Open Mics, Open Hearts: This Poet’s Dirty Dozen Love Letter (In no Particular Order)

By Kelsey Bryan-Zwick


Online readings and open mics have kept me grounded this past year and my heart pumping. In truth it is a real luxury of our times to hear so many poets share work in their own voice. The advent of technology has begun to dissolve the divide between spoken and page poetry as the internet enables authors to connect in ways that hasn’t always been possible. Zoom, though a product of our struggles in this pandemic, has opened this door even further. Cafes and little hole-in-the-wall venues that may be difficult to get to, especially for people with mobility disabilities like myself, are all of a sudden open and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. And I’m in love. This community of creatives enlightens and enlivens the soul and so I have been doing my best to make the rounds (of course it also helps that I don’t have to put on pants).





1.When I just want to listen to poetry I tune in to a reading without an open mic, something that just lets me concentrate on, at most, a few polished voices. There are single author readings like the Cholla Needles weekly offering. This reading occurs every Sunday from 3-3:30pm and has had in the past nature poets like former wilderness firefighter Ruth Nolan and Sequoya National Park Poet Laureate John Brantingham, who both write about the great Western wilderness (chollaneedles.com).

2.There is also Literary Uprising, a quarterly reading organized by the Antioch MFA program. At this reading I swooned for Shonda Buchanan who read from her current manuscript: a collection of Nina Simone poems, written in three voices: Africa, India, and Irish. She also read from her memoir Black India (on its way to me now!). Always a presence, even through canned computer audio, I could listen to S. Buchanan’s honest soothing voice anytime (@antiochunivercityla).


3.Moon Tide Press has also been offering a Quartet Reading series featuring past and future Moon Tide authors. This February they are holding space for four of my favorite poets, Ellen Weber, Aruni Wijesinghe, Alexandra Umlas, and Daniel McGinn, voices that have kept me in awe over the years (@MoonTidePress).


4.Rapp Saloon, held the first Friday of the month and who just celebrated their 5th anniversary does have an open mic but also tends to feature a handful of poets at a time and this feels like the main focus to me. Rapp Saloon is hosted by Cynthia Alessandra Briano and it was here I got to hear poet and flautist Juan Cardenas of Los Angeles Poet Society, give an in-depth performance, including a reading of his poetry from his book The Beat of an Immigrant Chicano, published by Swan World Press.


5.When I want to share a poem myself, I go for something more informal and intimate. I’ll sign up for Shout! The Open Mic, offered through Half Off Books, a Fullerton hubbub of creativity and literacy. Hosted by author Eric Morago, editor of the aforementioned Moon Tide Press, this is an all-open-mic, as in equal time for all participants: 2 poems or 4 minutes, and is a space that attracts readers like Rob Sturma and Josef Lemoine (@HalfOffBooks).


6.One of the most energizing audiences I’ve ever experienced gathers the last Friday of every month at the Definitive Soapbox. This is a fast-paced event, with the open mic allowing for only one poem per person, keeping it fresh, I am introduced to new voices every time I attend. One of the most inspiring nights was when long-time organizer of this event, Sheila Sadr performed from her first book of poems, Birthday Girl, newly released by Not A Cult Media (@thedefinativesopabox).


7.One of the longest standing open mics/readings is Two Idiots Peddling Poetry (celebrating their 20th year!). Here you get three poems or five minutes, whichever comes first, and remember, “Don’t Blame the Ugly Mug!” Especially as they gather every Wednesday and network with a wide variety of featured poets like Mindy Nettifee performing on March 24th who will be bringing the love all the way from Portland, Oregon (PoetryIdiots.com).


8.Da Poetry Lounge, one of LA’s finest open mics, has been around maybe the longest of any show I know of. It has been on my want-to-go-to-this list for too long, and weirdly it took the pandemic for me to make it to this gathering, thanks again to the powers of Zoom. This reading fills up fast so sign up early in the day and come prepared to rock that mic (@Da_Poetry_Lounge).


9.If you are looking to try out new material, want to write your first poems, or just enjoy nerding-out there is Culturama. This once a yearly offering through the Mt Sac College Creative Writing Department, Culturama has transformed, through John Brantingham’s creative diligence, to become a monthly offering of free writing workshops and performances. I was thrilled to get lessons from Stephanie Barbé Hammer, Kareem Tayyar, and Yi Shun Lai whose beautiful little chapbook of prose “Pin Ups,” just arrived in my mail (like really this book is so sweet and pocket-sized, I just want to eat it up word by word). Many of the lessons offered have been archived on their website where you can also sign up through to get future invites (https://culturamacommunity.blogspot.com). *Provides ASL translation.


10.To find readings, open mics, and workshops throughout the month and year, the Los Angeles Poet Society is the place to go. Their calendar is full of a host of gatherings, all of February for example, they have a daily prompt to highlight black history. On Instagram they have recently had different authors taking over the account to interact with the community throughout the day. A highlight which for me was the interview of Matt Sedillo by Elvia Susana Rubalcava, where he shared his poems, “La Reina,” and “Pilgrim” from his book Mowing Leaves of Grass from Flower Song Press (@losangelespoetsociety).


11. LB Grrrl Collective is amazing and I can’t say it any better than they do so I will quote, “[…] an intersectional, queer, pro-migrant, pro(-sex)-worker, trans-inclusive feminist collective organizing, and healing together in Long Beach, CA. G.R.R.R.L. is an acronym for gender-revolution-resistance-radical liberation.” They host both a safe space Queer + Feminist Open Mic which generally has a theme, they also hosts learning groups free and open to the public (@lbgrrrlcollective)


12. A yearly event I am really looking forward to is the Pan African (Virtual) Film Festival. This is an event new to me, though with poet LaLa DeVille producing and hosting the poetry segment I know I can expect to be shook and energized. Especially excited that there will be poetry from local phenom and excellent hat wearer, Charlie E Scott III! This event goes from February 28th to March 14th, tickets available at www.paff.org.


13.Bonus Round:

The Read Down… Okay this is not a poetry reading, but I love listening to this local podcast, a conversation on queer democratic politics based in California. I don’t always agree, but I love hearing from the people on the ground grappling with all the many nuances of congress and government, and learning ways to be more present and involved in the systems that impact us all (like writing love letters to my representatives!) The show is live every Tuesday night at 7pm, find the link on the Stonewall Democratic Club on Facebook and is available on YouTube and other podcast supporting platforms.


This year I hope to also make these and many readings and open mics not listed here; many I have yet to learn of—I’m also going to try hosting some myself! To dip a toe in the open mic community only ever reveals a need to dive in, there is so much richness to discover. Springtime is upon us so take a chance and fall for new voices, and you know, I’ll be right there next to you.


XOXO,

Kelsey Bryan-Zwick, author of H