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Public Speaking: Fun or Terror?

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

A Letter From the President

In the mid twenty-aughts, approximately 2006, I was invited to an open mic in downtown Charleston that literally changed my life. By then I was already involved with the Poetry Society of South Carolina, but what I saw at “Monday Night Blues” was altogether different. The weekly… show (?), for lack of a better word, allowed anyone to get up in front of the audience and read any manner of poetry, spoken word performance, music, rants, comedy, dance, and performance art. It was emceed by Ellie Davis, who originated the event while she was briefly living in South Africa. When she moved to Charleston, she decided that the city needed the creative outlet that she was offering. And indeed, we did. I had never seen anything like it. It was a young group, for the most part, and racially diverse. Many of the participants spoke entirely from memory and imbued their performance with emotion. At the time, I thought they were all brilliant; a collection of geniuses. More than that, however, there was a palpable feeling of electricity in the room of being part of a community of young Creatives. Spoiler alert: They were not all brilliant. Ellie found that many participants, in their quest to be part of scene, were using their 6 minutes of microphone time to spout entirely artless garbage and profanity. In others, she could see the seeds of potential for greatness that needed to be nurtured. Every week, she invited one of the best of the open mic participants to begin the evening with an extended feature performance to show the novices in the audience how it should be done at the open mic. And to force everyone to learn from the featured performer, she closed the open mic sign-up list at the time the show began. It was like a soup kitchen that forced anyone who wanted a meal to listen to a sermon first—and hopefully change their evil ways. The first time I read for Monday Night Blues, I was shaking like a person about to be hung by the neck until dead. My voice quavered, I forgot to breathe, and I seriously considered running out the door and never coming back. I had to use the microphone stand to keep my papers steady enough to read from. Then something amazing happened after I finished my first poem: the audience clapped for me. It felt great. I read my second poem with slightly less anxiety, then went back to my seat under the endorphin rush of even more applause. That night, I laid in bed for several hours unable to fall asleep, reliving those 3 minutes over and over. From that point on, I was hooked. I tried to write two new poems every week so I had new material every Monday night. I learned what worked by the response of the audience. I became a better poet. Through the process, I became a discerning consumer of poetry and spoken word performance; I could tell the difference between great poetry and doggerel. I also became completely at ease in front of the microphone. To this day, I am more at ease in front of a microphone before an audience than I am talking one-to-one with a stranger. Ellie Davis’s situation changed, and she needed help with emcee duties. By then, I was an old hand at things and offered to take on some of the work. Eventually, I was the only emcee. The show was moving to a more structured format, with accomplished poets on book tours reading as features. We also got more and more musicians coming through to show off their original work. For most of the musicians who had regular gigs at bars, they had never before performed before a group that was actually listening to them. I can recall many times where seasoned singer-songwriters were stunned when they began their first song and realized that the whole roomful of people were looking at them and listening without talking. “Monday Night Blues” was a misnomer. People thought it was an open mic for blues musicians. This kept some poets away and attracted blues musicians who were disappointed to find a bunch of poets there. When she named the show, Ellie believed that Mondays were sad days when people got the blues. With the open mic to look forward to, I came to think of Monday as the best day of the week. I tried to convince her to change the name. When I became the sole emcee and curator of the show in 2010, I renamed it “Monday Night Poetry and Music,” so that people knew exactly what it was. All told, it ran continuously for 12 years, with 48 shows per year, until its grand finale on November 13, 2017. Some of the best times I’ve had in my life occurred at East Bay Meeting House on Monday nights. While I do not miss the enormous amount of stress and toil that it took to offer a weekly open mic with notable poets as features, I would gladly attend it as an audience member if somebody else were willing to revive it today and do all the work to keep it going. For most of the last 30 years, the Poetry Society has held an open mic in January. This is usually the highlight of the year for me, mostly because I have a fondness for my own journey through the exciting world of the shared creative experience before an attentive audience. The last time it was held in person was in January 2020. At the time, COVID-19 was in the news, but still thought of only as a problem for China and other countries. Soon thereafter, as it spread at a rapid rate, we cancelled the rest of the season, and the country shut down to “flatten the curve.” At this time, we intend to hold the January open mic in person at the Charleston Library Society under strict COVID-era precautions: masks are mandatory and all those who attend must be fully vaccinated. This, of course, may change, depending on the ever-evolving, ever-disappointing course of the pandemic. The event will be live-Zoomed, and fear not, we have plans for providing better sound this time. Our first foray of Zooming a live meeting at the Library Society last month resulted in muddy audio that had many people complaining, and rightfully so. If your New Year's resolution was to challenge yourself to go outside your comfort zone or to put your self "out there" more often, taking part in the PSSC's 30-year tradition could be just the thing to start 2022 on the right track. Jim Lundy president, PSSC

