It was the end of the evening. I was the last one of twelve participants. I was 22 years old, extremely nervous, and maybe a little bit drunk. I’ve had three or four glasses of red wine, perhaps too much, but I had to calm myself down – this was my first stage appearance ever. I was standing in the spotlight which was too bright for me. I had a couple of pages with poems in my hands and a microphone in front of my face (I had never read with a mic before). The presenter introduced me and joked with the audience. I was too tense to listen. Then he addressed me directly, and from then on things were up to me. I bumped into the microphone and people in the audience started laughing, but I began reading – or rather: I tried to read. It was anything but a good performance. My voice was trembling, I was sweating, I read too fast, and (to be honest) my poems were actually really bad. But surprisingly, the event didn’t end in a disaster. I read my poems, I received my applause, and – most importantly – I survived.
This was my first experience of reading at a poetry slam. It was held at the culture centre Lagerhaus in Bremen – which was the only place in town that organized slams at that time. Nowadays there is a vivid slam culture in Bremen and these so-called ‘open mics’ are a good opportunity for authors to get out and present their texts to an audience. But, these kind of events are only suitable for specific types of texts. Where to go, if you are not a slammer? Where to go to present more complex poetry or prose writing to an audience? Why do people seem to be so much more interested in open mic sessions than in other forms of public readings? The Slammer Filet which is organized by the Tower club for instance is always crowded with students, whereas you usually don’t find more than a handful of people under the age of 60 at more conventional readings.
So, the question for me was and still is: how to create a space for local authors of all kinds of genres to present their work? And: is there a way to bring the above mentioned audiences and generations together? In collaboration with the Bremer Literaturkontor I started a reading series called Doppelpack at the culture centre Dete last spring. Each time we brought together two writers of different generations for a public reading of their works. Afterwards, we opened the stage for other writers of all age groups to participate. Almost one hundred people between the ages of 16 to 80 showed up for these readings. They listened with dedication and gave some terrific feedback after the event. I loved it, and I hope that we will continue to make this happen.
I had my second experience with reading to an audience in the context of a creative writing seminar at the university of Bremen which was organized in collaboration with the Kontor. Our teacher organized a reading at the end of term at the Café Ambiente. This time I experimented with using some performative elements while reading my texts. I played short pieces of music with an old tape recorder and used some beer cans as well. Afterwards people maybe did not remember the content of my texts, but everyone remembered my performance. I‘m not sure, if that is a good thing, but I guess, I have always been interested in breaking the routines of the ordinary public reading format. And I‘m not the only one – in Bremen there are many authors who work with musicians for example. I did that too a couple of times. I like to use music or talk to people in the intervals, the direct contact to the audience.
After my experimental performance years passed by before I read in front of the public again, this time for the Bremer literature week. We were five local authors that evening, and most of us did not have much experience with public readings, so we were all pretty nervous. We were sitting on our chairs like chicken on a roost, but all in all it was an interesting and very intense evening. For me this was in a way the start of becoming a writer. Until then I didn’t really have any idea what to do with the stories I had written. That evening I realized that I enjoyed reading in front of people. After the event I received some further invitations to read at festivals, parties, and other events from institutions like the Kontor or the virtual Literaturhaus Bremen.
That’s what I still love most – to read my texts to an audience. But after years of writing you do at some point also hope to be published someday. You can of course easily publish all your texts on the internet, but if you are a bit old-fashioned like me, you want to see them in print as well. In Germany that’s what counts if you want to be accepted as a ‘real writer’. There are specific ways to get your writing published in Germany. The most widely used options are literary magazines and literary prize competitions which will often publish an anthology with a selection of the best stories afterwards.
I have entered my texts in a couple of these competitions. Sometimes successful, but most often I’ve received answers like this one: “Thank you very much for you contribution. We received more than 500 submissions and were very surprised about the great quality of all these stories, so it was really hard for us to chose the best ones. We are very sorry to inform you that your text will not be part of the compilation, but we wish you good luck for your future writing. You can buy the anthology with the selected stories for just 17,99 €.”
Sometimes this can be hard and you need a thick skin to stay calm. The magazines and competitions are a good starting point, though. You just have to take some time to check out which competitions and magazines are out there and which ones are the right ones for your writing. In Germany the websites poetenladen.de or www.autorenwelt are very helpful in this regard.
There is a lot more to say about publishing! Please ask if you have further questions and let’s discuss our experience with publishing and public performance.