Undergraduate Reading Series: Report from a First-time Reader

On Monday, March 5th, at the weekly meeting of Sigma Tau Delta, I signed up to write a blog post about the Happy Captive Magazine/Howe Writing Center Undergraduate Creative Writing Reading on the 15th of February. Little did I know that I would be presenting my own work at that reading. I had never read any of my work in public before—my words had always been confined to the classroom or to the ears of those closest to me—but when the opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to take it.

When I arrived at Thursday’s event, I got there unfashionably early, giving myself plenty of time to sit, be anxious and buy office supplies that I probably didn’t need from the bookstore’s table. One by one, everyone arrived: the organizers, my peers from Sig Tau, classmates, and my fellow reader, Emily Brandenburg. I was asked if I wanted to go first or second and, in choosing first, I became immediately aware of the closeness of the room, the intimacy of the space, and the people in it, and of the heat in my face and how it intensified with each passing second. The next thing I knew, I was at the podium.

The whole event passed through my mind as if it were a dream. I know I read my pieces, I remember some of the things I said in between, and I remember which pieces I presented. I remember the faces of the people as they listened and their laughter and applause. But the second I sat back down in my seat, the whole affair washed over me in an ephemeral haze: a feeling of “Oh my gosh…I did it! I actually did it!”

Thankfully I gained enough composure to listen to Brandenburg’s poetry. Her work was raw, relatable, and her style was straightforward and beautiful in its directness. I particularly enjoyed how many of her works address people, specifically addressing them for the wrongs they’ve done and the tidal waves she must wade through because of them. She gets at the heart of things and is unafraid to say how that feels.

That night was also her first foray into presenting her work publicly, and I find myself increasingly thankful for Happy Captive Magazine and the Howe Writing Center for putting this reading series together. It is because of events like the Undergraduate Reading Series that budding writers like Brandenburg and I can share our works so that our creative writing community can grow stronger and prosper with each new writer.

I feel this ever more poignantly as I recall the reactions of the listeners after the event’s close. Several people told Brandenburg and me how well we did and how much they loved what we read. I specifically recall one of my fellows from Sig Tau who told me she was so glad I read my multivoiced piece about life’s emotional clutter from our poetry class because she enjoyed how funny it was (I cannot express how encouraging the audience’s laughter at this piece has been). I also recall another member of Sig Tau who told me that my work gave her chills.

Not all of my work is meant to be read. In fact, as a poet dealing greatly in the visual on-the-page aspect of my poems, reading them aloud if often quite difficult. But the most beautiful and meaningful sentence in the universe carries no power past the writer’s pen unless it is shared. As that writer aspiring to create that most meaningful and beautiful sentence, poem, or play in the universe, this moment of connection with the audience was terrifying, but rewarding nonetheless.

To all my fellow writers, I urge you not to shy away from these opportunities to read what you have written. As many audience members confirmed for me, presenting your work gets easier after the first time. I think of that glorious cliché: There’s a first time for everything. That anxious first foray into reading your work will be worth it.

Lauren Miles

English Department Ambassador