The Poetry Society is supported by South Carolina Humanities, a not-for-profit organization; inspiring, engaging, and enriching South Carolinians with programs on literature, history, culture, and heritage.

The PSSC January Meeting

Our January meeting will take place in person at the Charleston Library Society, 164 King St., Charleston 29401. This will be our annual Members' Open Mic, along with a short observance of the Society's 101st anniversary of the first meeting on January 15, 1921. If you are not a current member, you will be asked to join in order to read. Attendance is free and open to the public. Masks are required. We ask that only those who are fully vaccinated attend this meeting. This will be live-Zoomed at 7:00 and then available for viewing from our Youtube channel later on.

January 14, 7:00 PM In-Person / Zoom Event

Those who want to read for the open mic must sign up at the Library Society before it begins. Each participant may read one poem, with a total time at the microphone limited to 3 minutes. At this time, we have no way for those attending by Zoom to read for the open mic. As we acquire more technology in the future, we hope that people joining through Zoom will be able to participate.

Easy Instructions to join the meeting live:

1. On the night of the meeting, before 7:00, click on the link below (i.e. click anywhere on the blue text of "January 14 PSSC Meeting") 2. You will be taken to the Zoom website and a dialog box will open. 3. In that dialog box will be a button "Join Zoom Meetings." Click on it. 4. You might be asked to select a screen name if this is your first time in Zoom. 5. You are now in the waiting room and will be let in when the meeting it starts. January 14 PSSC Meeting Alternate Easy instructions for joining the meeting live: 1. Go to our website: 2. You will be taken to the event page. Click on "RSVP" there. 3. Supply a name and email address when prompted. 4. You will be sent a link for the meeting by email. Use that link to join the meeting on the night of the reading. If you'd like to join the meeting without any of the easy shortcuts above: Zoom Meeting Meeting ID: 892 1556 0856 Passcode: 774467 One tap mobile +19292056099,,89215560856#,,,,*774467# US (New York) +13017158592,,89215560856#,,,,*774467# US (Washington DC) Dial by your location +1 929 205 6099 US (New York) +1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC) +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago) +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose) +1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma) +1 346 248 7799 US (Houston) Meeting ID: 892 1556 0856 Passcode: 774467 Find your local number:

NEW: PSSC Online Salon

On January 17, 2022, PSSC members are invited to the Poetry Salon on ZOOM. This event, curated by Evelyn Berry, is modeled after the salon society meetups of the early 20th century, during which Society members would gather to discuss art, life, and the future of poetry. Poets will read and discuss three contemporary poems (published in the last 5-10 years). The salon will explore craft, style, experimentation, voice, and form. Poets will be exposed to newer writers who are pushing the art of poetry forward in the 21st century and poets who are honoring centuries-long traditions of prosody. Join us every Monday after PSSC meetings. For details, email:

2022 Litchfield Tea & Poetry Series

3rd Thursdays at 10 a.m.

