I had never been to an open mic night before. I’d always seen them on TV and each time I would imagine my body positioned somewhere in that room; my eyes glued (as much as I allowed them to) to the person who happened to be braver than me, as my heart thoroughly absorbed all the depth and anger and infatuation and angst. Something about them seemed so novel and refreshingly mysterious that I subconsciously added attending one to my ‘bucket list’.
But this desire of mine quickly materialised on the 4th of February 2020. Just prior to that, the words ‘The Scribe’s Open Mic Night’ stayed with me for days as I nurtured an endless list of questions and images: ‘Will it be like all the other ones I usually see on TV shows?’, ‘Will the attendees be draped in multicoloured clothes and converse about literature and world peace over glasses of wine?’, ‘Am I going to get anything from it, and if so, what?’ These questions continued to engage my imagination even as I stood inches away from the pub entrance and was surrounded by the steady hum of the evening.
The first word that came to my mind was ‘wow’. I remember looking into this stretching space that seemed more wide than tall. It had this very relaxing setup which was the right balance between business and feel-at-home. Each table had a candle surrounded by half-filled glasses of attendees who had already settled in; I could tell that they were all looking forward to having a good night. They were mostly young and full of energy. A small queue had formed in front of me and I began to feel anxious because I thought there’d be some elaborate process. But, it was actually really effortless and those sat at the table (whom I assume were the organisers/committee members) seemed warm and friendly. Before them, on the table, was a dazzling arrangement of printed issues whose colours blended well. So much so that I was tempted to purchase a copy, which I eventually did.
As I soaked in the warmth of the room while savouring the sweetness of the chilled cider, I couldn’t help but revel in the thought that I was about to witness artistry and passion from people who remained a mystery till they climbed the stage. I think that’s what makes open mic nights exciting; the thrill of the uncertain, which meant that it was not useful to have any sort of expectation after all. Before I could allow myself to grow impatient as I could not wait for it to begin, I grabbed the zine and was soon subsumed in a world of metaphors, imageries, and words which I did not know the meanings of. The zine felt like a velvety treasure in my hands and at the same time, a little cage of emotions that became more urgent and layered the more I read. I was already knee-deep in a field that floated in an orb of hypnotisingly blue sky when I heard the mic growl; it was time.
I don’t remember the message of the first poem but I remember the slight nervousness of the person who wrote and performed it and the perfect silence; almost too perfect that it felt like I was intruding by just being there. As more people approached the mic with enviable eagerness, the words, voices, and charismas started to form roots in my mind. I certainly wouldn’t forget the poem about the homeless man on the train who had lost so much but still had a vibrant view of life or the one about the girl who was fed up with her parents always treating her like she was nine and not nineteen, I thought to myself. The more I think about it, the more I realise that every poem that was read that night was a unique manifestation of a desire, thought or feeling that had always existed inside me. Some were impossible to fully understand (partly because some poets didn’t leave enough room between each line for comprehension) and some embodied strong and vivid words and expressions more than they did meaning. Either way, they achieved the most important aim of the night which I think was the seamless flow of passion and artistry. Even before we arrived at the second quarter of the event, my heart was already full and I was ready to unpack all of the strength, knowledge, beauty, and perseverance that I felt so lucky to have witnessed. Writers are phenomenal people, no doubt.
Aside from the spoken word and ambience, two things really engaged me. The first was the theme of the next issue which had something to do with a student alliance for refugees. I thought it was quite interesting and comforting that the society was interested in such a vital cause. My view of most university societies was that they were wholly embedded in matters that only shaped students or members of a particular demographic, and so to see that recognition and dedication fueled something in me. I wanted to be a writer that paid attention to people and needs that were separate from what I was used to but which were nonetheless an integral part of myself as I exist as a minority member of society. The second was the fact that the host of the event continuously and humorously ‘plugged’ the sale of the zines whenever she picked up the mic. At first, I was tempted to be put off by it but then I came to understand the reason and dedication behind it and it showed me that sometimes you had to cause a little discomfort if you, quite frankly, wanted to accomplish a goal that was bigger than you.
I left ‘The Parkhorse’ (which has an amazing interior by the way) feeling entertained, renewed, challenged, energised and inspired. I had brief conversations with a guy whose smile and keenness was very refreshing and had, clutched in my hands, a memorabilia of art and memories that I will continue to cherish for as long as I possibly can. My only advice though? — bring a friend.
Photo credit: Ejiro Obonobor