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Sunday, April 16, 2017

National Poetry Month: Open Mics

The final Third Thursday Open Mic at The Vintage, Scranton, August 2014

Open mics are incredible resources for poets and fans of poetry. For a small cover charge - or, more often, no charge at all - you can treat yourself to an evening of poetry presented by new and established poets. If you are a poet, then you can sharpen your skills in presenting your work, and gain experience reading in front of an audience.

Chaz Bennett, May 2012, Jen Diskin Memorial Open Mic, The Vintage Theater, Scranton. Chaz passed away in October 2015.
Not all open mics are ideal settings for poetry. Some are specifically intended for poetry and other spoken word presentations. Others are geared towards music, or comedy, or a combination of the two. Some are truly "open" mics, open to everything. But at these locations, audience expectations may dictate how anything outside the normal fare will be received.

Kait Burrier, May 2012, Jen Diskin Memorial Open Mic, The Vintage Theater, Scranton

Richard Aston, May 2012, Jen Diskin Memorial Open Mic, The Vintage Theater, Scranton

Harold Jenkins, October 2013, inaugural Kick Out the Bottom Open Mic, Embassy Vinyl, Scranton (photo by Alvin Nurse)
Some open mics will be full of people you know. Others will be full of strangers. As a performer and an audience member, both situations present useful experiences.

Eric Wilson, December 2013, Kick Out the Bottom Open Mic, Embassy Vinyl, Scranton

Kyle Rebar, December 2013, Arts Seen Open Mic, Wilkes-Barre

Alvin Nurse, March 2014 Third Thursday Open Mic, The Vintage, Scranton
Christina reads "Stay With Me", March 2014, Kick Out the Bottom Open Mic, Embassy Vinyl, Scranton
Some of the readers will be regulars, presenting at every opportunity. Some will be first-time performers. The quality of the material presented can vary wildly. Some established poets will insist on reading the same pieces over and over again. Others will use the open mic as an opportunity to field-test new works. Some presenters will be there on a lark, basically mocking the format, presenting dirty limericks or other random stuff. Some will be starting out in poetry, looking for feedback and support. Others will just be lousy poets, inflicting their words on the audience, unconcerned with how they are received or how they could improve. Most heartbreakingly of all, some will be poets you have never seen or heard from before, who present works of staggering beauty - and then disappear, never to show up at another event of any sort.

Wendell Bullock, April 2014 Third Thursday Open Mic, The Vintage, Scranton

KK Gordon, July 2014 Third Thursday Open Mic, The Vintage, Scranton
Open Mics will draw a mixed crowd to the audience, some regulars, some just there out of curiosity. In the latter case it's fun to see if first-time audience members become regulars. If you're a poet, you might be the one responsible for getting them hooked!

A cabbie who had read about the upcoming Third Thursday Open Mic at The Vintage decided to come and present some of the poems he had been reciting to his fares. Sadly, this was the final Third Thursday Open Mic, and I don't know if he ever got a chance to perform again. The Vintage, Scranton, August 2014.

Liz Lewis, February 2015 Kick Out the Bottom Open Mic, AFA Gallery, Scranton

Maddy Brozusky, March 2015 Kick Out the Bottom Open Mic, AFA Gallery, Scranton

Charlotte Lewis, final Kick Out the Bottom Open Mic, August 2015, Scranton Iron Furnaces
Open mics come and open mics go. Once upon a time I had a dream of a network of open mics throughout northeastern Pennsylvania, all supporting and scheduling around each other, each one advertising and promoting and encouraging attendance at the others. For a while, it worked, and it seemed like the biggest problem would be an embarrassment of riches, multiple open mics every week in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Tunkhannock, Stroudsburg, and elsewhere. But, as I had been warned, eventually personality conflicts got in the way. Or perhaps the issue was competition for a limited audience - how many different events could people be expected to support? (This assumes that the audience is a limited resource and cannot be expanded beyond a fixed value.) Add to that the difficulty of putting on a show every month, or every week, as well as the finite and sometimes transient nature of venues. In time, all of these factors played into the breakdown of the network. Eventually, several of the open mics involved closed down.

Rich Howells, final Youth Scene Open Mic, April 2016, Adezzo, Scranton
But new open mics have come into being since then. For a while Rich Howells of NEPA Scene presented the Youth Scene Open Mic at the Adezzo coffee shop in Scranton. This was an open mic specifically geared towards readers ages 14 to 20, though readers of all ages were welcome. He eventually brought it to an end, but almost immediately segued into the NEPA Scene Stage Time Open Mic, an over-21 event every held every Tuesday at Thirst T's Bar and Grill in Olyphant. The Be Daring Open Mic almost immediately filled the open space at Adezzo, and has been running the last Wednesday of every month as an all-ages open mic.

Al Man, Be Daring Open Mic, November 2016, Adezzo, Scranton

There are several other open mics continuing to run in the area. Most are not specifically geared towards poetry, but are open to it. There will be more in the future, and perhaps someday there will even be a network connecting them all and encouraging them to cross-promote.

If you are a poet looking for an opportunity to read before an audience, or a poetry fan looking to hear live poetry, seek out your local open mics and find out what they have to offer. You'll be glad you did!

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