Waccamaw Labrary 41 St. Paul Place

Pawleys Island, SC 29585

Free and Open to All!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Ashley M. Jones

An emerging voice of the current South, Ashley M. Jones is author of Magic City Gospel (Hub City, 2017), dub / / thing (Pleiades, 2019), and REPARATIONS NOW! (Hub City, 2021). She has earned several awards, including the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, the Silver Medal in the Independent Publishers Book Award, and the Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize. Her work appears in or is forthcoming at CNN, Poetry, The Oxford American, and Obsidian, among other venues. Jones teaches in the Low Residency M.F..A. program at Converse College, and she recently served as guest editor for Poetry Magazine.

Elizabeth Robin

Elizabeth Robin, retired high school teacher, has three collections through Finishing Line Press: Where Green Meets Blue (2018), Silk Purses and Lemonade (2017), and To My Dreamcatcher (forthcoming 2022. She won the 2021 Carrie McCray Nickens Poetry Fellowship from the South Carolina Academy of Authors; judge Tiana Clark wrote that Robin's imagery "is fresh and allows for strangeness, devastation and delight." A poet of witness and discovery, Robins recent work appears in Ripples, The Broadkill Review, and Blue Mountain Review. She also emcees an open mic program on Hilton Head Island.

Talk More About Poetry: A Column by Brian Slusher

Jim Lundy told me that the PSSC sent out a survey a while back asking what you, dear reader, wanted to see in this newsletter, and the message you sent back was TALK MORE ABOUT POETRY. So, I suggested, since the Society publishes a wealth of excellent work yearly (close to 100 years worth), why not examine some prize-winning poems to appreciate the craft they demonstrate? DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert. I have no doctorate in versology or even a proper book of poetry to stand upon. I do claim to be a dedicated practitioner who reads and writes poetry on a regular basis. I enjoy the stuff. My platform is pleasure and appreciation for the artform. Now let’s look at a moving poem from the 2009-2010 Yearbook entitled “true story (philadelphia 1994)” by Marilyn R. Mumford: [Find text here} Right off, the title establishes so much. This is a true story, and it backs it up with a specific place and year. Now is it a true story? The details that follow sure make me think so, but even if this whole poem wasn’t factual, I would believe in its truth. Another thing the title does is establish this poem is a no-capitalization zone, which makes the reader ask why? As the poem unfolds, those small letters signal not only a miniature drama, but also a mood of supplication. One of the Poetry Society’s contest submission rules is you can use no more than thirty-six lines. This call for economy is what makes an excellent poem to me, and Mumford shows how much you can do in 30 lines. In the first stanza, she again asserts the truth of this story by giving the time and month (again, no capitalization for “september”). The setting and the stakes are briskly established: we are in “the famous cancer hospital,” in a long, dim basement corridor: we are in the Underworld. Ahead is a “tall figure”—Charon or Death? Does it hold an oar or a scythe? Nope, it “raises a broom,” and then comes a word that is so out of place, it's perfect: whacking. A mouse is loose and we visualize an orderly comically trying to dispatch the “little bit of grey fluff.” The mouse escapes as the “grinning” orderly (the rictus of Death) pursues through the “wrong door,” but he assures the speaker “don’t worry miss / I’ll get her!” The pronouns are telling, neatly associating the speaker with the mouse. Then we get a reprise of that delicious onomatopoeic “whacking.” The prayer that follows, the asking of mercy for a mouse, is skillfully specific while being musical and universal–we all know or will know a time when we beg for “a little / lighted slit of latitude.” And at first the “us” indicates just the creature and the speaker, but the last stanza’s use of “us” opens it up to all humanity, we who scurry about under the looming shadow of brooms and viruses. So why did this poem win an award? I would say because it does so much so well. A clear narrative full of specific details that open up into greater realms of meaning without whacking you on the head with the BIG IDEA stick. Its skillful compression creates intensity without being stingy. The Tao Te Ching councils, “See the great in the small, the many in the one.” That’s great advice for any poet, and Mumford demonstrates it in every word of this beautiful poem. Brian Slusher is a long-time member of the Poetry Society and one of the winningest current members, with over twenty PSSC prizes to his credit. Contact Brian Slusher with your thoughts and comments on this column at:

If you missed the December meeting, the "Showcase of Poets," with Marjory Wentworth, Miho Kinnas, Charles Watts, Tamara Miles, Ann Herlong-Bodman, and Marcus Amaker, you can watch it in its entirety above.


