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Why Batesville, IN Was My Best Performance of 2022

April 7, 2022, is a day I won’t forget for a long time. It was my first in person performance of the year, and it set the tone for this month, National Poetry Month, in ways that I can’t even fathom. This was one of the best performances I’ve had in a long time and guess what? It was in front of ten people an hour and a half away from where I live. HOW Sway? I got the answers and we’ll get there in time, but I gotta set the scene for this one.

It all goes back to July 8, 2021. I completed a virtual performance for the Jeffersonville Township Public Library and it went well. I received a message from the librarian who facilitated the event, Harriet Goldberg, that she bought three copies of my book “Equilibrium!” She bought a copy for herself, a co-worker, and one for the library. Wayment. My book was about to be in a library? I didn’t even know that was a possibility! That was an unexpected benefit, but one I wanted to follow and see where it led.

A couple of months later I had the thought that if my book was in one library, why couldn’t it be in others? With this thought in mind, I set out to email libraries all throughout the state of Indiana. Indiana has 92 counties (ask me how I know) and I emailed as many as possible. I sent one such email to Batesville Memorial Public Library on November 2 around 2:00PM. Within an hour I got a response from the director of the library, Kim Porter. She was interested in purchasing a copy of my book and wondered what my fees were. By December 8, Kim reached out and said they wanted to book me in April. Straight like that. They wanted me to perform in person, and that’s exactly what they were going to get.

I believe that one of the things that I do differently from other artists is promote and promote early. As soon as we solidified a date for the performance, my wife Marlesha crafted a flier for the event and we sent it to Kim. She was grateful for it and we kept it moving. My wife is one of my cheat codes in this thing, she works quickly to create graphics for my upcoming events and fills in gaps wherever she sees a need. We're booked and we got a flier on deck, it’s just time to post and rehearse my 45 minute set until it’s go time.

I was blessed by this performance before I ever set foot in the library. One of the things that struck me about Batesville Memorial Public Library was the sheer professionalism. This was the first time I drafted my own contract that required a deposit, and they sent it with no problem. Three days before the event, I had the idea to email the library and see if we were on track for me to receive the remainder of the payment in hand when I arrived. This wasn’t because I didn’t trust them, but over the years I’ve heard horror stories from artists who have had to wait weeks to months to receive pay for their performances. Kim assured me that the check was cut and was sitting on her desk waiting for me. Wait, what?! The check is already ready for me three days before the event!!? What is going on right now? Batesville handling business and I ain’t even there yet! Now I’m even more pumped to perform. Ask your artist friends about some of their experiences and they’ll tell you that this isn’t the norm.

The day of the performance came and it was time to get ready to go on the road. We pulled my daughter out of school an hour early so we could get home, grab some food, and get going. Before I left, I called my mom to tell her where I was going. I told her a few weeks prior that I was going to Batesville, IN for a show. She told me that there weren't too many of “us” out there but the people were friendly. She advised me not to go alone and to take a map or atlas with me in case my phone’s GPS lost service, since that happened to her the last time she went out there. She also told me to tell her when I was getting on the road there and when I was heading back.

As a black person in America, when you are heading somewhere out of the norm, it’s important that someone knows where you are. Just in case something happens, your friends and family will know where you were supposed to be. I contacted her and posted on Facebook, so now it was time to go to Batesville.

We made the trip without incident, but my wife noticed something as we turned the corner to find the parking lot. My face was on their marquee!!! Of course, you know we had to get some shots of that and we made our way into the building.

Ya’ll, this library was beautiful. They had wood carvings of the city displayed and it just looked so nice. They have a whole lot of programming for National Poetry Month and I saw the marketing materials everywhere. My face and Marlesha’s flier were on print fliers, their TV monitors, and their bookmarks!

Kim ordered a copy of “Equilibrium” back in December, so I knew it would be on their shelves. I went to ask them to look it up so I could take pictures with it like I had with the Jeffersonville library, when something caught my eye. They had my book on a display stand with other poetry books for the month of April!!! These folks had my chapbook next to the legendary Langston Hughes! BRUH!

After walking around the library for a bit, it was time to scope out the area where I would be performing. As an artist, it’s always a good idea to get a feel for where you’ll be performing. They had about 50 chairs set out and asked if I would need a microphone or not. I told them no and kinda got in the zone for the performance.

They waited a few extra minutes for any stragglers to arrive and then we got into it. I forgot how much I love being in front of people in person on stage until that day. There were only ten people in the room but that didn’t matter to me. I performed my set I had been rehearsing since March, and gave it everything I had. It felt so good to be back.

As much as I love the performance aspect of what I do, I enjoy the Q&A session even more. You never know what questions the crowd will ask. They asked a lot of questions about my process and if I wrote everyday. My wife piped up from the back of the room and gave them more of my story.

This crowd was all white except for one lady of Asian descent, but they all connected with my work. They were apologetic about the crowd, they have a whole month of programming built around poetry and they just knew more people would be there. I honestly wasn’t phased. I’ve done the big stages and I like the feel you get from intimate crowds. It gives the audience and artist a chance to get to know one another a bit better.

Heck, when I started, I was reciting poems for co-workers on my break for free back in my fast food working days. I would spit poems for customers after I clocked out, and one time I recited a poem in a McDonald’s parking lot for three people because the person that worked there told their friends about me. All of that was free, so it was nothing to drive an hour and a half to get paid to perform for ten people. Plus, I do my best to perform at my peak no matter the crowd. We have a saying in my house, “Work as unto the Lord not unto the paycheck.” Whether paid or free, I give my best because I know who gave me the gift.

Batesville is already talking about bringing me back to speak to their youth and trying to get me into their school system! One of the most interesting things about doing this is that you never know who your tribe will be. I’ve performed in Louisville for a decade, but when I decided in the middle of last year to focus on Indiana, my opportunities began to blossom. And guess what, most of the folks rocking with me in this state don’t look like me, and that’s fine. As long as the poems impact folks, God is pleased, and I can pay my bills, then that’s all I need.

The absolute highlight of the night was hearing a 73 year old white man say that he’s never listened to poetry before and he regrets that, but my words made an impact on him. Bruh, how can the words of a 34 year old black man connect with a 73 year old white man who is unfamiliar with his art form? Bruh, I see God in that. Performing is dope, but it’s the connecting with folks and hearing their stories for me. The crowd unanimously loved “How Are You Really” and Kim Porter told me why that poem resonated with her. She also appreciated the fact that I didn’t shy away from incorporating my faith into my work. I went from being a lab technician to a poet when I used to hate writing. The only reason I’m doing this has to be God, cuz otherwise it doesn’t make any sense.

I could keep gushing about how this performance has set the tone for my year and put the battery in my back, but I think you get the point. As an artist who has taken his fair share of “Ls,” it felt good to go somewhere where I was celebrated and not just tolerated. Even if I had to go out to a place I never heard of. There’s a word there. Sometimes you have to go beyond what’s comfortable to get what’s for you. Bruh, Batesville owes me nothing, and I can’t wait to hit the stage in Ohio this Resurrection Sunday.

I hope you enjoyed reading this, I really enjoyed penning this experience. Imma have to cue up Shepherd’s “First of Many” and get ready for the next one.

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