|WBU-NAC region Otsuki Award
“ONE NIGHT AT GODFREY’S”
U.S.A. Nancy Scott(55/female)
“You really should read some of your poetry during the open mike,” David said for the tenth or so time.
“I’ll think about it.” I always evaded.
I had thought about it, concluding that I would never read my own work in front of an audience.
I’d given speeches and read reports that I’d brailled.I had even worked on a national weekend conference for blind writers.And everything I’d written had its beginning on a Braille-writer or a Braille note-taker.
I learned Braille at age six.But reading my own work where every word had to be right and had to have the correct intonation was another matter entirely.I was sure I couldn’t do it.
As long as I didn’t take Braille to read, I was off the hook for Godfrey’s.In the early 1990’s, I’d only had a few poems published.I wasn’t a “poet” like those other people who got up to read.And they surely didn’t have to worry about their hands shaking.
But one Wednesday, I received a print anthology that published two of my poems.I was so curious that I took the book to show David before Godfrey’s poetry night began.
“Good,” David said.“You can read some of your poetry.”
“No I can’t.”David wasn’t thinking clearly, or was he?
“Oh, that’s right.Well, I’ll read it for you.”
David’s reading, though fine, made me uncomfortable.By the time he dropped me off at home, I knew why.I was afraid the audience would think I couldn’t read.In fact, I was sure that was the impression my not reading gave to around twenty people.That was intolerable.
I might not have been a “poet” but I was an “advocate.”And I knew what I would have to do at next month’s poetry night.
That next month, David immediately signed me up for the open reading.I made sure there was a flat surface for reading Braille.And I finally took one step up to the coffeehouse stage and read two poems.One was a disability piece about a friend with Epilepsy and I don’t remember the other one.I’m sure it was something already published so I could be sure someone else liked it.
I didn’t die.Nobody threw things.People congratulated me and annoyingly asked me to read more often.And I occasionally did, thankful for the five-minute limit.
Until, on a spring Sunday in 1993, while I monitored a new program for our radio reading service, I got the call asking me to feature-read at Godfrey’s.This meant a half hour reading of my poetry.By now, I understood about opportunities knocking and how I should say “yes.”So I said yes, but told them I couldn’t read for a year.In a year, I’d think of how to get out of this or the world would swallow me up or something.
By September, I began planning the reading.For the first time, I assessed my poetry as one unit of work.There was more of it than I thought.
I took a poetry class.I asked for critiques from friends.I drafted and organized Braille poems in a quilted notebook with lace on its edges for luck.
David checked print revisions of the possible reading in November and said, “You should do a book.I edit for a living.I can help.”
I was sure I couldn’t do a book.
By February, I had the reading order down and I started practicing for April.Over and over.Memorize last lines on pages and first lines on next pages to manage page turns smoothly.Don’t trip over my tongue here or mispronounce there.Sound like those NLS narrators.Why had they asked me to read?
I did the reading, of course.People said I didn’t seem nervous, though David mentioned that I finished my thirty minutes in twenty-three. I don’t remember much except that I knew I had just done the scariest reading I’d likely ever do.And I thought, “Maybe I really am a poet.”After all, they paid me fifty bucks.
My chapbook Hearing The Sunrise came out in Braille first in 1995.I loved seeing my poems in book form.My blind friends and other blind Braille readers bought it.That Braille edition gave me the confidence and incentive to produce the print version in 1996.
After that, I had to read for as many audiences as possible to sell my chapbook.
I’ve been paid for other poetry and prose readings since Godfrey’s.In 2001, I was asked to write and read commentaries for my local NPR radio station.I tried to get out of the reading part, but the radio station guy said I had a good voice and I had to red my essays.The person who recommended me had assured him that she’d seen me read and I could do it.
Taping for radio was almost as scary as Godfrey’s.Though many of my commentaries were about every day things, around one in four were about my life as a blind person.So I was writing and performing and advocating again.
Production funds ran out after twenty essays aired in the course of the next two years.But people heard me.A friend said, “I had to pull the car over and listen and I thought “I know her.”My mailman said, “I was sure that was you.How many blind Nancy Scotts can there be?”
Most of my bylines in the past year have been audio only.I’m writing and reading for Ed Potter’s telephone blog and I send personal essays to News Reel Magazine which appears only in audio.As of now, ninety-one of my four hundred forty-one career bylines are performance pieces.These statistics surprise even me.
I still don’t like my voice.I still don’t like reading for microphones. I still get nervous and like to practice a little ahead of time.
I’m sure more chances to stretch my identity and my advocacy will come along.And I’m sure most of them will be unexpected.And I’m sure I’ll owe many of them to that one night at Godfrey’s.