I've read surveys stating that our deepest fear is that of speaking in front a large group. This is tied to rejection. No one enjoys it under any circumstance, but consider how it is amplified when a whole crowd has turned on you. No one responds to the key points you are trying to make. Your jokes fall flat. You look at your outline; so many more topics to consider, so do you cut it short and listen to the sighs of relief, or persist to the end, punishing them for their tepid response, knowing you'll never hear from them again anyway?
I've had pretty good luck in the past, speaking in front of large groups and haven't fallen flat too often. In smaller groups where there is eye contact, I've fared a little worse. I'm thinking that this is because everyone is trying to prevail in the moment, and the competition can be brutal--all the more frustrating because the well-considered point or best formulated idea may not carry the day. Instead, the ones who talk the loudest or are the best at maneuvering through the intricacies of the group dynamic often carry the day.
I have such disrespect for manipulative people, and my tendency is to withdraw when they seem to prevail, like a defeated warrior who pulls back in hope of triumph at a later day. Over time, I've learned a little about how to pick my battles, and I do so carefully. I'm tired of the politics of life
. In fact, I'm tired of politics too and most kinds of wrangling, as people attempt to foist their ill-considered opinions on the group of fawning, servile sycophants seated in front of them or sitting mute in thrall of media.
I do stick up for what I believe, but do so in a quiet, reserved sort of way; however, I can use very specific language and razor sharp vocabulary when necessary. Often people don't comprehend for hours or days the invectives I've hurled.
Recently, I was disappointed at the performance of a contest poem and began feeling disillusioned about the whole PoetrySoup process. I felt rejection and disliked it. The Soup is a really neat, feel-good sort of place but can also seem disingenuous when those who have praised work on one hand then reject your best efforts in a contest. So why not just quit entering contests and make all the bad feelings go away. I tried that.
One person took time to point out why my poem might not have been as good as I thought it was, and that's fair. My poetry can be vague, certainly at first glance. But I assure you, I knew exactly what I meant when I hit the submit key.
I am truly in awe of the severely gifted poets I encounter here and view my work as comparatively mechanical. I'm a scientist and see poetry in numbers and concepts. I am able to see and comprehend the trend of a hundred thousand data points but then struggle finding the right words to complete a single couplet. Nevertheless, I work hard until it all makes sense.
And here is my point, the work poets put into their rhymes or prose ought to be matched by effort of the reader. How often people give up without a fight. I've had some say that they didn't understand a particular word in a poem of mine, so they stopped reading. As a youth, I'd read and come across words I didn't know. I'd ask my mother what they meant, and her response was uniform: "Go look it up." Such a gift, and it has served me well throughout life.
And it's not always just a word. Sometimes it's a concept that makes people stumble. If I talk about space-time's strange and distant shore, I'm not summoning an image of a Caribbean vacation. When I write about an old star collapsing right before it explodes, it's because that's what some kinds of old stars do. Be curious and find out more. Honor the effort. If I bemoan anything about humanity, it's the lack of curiosity...of poor appreciation for nuance. People want everything at the click of a button or tap on a screen. Read my poem "Pen in Hand," and you'll see a rhyme about this.
My passion is astronomy, the science of the barely there where researchers deal every day with the tiniest nuances imaginable. Radio astronomers struggle to detect the meager electromagnetic murmurs whispered across gulfs of space that are countless trillions of miles in extent. If all such radio energy arriving at our planet over the past five billion years were compressed into a single moment, it would allow a 60 Watt light bulb to glow for less than a second. Now go look up "electromagnetic."
I work hard to understand others' poetry. Most of the time I get it, but occasionally I don't but recognize brilliance beyond me, worthy of praise anyway. If I don't get it, it's not through lack of effort.
So I entreat you to try. You will be enriched in ways you can't imagine and might even get a chance to brag about some new morsel or gem you've teased out of the recondite puzzle of existence. Hopefully our paths will cross at that moment.