It’s no great secret that poets like having an audience. I remember once hearing at an open mic night that “poets live on alcohol and applause”. It’s a little flippant, but not entirely inaccurate. At least, it is for me. There’s a part of my soul that thrives on attention. It’s why I perform and, if I’m being brutally honest with myself, it’s not an insignificant part of why I write. I want an audience. I want people to look at my work and “Yes this is good art” or “This really speaks to me” or “Wow let’s give you lots of money to make more of this. Also a house. And a cat” (the latter hasn’t happened
yet, but I hold out hope).
I love the events I attend, I love my blog, I love my Twitter and my Facebook and my Patreon. Every time someone tells me they enjoyed my work, or clicks on a like button, when I get notified of a new patron, it’s a little magical. That these people, these real living people with lives and hobbies and limited time on earth want to spend some of that with my work seems almost too amazing to be true. But envy is a tricky thing. I envy the writers with thousands of Facebook followers, the ones giving guest lectures and appearing on TV. I see them and I want what they have. Measured against someone like Melissa Lozada-Oliva or Rudy Francisco or, of course, Rupi Kaur, I feel less like a small
fish in a big pond than an amoeba in an ocean. Compared to viral videos on Button Poetry and sell out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, the quiet constant support I get from loved ones, the slightly over-excited conversations in the back rooms of pubs, can often feel inadequate. It can feel exceedingly similar to being ignored. And that silence, when blog posts go unnoticed and YouTube videos unseen, is too often overwhelming. More than once I’ve had to actively stop myself from deleting my Twitter, Patreon, or poetry Dropbox because I’ve felt like I’m screaming into the void.
Perhaps one day I’ll have the kind of audience I want, the kind where total strangers message me to tell me how they found some kind of joy or solace in what I create, but I’m not there yet. I don’t have the time, energy or skills to build the kind of reach part of me craves. But what I do have is the knowledge that 8 year old Maz memorised poetry because it is beautiful, that 14 year old Maz made sense of her adolescence by scribbling in a notebook, that the first open mic 19 year old Maz attended felt like coming home. An audience is nice, but it isn’t why I started writing. I have words humming under my skin that are dying to get out. There are characters and places and stories I can only tell using almost excessive amounts of metaphor. There’s the way a new poem tastes when I can tell it is going to be beautiful. There’s the incredible high of committing something new to memory and having it bounce around my head for weeks.
In poetry I have found a diverse and welcoming community. I’ve been to nights that go from horror to anarchist manifesto, from confessional to fantasy epic. Within the wonderful creative spaces I am blessed enough to inhabit, I go beyond writing for my own ego or satisfaction; I add to a conversation. Every night I go to, every book I read, I am taught something new and it makes me a better poet. No, I don’t have adoring fans, but I have more peers, comrades and teachers than I thought possible. It is tempting to make all my poetry goals about reaching a bigger audience or getting a larger fee for performing. There’s nothing wrong with having those goals, but I’m learning to get better at centring my growth as a poet. Am I consistently trying new things? Am I stretching myself? Am I having fun? That is infinitely more important than how many strangers double tap on an Instagram post. I may never have a large audience. I may always be talking to a couple people on a tiny little blog in an obscure corner of the internet, or to a couple dozen people in the back room of a pub. I may never be entirely happy with that. But I am happy with creating, with learning and growing.
Poetry is my lifeblood. And that’s valuable for its own sake.
By Maz Hedgehog.