In her autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou shares something she learned from a woman named Bertha Flowers, who once told the young girl:
“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning.”
When local poet Julie Laing read this, she thought, “This is exactly why I read and write poetry.”
Until this year Laing and other area poets have been known to try reading their work at open-microphone events that are traditionally for music.
But now Laing and many others have become very loyal to the weekly Kalispell GET POETRY Open Mic.
The Kalispell GET POETRY Open Mic is held every Sunday at the Boiler Room. Sign-ups begin at 3:30 p.m. with readings from 4 to 6 p.m. For those interested in improving their skills there is also a writing workshop beforehand with Leigh Ann DiDomenico and Laing from 2 to 3 p.m.
“There are established poets who write here, then there are people who write just for themselves in the privacy of their own homes,” DiDomenico said. “But performance-wise, I think this is the first weekly consistent event specifically for performance poets.”
DiDomenico, who relocated to the Flathead Valley a year ago from Oakland, Calif., is the driving force behind the poetry open microphone. She was a member of the San Francisco Slam Team for two years, and in 2009 the San Francisco team and DiDomenico took third place nationally. DiDomenico was also second-place individual poet in the West Coast region.
When asked why she is doing this, DiDomenico said, “Because poetry is my soul.”
“Poetry nourishes my soul. This is something I need to do, like breathing,” she said. “It is also my nature to start things. I’m good at getting people excited about new things. The idea of creating a thriving performance poetry community, one that brings people into the art form, that is exciting for me.”
The GET POETRY Open Mic events began on Jan. 9. With the exception of Super Bowl Sunday, they have taken place every week. Week one brought in 11 performers and had an audience of more than 30. They’ve brought in pretty consistent numbers since the start and some weeks GET POETRY is standing-room only.
“This is a performing poet’s dream,” Laing said. She loves being in a space where the crowds are there to hear the spoken word. She also enjoys how much inspiration she gets from hearing other poets.
“As a poet, I love reading my poetry as much as writing it,” she said.
“In the beginning I just said ‘I want poetry’ and from there I stepped out on faith. I wanted to be surrounded with writers again,” DiDomenico said.
The next themed event will be Easter Sunday, April 24, with prizes awarded for the best poem in various categories. Next month the event is planned as a poetry slam, in which poets compete on stage with their original works and are judged by members of the audience. DiDomenico hopes to create a Kalispell slam poetry team and eventually connect them with the national slam scene. The first slam is likely to be scheduled in May.
“There are all these puzzle pieces,” said DiDomenico. “I didn’t predict any of this, but it’s all just coming together.”
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