Ok, I know this may sound cheesy, but as poets shared their poems for Keep St. Pete Lit’s virtual open mic night (which I co-host on the last Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. with Maureen McDole and Denzel Johnson-Green,) it made me think of the famous scene from Forrest Gump when a tired woman sits next to Forrest on a bench and he offers her a chocolate. When she refuses, he says “My momma always said, life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Just as you never know what is going to be inside each chocolate—it could be caramel (my favorite) or that strange marshmallow-y cream filling, you never know what each poet is going to reveal. And there’s usually a diverse cast of attendees. Some performers are just starting out and others are seasoned poets with multiple books. Some poems are on serious subjects like assault or suicide and others are about cats. One thing is always for certain: No matter the topic or skill of the poet, every poet, like every chocolate, is a gift.
There’s something that is so nourishing and comforting about poetry open mics because people open up and share how they really feel in a safe space. So much of our lives are quick responses and easy answers, so it’s a gift to hear people’s true reflections, observations, and emotions. Last night the poets who read were so honest and open and it’s refreshing to see people be themselves. Even though it was a virtual format, it still felt intimate and there was a feeling of connection and community.
Before COVID hit the monthly open mic was held at Studio 620 and now it’s virtual and live-streamed on the Studio 620’s Facebook page. Check it out to just listen or come and read your work! Details found on Studio 620’s or Keep St. Pete Lit’s FB page.
And there’s another exciting open mic at the Factory St. Pete on the second Saturday of each month from 7-9. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/362522781631524/
I’ll end this post with my section of a collaborative poem I wrote with Denzel Johnson-Green and Maureen McDole on the topic of community, which was presented at the First Night event in St. Petersburg. My section focuses on the poetry open mic at Studio 620, which is where I found community almost immediately after my husband and I moved to St. Pete from Buffalo over three years ago. I am so grateful for this community, and for all safe spaces where we can open up and say how we really feel. Here is my section of the poem:
We were brand new in town,
sun chasers who kissed the North goodbye
in the dead of winter, our sweaters stuffed in boxes
for less than two rows on the calendar.
We were looking for a home
and I said so into the microphone
before I read my poem.
I almost didn’t. Because of that awful voice:
Who do you think you are?
In a new place, it’s easy to feel
like an awkward high-schooler searching
for her two friends at the lunch table.
Studio 620 was jam-packed
with poets who read on a stage lit
with the moon’s spirit before a backdrop
of paintings and photographs;
we were carried by all the currents.
The poets opened the pages of their skin
to share their stories. It was that
kind of honesty.
In our downtown lullaby
with open mics that keep us alive
art does unite us:
the worker who drove four times
around the block to find a spot to park his van.
The teachers, the weathered, the servers,
the tired, the broken-hearted, the teenagers—
the rest of us.
Tad and I live in the lemon cake house now
with poets we met at the open mic,
the ones writing this poem.
The icing that blesses our walls is
I said, a little shaky into that mic
in February 2018
that we were looking for a place to live
and we found a family, too,
which breaths beyond walls
because poets build villages
with their pens.
As always, thank you for reading!
With love and gratitude,