when he made mistakes.
But most of all, he’d feel great pride,
That he was standing at my side,
And finally, he would come to see
The enormous privilege it is to be,
Loved and held in high esteem,
Fawned and doted upon by me.

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