This week Creative Writing will put on our first show of the school year on the mainstage of SOTA: It’s Personal. It will be the very first show for ten of the twenty-six C-Dubs, an inaugural night. For the first time they will walk silently up to the microphone, adjust it to their height as the stage lights strand them on an island of brightness in a dark room, and read aloud the words that are theirs, solely theirs, as their heads fill with the sound of rapid heartbeats. For me and my seniors, however, this is the beginning of the end. The inevitability of a last show, the last time we take the stage at SOTA, is fast approaching.
Three years of doing shows, of presenting myself and my work in an intensely individual way, has changed the way I think about my work. For most of us, I think the shows begin as a non-voluntary activity. We don’t fight it, but we don’t see the presentation as ideal. When I began thinking seriously about writing, and the necessary narcissism of wanting to be listened to, I imagined my presentation a little differently. My ideal was quiet and reserved, my words appearing between the covers of a book, the only personal identification the postage-stamp sized picture of me on the inside of the dust cover. It was to be perfect in its impersonality, and the intimacy would come from the words themselves, and their own weight.
My first CW show was 2012’s The Nature of Offense, where I read a long, prosaic poem about Chinatown, what I then considered my crown jewel. I was a bit delusional about this, of course, but it was one of the only pieces I had written until that moment that felt original, a unique response to the world. I was convinced in that period that my work was supposed to be journalistic and artistic; that “my art” was supposed to be about meeting my words to reality.
The poem was about four bodies, three of them walking, talking, and moving adjacent to me in a lane in Chinatown. I was the fourth body in the lane, leaning quietly against the wall. In retrospect, the piece suffered a bit from a lack of imagination; I wrote down what I noticed, rendered it as poetically as I could, and I thought it turned out pretty darn good. My senses had not failed me; I had taken in the world, and turned it into lines and phrases.
When the time came to read aloud, however, I was hesitant. I was nervous about going on stage and not being understood. It wasn’t a belief in the advancement of my writing but a fear that, out loud, released into the world, the writing would have no effect and no meaning. Nobody would be able to make it come alive in their own heads when it was just left out like that.
I did what I had to do. I practiced, and mastered my enunciation. I practiced and practiced more. Nervousness gradually faded in the face of relentless repetition. I made the words permanent in my mind. By some miracle, when I went out on stage, in a crooked tie and a beanie, I didn’t speed up or trip on words. I let them into the physical world, one phrase at a time, then left the stage. And I felt really good. (The applause and support and Heather’s constantly enthusiastic, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” at the end of every piece helped that, admittedly.)
The argument I’ve come to is that it’s not about the cliche of “making words come alive.” The words are alive already, and exist alive on the page. The importance of presentation comes with the fact that it takes the whole body. The voice of the reader has to be right; the tone, the rhythm and speed too; even the posture, and especially the eyes. It requires the stance to be steady and the projection to be confident. But when it’s done right, it resonates in the crowd. The audience responds to the concrete realness of the words in front of them, to the body and mind of the writer in harmony.
In a way, it comes full circle. The writer receives the world, in sounds and sight, and transforms it, makes it beautiful, or maintains its beauty, or appreciates its reality; then, the writer become a sound and a sight to receive, a new phenomena of the physical world.
Colin Yap, class of 2016