Traci Neal's poem, How To Repair, will be in the forthcoming group exhibition in Eureka, CA, at the Brenda Tuxford Gallery for “‘Stand Up and Be Counted: poems and visual art inspired by Muhammad Ali." The exhibition will be available to viewers both virtually and by appointment in their new gallery space from January 14 through February 21, 2022. Pat Riviere-Seel reports the following events in North Carolina: Tuesday, January 4 - 7 p.m. Nexus Poets, 308 Meadows St. (a Unitarian Fellowship), New Bern, NC this is both a live and Zoom reading and open mic. For more information contact: Sunday, January 9 - 4 p.m. Poetrio reading with Paul Jones and Aruni Kashyap. This is a Zoom reading. Here's the link to register: Virtual Poetrio: Paul Jones, Aruni Kashyap, Pat Riviere-Seel - January 9

Ellen Jenks and Rose Halliday's new book, Treasures From the Attic, is now available. This book is a collaboration of the two cousins who are both members of the PSSC. It is a collection of poems written over several decades. It can be purchased here. William Winslow's book Proof I was Here is now out now. Available from Outskirts Press. Danielle Verwers made a video of her poem "Failed Essay on Education: after Eliza Gonzales," Which was the winner of the September Prompt Contest. Watch it here. Members, please send poetry-related news to: To make this easier on us, please provide your news in a format that is exactly the way you want it to read in the Newsletter.

Poetry Prompt Newsletter Contest

The Poetry Prompt Contest is a monthly contest where we encourage you to submit a piece inspired by the new prompt found below. The winning poem or flash fiction is published in the following month's newsletter. We also offer the winner the opportunity to record a video of him or herself reading the poem to be posted to the Poetry Society's Youtube channel. There is no obligation to record the video, it is only there as an offer if the winner feels comfortable doing so. The December Poetry Prompt Contest asked that you write a limerick in honor of the long-standing tradition of a limerick contest formerly held at our annual Holiday Party. No limits were placed on the topic other than to follow the rules of writing limericks. The winner will receive a copy of Linda Joy Walder's new book, Running Naked in the Snow. The holiday season proved a trying time for poets, apparently. We only had five entries this go around. Those who took the time to send an original limerick were Linda Sarkany, with a COVID-themed limerick; Beth Dillenkoffer, who sent one that recalls the history of the PSSC; Ellen Jenks envisioned St. Nick punishing poets for their work in "No Christmas for Poets;" Traci Neal recalled a true incident that involved a hawk that attacked her; Eugene Corrigan's limerick made an equestrian-related injury come to life in vivid detail; and Eugene Platt brought the inner workings of a Vietnam vet's PTSD to life with "In Nam I Would've Fragged Him." The winner, judged by Linda Joy Walder, was by Ellen Jenks. Her poem can be found below.

Here is the January Prompt:

To quote Don McLain, "January made me shiver / with every paper I delivered." January is, on average, the coldest month, but as I write this, we have been having unseasonably warm weather in late December. Winter weather has become entirely unpredictable, with record highs and lows, but for the January prompt, let's evoke the cold and everything associated with it. This could pertain to weather, but it could be metaphorical as well. Someone can give you the cold shoulder or leave someone out in the cold. We can find ourselves walking on thin ice or snowed under at work. Perhaps you find to your dismay that climate change is making you worried when the weather is balmy when it should be cold. Your task is to write a poem or piece of flash fiction that evokes the cold--or lack thereof--an any sense. Let your imagination go. Send your submissions to on or before January 31. The winner of the December Prompt Contest: No Christmas For Poets Old St. Nick with his reindeer was spied Above Houses with poets inside. As it was their decision To write poems of derision About reindeer, their gifts he denied. -Ellen Jenks

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