Tonight, with no voice, I was courageous enough to attend open mic at a local writer’s group. I entered the room late and was immediately taken by the fact that I was one of only two women; the other was not there to read. There were over 20 men in total. It took me awhile to survey the climate of the room. I had chosen three pieces (2 poetry, 1 prose) which I was not sure were appropriate for this venue. So, I listened for a bit to make that assessment. As one man after the next read his piece I was taken by the variety of personalities. Some looked as if perhaps they never slept for fear they would lose the crease in their trousers while others sang their pieces with ukelele accompaniment.
It was mostly poetry with an angry bent. Passion. Lost love. Highly sexual overtone. Sometimes delivered with humor like the poem about a prom date stalking her ex at a 40th reunion; sometimes with seriousness masked in mythology, fire and brimstone. One bit of prose was a painful recounting of one night in a brothel in Vegas which is something that I hoped to never experience but now have. In intimate detail. Ever present was the topic of lust and physical conquest. The room was full of nodding and grunts of understanding and sometimes full on belly laughs about fellatio and intercourse. Curious, I thought. But I stayed present and I listened. I did not judge the author or the experience. Some of the work I appreciated more than the rest and, with just a few exceptions, the work was of good quality. I decided that I should proceed with the pieces I selected in advance as well.
My first was a poem entitled “Silenced City” about my experience leaving an abusive relationship. The second was a poem about inviting Insecurity to tea and the battle that ensued. The last, however, was the most controversial and the most difficult to read – particularly to a room full of men who just expressed their personal attitudes toward sex so fully. It is one segment from the memoir I am writing about the few hours after my rape when I decided to lie in bed with my rapist until the sun came up and it was “safe” enough to walk home. Through the course of that piece the audience stopped moving. About 2/3 of the way through, the audience stopped breathing. By the time I finished the room felt heavy and uncomfortable ~ just as it should. My writing is beautiful and awful at the same time. But most of all it is effective. Their reaction told me so.
I was met with mostly silence as I made my way back to my chair. What happened next is the most curious of all in my mind. The man in front of me loudly asked someone to please read something with a “happy ending” and the men broke into applause and laughter as if to chase my words from the room. The man next to me, while able to read about signing a credit card slip for ten more minutes of sex while keeping his arousal alive and well, could no longer make eye contact with me at all as if I had offended him. Sex and detachment and belittlement are all welcome here. But responsibility is not.
Tonight, with no voice, I read anyway. And whether they care to admit it or not they heard me. There is no denying that.