The First Live

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by John Schnobrich

I attended a Live Poetry Reading a few months back for what I thought would be both my first and last time. The poets participating seemed to know each other, and it made me feel as though I was interrupting a personal Skype call. They read their exquisite poems, and I offered a few compliments. They then proceeded to talk about gardening and  their families, and even complained about each others’ bosses. Something about that entire ordeal put me off and I stopped attending Lives. I hoped with all my heart that this Live wouldn’t be like that too.

I join the Live today in the golden moments between ‘you’re early’ and ‘we were going to start without you’. I tap on the heart button to register my attendance and drop an eager greeting in the chat. The little eye icon by the side declared a sweet 26 people watching. I could deal with that. 

The host wears a smile coated with a rare kind of confidence—the one that isn’t intimidating. She greets everyone that entered by name with a familiarity that doesn’t make me feel out of place. Instead, I feel as though I am being welcomed into a big house by lots of beaming faces. 

“Alright, let’s begin then,” she announces while her eyes skim a screen nearby.

I knew at that moment that it was possible to hear one’s own name and perceive it foreign.

“If the poet would like to join us, that would be great!” she says and begins reciting my poem. 

I wipe my sweaty palms on my skirt and take a deep breath to calm the loud thudding of my heart. I am terrible at speaking in front of a crowd. Even if said crowd is only, as the Instagram count indicated, only thirty-one people. The host finishes reading my poem and I am never more thankful that it wasn’t me who had to read it. I just had to hop in, talk a little about my poem, and then leave. What I would say, I didn’t know.

“That was a lovely poem,” she announces and goes on about the details that she found interesting and compliments my diction. I don’t, however, listen to her entirely because of the error message that pops up on the screen.

The message reads: There’s an error. 

I try to join the live again, once more and then another time. It displays the same message through it all like a stubborn child disobeying its parent. 

As though sensing my anxiety, my phone decides to stop punishing me and permits me into the Live. That is when I realise, I am still in my night dress. I quickly turn the camera to the rear-end and hide it. A black screen prevails and I apologise for the inconvenience. 

She asks me what inspired my poem and I begin describing the picture that I had seen on Tumblr when I notice a few familiar names popping in: classmates from 10th Grade, people I haven’t spoken to in a year, a dear friend. The thought of them all stopping by excites me. It does, however, prompt me into mixing up my words and having me lose my pronunciation altogether.

Nevertheless, the host listens with a calmness I can only envy. She nods her head in the right places and gives an encouraging smile every time I pause to stutter. I talk about my poem, and I suddenly realise that  I never had to prepare. I talk about waltzing with death, why an ancient Tamizh instrument plays in the background of the characters in my poem, and agree to a few observations the host makes. With that, I say goodbye and I leave.

I switch the phone off and turn it face-down on the table. My eyes close of their own accord and I take a deep breath—it feels like being born all over again. There is a lightness to my heart that I want to dissolve every cell of my body in. I flip my phone over, unlock the screen and type a quick thank-you note to the host for her kindness. I hope the thankfulness that brims in my heart is evident in my words. That is when I see, two of the friends that hopped in leave cheerful messages. The lightness in my heart is replaced with a happiness that knows no bounds. 

I decide then that I will do more of these Live Poetry Readings.