If you’re a poet and you know it, then show it at the Owl Acoustic Lounge’s monthly poetry open mic.
The group celebrates its first anniversary on the Owl stage with poems, trees and possibly cake, and Shaw TV, July 25.
While local poets have bared their souls and worn their hearts on their sleeves for a year at the open mic, the roots of the group can be traced to co-organizer Cat Charissage’s living room, two years ago.
“Teri was always the most enthusiastic about it,” Charissage said, adding she would hold a variety of special workshops in her home.
“At first, it was just a chance for people to share their love for poetry, it wasn’t about original work at at all,” she continued, noting one of of the few rules for the Owl poetry open mic is that all works must be originals and performers must keep to five minutes to allow everyone a chance to perform.
“Though we haven’t had to use the hook on anybody yet,” she laughed.
“She had a poetry and story circle happening,” added co-organizer Teri Petz.
“So when that ended, I wanted to continue and we were looking for another location. I went to the lady at the library and she suggest I talk to Steve at the Owl and he asked over the phone if we were interested in doing a poetry open mic every month,” said Petz, noting the event turned out to be more popular than she expected.
“For the first one, we had four or five people we knew would perform, because we didn’t know how many people would show up. Now we have at least 20 people performing, and we always have new people,” Petz continued.
The open mics draw poets from age 8 to 85 and everywhere in between, including published poets and people who have never spoken into a microphone before.
“We have all of these different people talking about different things from young women talking about break-ups. We have an 85-year-old man talking about losing his wife who had never been in front of a microphone before. And he was followed by a young man talking about blow jobs,” Charissage chucked, emphasizing the open mics are a safe, non-judgmental space.
“There’s no sneering. Everyone is open to listening,” she stressed, adding creating a supportive environment is essential.
“And we try to get everybody to applaud a little longer if someone has never been up before,” Petz added.
“Now we have close to 100 people and most weeks are a full house or close to a full house,” she said, adding they have an active presence on Facebook and posters all over the community. Shaw TV has a regular spotlight feature on the poetry open mic.
“Ryan (Cradduck) is at pretty much all of them except for three and he condenses the two-hour night into a one-hour show on TV. People tell me that is the only thing they watch on Shaw,” Petz said.
Charissage noted they really appreciated the support from Shaw.
“They have a regular monthly spotlight on interesting people. And I’m going to be July’s,” Charissage said.
“He interviewed me for three hours,” continued Charissage, who is also a painter and a trained counsellor.
“Blaine Greenwood, who does a poetry show on U of L radio station CKXU, has also been supportive. I think he was the first one to post a review on the Facebook page. He said this is a great place to read your poems,” Petz said.
She noted a lot of the poems go to some really dark places, so Charissage keeps an eye on them.
“We let them know we are here to help,” she said, adding there are a lot of memorable moments.
“We had an eight-year-old girl on stage, whose parents had just got a divorce,” Petz recalled.
“Then her mother came up on stage and recited a poem about how much it meant to her that her daughter was up on stage. So that was another ‘bring out the Kleenex’ moment,” Charissage said, adding it is unusual for children to perform at the open mic.
“Their parents accompany them and they have to be out of there by 10 p.m,” Charissage said, adding that isn’t a problem as the event is done by 10 p.m. anyway.
“We had a 15-year-old girl on stage. She was like a sage in a 15-year-old body. She was so wise,” Petz said.
“I can’t believe how vulnerable people are on stage. It’s like they’re revealing their deepest secrets,” she added.
“There are also a lot of LGBT poets who come out of the closet as poets,” Charissage continued.
Some of the poems are just pure humour.
“We have a lady, Sophie, who will do a character, Trixie, but in real life she is so elegant and dignified,” Petz said.
They have some special events planned for the first anniversary celebration July 25.
“I’m an artist, too, so I’m going to make a tree of just branches and put green leaves on all the tables so people can say what poetry means to them and the Owl open mic means to them as well as what would you say to encourage other people to write poetry,” she said.
“And I suggested a cake, but Steve offered to do that for us,” Petz added, noting Shaw will also be filming the show for a special episode.