Open Mic Poetry Nights Give Artists an Outlet
BY ROBYN ROHDE
The first rule of open mic poetry night is no heckling the speakers.
The second rule is give credit where credit is due.
Other than that, the twice-monthly event is an open activity geared toward giving voice to the creative community.
Kristen Jewel and Lauren Starling’s mutual affection for artistic expression led them to reboot open mic poetry nights the first Thursday of every month at Red Raven Espresso Parlor. The event — Outlet: Spoken Word Poetry — is a familiar name for some and now is hosted by Jewel and Starling. The unique experience lay dormant several months after former organizers left the area. Recently, Outlet expanded to the third Thursday of the month at Fargo Brewing Co.
“I think it’s a good experience because I get to see people grow,” Jewel said. “They start out super nervous and I’m like ‘No, no. You’ll love this. I promise’ and then they come back to me ‘Wow, you’re right. I did love that’. I like feeling that I can help them have that experience.”
Open means open
The open mic nights are just that: open. Every night’s different. Even though some of the regulars are always there, Jewel says she has never experienced a night when there wasn’t new people and a fresh feel to the crowd. It becomes her challenge to read the room and come up with a flow to the night’s readings everyone can enjoy.
“Some of my crowds want to be super enthusiastic and cheer along, which is wonderful, and I love when that happens,” Jewel said. “But then other times I’ll get shy crowds and I’ll have to pump them up. It’s kind of a different experience every time.”
People can sing, dance, say their own poetry, or use an instrument. People can also perform other works with the stipulation that they give credit to the original author.
“Sometimes we are singing about Disney. Sometimes we are rapping about Pokémon. Sometimes we are talking about sexual assault. Sometimes we are talking about losing a partner. Or, sometimes we are discussing injustices, discrimination, racism,” Starling said.
“Everyone can create art just by giving their own perspective,” which is at the heart of open mic’s purpose, Starling said. “The more there is unique stuff, the more people can feel there is no holds bar because it’s an open mic, it’s open.”
Their first night at Fargo Brewing Co. was a learning curve as many of the bar patrons were there simply to enjoy the beverages on tap with no awareness a poetry group would be presenting. However, the organic intoxication of the night expanded to the unsuspecting crowd. By the end of the night, even the bartender took a turn reading from a book of prose found under the counter.
“About halfway through the night it was good, and everyone was sharing, and really engaged,” Jewel said. “It was a little bit bumpy to start off with, but I think it’s going to be good. I think it will be different, though, because a bar crowd is different than a coffee crowd. We will find out.”
From Terrifying to Exciting
Tasha Gorentz started writing poetry in middle school but since adulthood she has found the written word the perfect place to express her struggles, experiences, and wonderments. However, it wasn’t until recently the 26-year-old even spoke her words out loud to herself, let alone in front of a crowd of people.
“It was so scary. I am not a public speaker so sometimes I word-vomit and stutter a little bit and trip on my words,” Gorentz said. “So, I felt like a cement truck was literally filling my lungs with wet cement, and it was hard to breathe, and I doubted my ability to finish the last three lines of my poem. I got through it and it gets a little bit better each time but it’s still terrifying.”
“The first time that I read I was terrified, and the second time that I read I was terrified, but when I was done, I felt really proud of myself because I’ve never been a public speaker,” Gorentz said. “Now I’m still terrified but I’m excited at the same time. The excitement kind of overrules feeling vulnerable and emotional.”
Expanding the creative community
It’s growth and connectivity from people like Gorentz that Starling says fuels the artistic community in Fargo-Moorhead.
“In the beginning, we were talking about pretty standard topics but the longer we have been doing this, people are more comfortable talking about their own personal issues and using it as an actual outlet,” Starling said. “I feel like the more the audience sees someone being themselves it expands their comfortability. So, I feel everyone is influencing everyone.”
With or without their influence, both organizers would like to see the continuation of a poetry scene in Fargo. In addition to the open mic poetry nights, another person recently started a writing group, which meets at the Red Raven Espresso Parlor.
“We are kind of in a little bubble here in Fargo-Moorhead,” Jewel said. “So when we don’t have a place to share it’s hard to grow as an artist. Like for me, if I didn’t have a place to share, I would be just sitting in my room — writing poetry — hoping it was good. People will come and give you feedback here.”
(Robyn Rohde is collecting degrees to the pass the time until MSUM gives her an honorary doctorate just to get rid of her. A persistent pursuit of knowledge drives her daily reading. Binge watching Netflix keeps her sane. Contact her at email@example.com)