My Scariest Audience Ever

So the year is winding down, which means that professors are trying to squeeze in all the work that they didn’t get the chance to assign over the rest of the semester before we leave for the summer in a little more than a week.  Because my life has been so busy in preparing for exams and working on my final project, I haven’t been able to give my blog the loving it deserves, which means that my post today is coming in a bit late.  Hopefully, though, you’ll still find it entertaining and interesting.

I’ve performed for quite a few different audiences, and some of those audiences have made me remarkably nervous.  I’ve performed in front of college and high school students, fully expecting to be compared to other poets who I felt had written better poems than me.  I’ve performed in front of audiences full of strangers while knowing full well they were going to judge me.  I’ve performed in front of panels that were going to decide that very night whether I was good enough to join their group.  However, none of those performances even come close to my most nerve-wracking performance: keeping a couple hundred middle school children occupied as they waited for the results to a math competition.

After all, we know what middle schoolers are like, don’t we?  They’re basically less physically imposing Gorillas, incapable of any mature thought.  They’re easily distracted, can’t appreciate anything that doesn’t capture attention with flashing lights and sounds, and have absolutely no sense of propriety.  They act without thought, talk without consideration, and are mislead with ease.  They are, above all else, the last kind of people you’d ever want to have to entertain with poetry, right?

Actually, no.  Not right.  I was pleasantly surprised not just by how willing the children I performed for were to listen to poetry, but also by how well they listened.  They were just as engaged as any college audience I’d ever performed for, and sometimes even more enthusiastic about the parts of the poem they enjoyed.  They were respectful as well, able to stay quiet when I was being quieter, and never letting their expressions of appreciation get out of hand.  Most wonderfully and (for me) most surprisingly, though, was that they got the poetry.  None of the metaphors went over their heads, and none of the sometimes-dizzying wordplay that spoken word poetry is built on confused them.  They were, quite simply, one of the best audiences I’ve ever had.

This got me thinking that perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised they were such a good audience.  Perhaps its high time we started seeing middle school children as mentally capable and, while by no means fully intellectually developed, far more thoughtful than we usually give them credit for.  Perhaps it’s time we started respecting that they think too, and the thinking they do isn’t all that inferior to the thinking we do.  We all were eighth grades at one point or another, after all, and we turned out all right.  Maybe our younger incarnations were all right too.