Poetry club’s open mic night creates community and promotes self expression

Josie Schneider and Emma Morris

At seven o’clock p.m. on April 29, a lone microphone stands in the drama dance room with a spotlight shining on it, welcoming everyone and whoever cares to share their work. Next to the microphone is a whiteboard containing the names of poets and songwriters waiting to perform.

Sophomore poet Fiona Hellerman described the evening, and poetry in general, as an outlet. 

“I would describe [the night] as a group of students that were just people and came together and enjoyed different types of poetry and art together,” Hellerman said.

Junior Daliah Maliah, member of Poetry Club and performer at the Open Mic Night, explains that for her poetry is the truest form of self expression, and open mic night was a perfect opportunity to share her art with others.

“[The show] was so supportive,” Maleh said. “It was so opportunistic. It was open. Anyone had the chance to go up there, whether it was five words, or a thirteen minute poem, that was your stage… it’s you, and you have an audience, and they’re listening to [your performance], and it’s so much better than getting a favorite on a tweet or a like on an instagram picture.”

Hillary Kane, sponsor of Poetry Club, was pleasantly surprised at the event’s attendance, as she expected less people than there were. According to Kane, most of the preparation for the event went into creating a inspiring, fun and creativity atmosphere.

“What I really looked for and I thought was available was community,” Kane said. “Welcoming people, whether we knew them or not… encouraging them to sign up but also allowing people to come and be apart of it. You don’t have to perform. I wanted there to be encouragement but not pressure.”

According to Maleh, the idea for a poetry-sponsored open mic night came from herself. Some of her preparation for the event included making, hanging up and handing out posters, even making tea for the audience members and writing and practicing of the poetry itself. Maleh explains that she regularly goes to poetry open mics outside of GBS and felt the need to bring a similar event to the school, as did the other members felt in poetry club.

“Going to those open mics and seeing all these young, intellectual people working together was an amazing environment and community, and that’s what I wanted to bring to GBS,” Maleh said.

According to Maleh, the open mic at South last year was not a poetry club production. Though the audience was small, Maleh said the poetry was incredible and worth her time. Maleh aims to be the head of poetry club next year, explaining that in terms of improving the open mic for next year, she wants to work on advertising the event more.

“This year we were pretty low key,” Maleh said. “I want to get that stuff out there. I want to have open mics monthly. [I want to] get the ball rolling. [I want to] get people involved, because there’s a bunch of people in all grades that like poetry and don’t even know it. I really want to get the word out and show them what it’s about.”

Freshmen Logan Steenbergen, poetry club member and open mic participant, agrees with Maleh that events dealing with poetry tend to have low attendance rates, something she would like to change.

“It is such a great experience […],” Steenbergen said. “I feel like if more people experienced it, it would gain more popularity, whereas people think about open mics and think they are super pretentious and hipster-y, but really it’s not. It’s very chill.”

Furthermore, many poets, including Steenbergen, often find themselves dealing with a stigma that surrounds poetic events, according to Steenbergen.

“[There is] definitely [a stigma],” Steenbergen said. “I told my friend I was being interviewed about this today, and she was like, ‘Wow Logan, so hipster,’ and I’m like, ‘Ok, I just write. Like it’s not that big of a deal.’ I feel like definitely more people would write if there wasn’t such a stigma attached to that.”

According to Hellerman, another positive aspect of poetry and open mic settings is that is it an opportunity for people to support their friends and view them from a different perspective.

“When you hear someone read something they have written, like poetry, that is as vulnerable as that, you kind of get to know them better,” Hellerman said. “There are people who just showcase talents that you might not have known that they had. [For example], a  guy wrote a poem in Spanish, and he read it and had his friend translate it for him– it was really cool.”

Falling into the format of typical poetry open mics, the drama room was filled with the sound of audience members snapping. For Maleh, snapping is a way for the audience to get involved with the performance, as it’s a positive response from the audience, and though seemingly cliche, it allows the performer to be more comfortable on the stage.

“I get up and I stand in front of a class, and I automatically feel like everyone is judging every word and everything that comes out of my mouth and  getting that kind of recognition [from the audience’s snapping],” Steenbergen said. “[…] That kind of acceptance definitely urges on your performance and you feel more confident.”

Maleh describes some high points for her of that night, including an act performed in Spanish and translated into English, and a performance from King Trey. Additionally, Maleh was excited to be there to support her friends.

“I really liked when my friend, Steph, went up,” Maleh explained. “I feel like in my friend group, poetry is ‘Dahl’s thing’ [or] ‘That’s what Dahlia does.’ I hate that so much, because it’s not just my thing, it can be yours too… my friend Steph, she said, ‘I don’t want to perform; I don’t write.” But she went up there, and performed… and for the past week she’s been like a poetry junkie… I love it! I don’t want it to just be a me thing.”

According to Kane, senior Elaine Sine, co-founder of poetry club, wrote and performed a poem that was phenomenal. For Kane, the performance knocked her out of her chair.

“The poem was called Repulsion.” Kane explained. “The beginning of the poem, the first few lines, talked about how her life is forever changed because of physics. I assumed the poem was going to be about being repulsed by physics class… what knocked me out was how she took a concept that she learned in physics class and used the language of physics and talked about the energy of repulsion [she had] that nothing ever really touches in the world.”

Like Maleh, Kane has big plans for future open mic nights at South, planning more structure while attempting to keep the events casual and fun. She aims to have regular open mics, not just dropins. She gives advice for students perhaps thinking about participating in or attending a future open mic.

“Just come, you don’t have to read,” Kane offers. “My advice would be pretty much in life you regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did. Come give it a try. Mark it off your bucket list, and I think you’ll find out you want to come back.”