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“You never know who will show up,” goes one of the mottoes of mothertongue, a spoken-word event for women that has been drawing crowds to the Black Cat in recent months. At the latest reading Monday evening, about 100 people filled the club’s Red Room, despite the lack of publicity. “I put up, maybe, two fliers?” says Karen Taggert, who founded mothertongue with friend Ruth Dickey.
Each had the idea of creating a monthly literary event for women. “Women only on the mike,” they agreed, though men would be welcome to listen. They also agreed that it should be “a place where people who don’t consider themselves writers could feel comfortable reading their work.” It should have as wide a scope as possible, they decided, and not be perceived as an exclusively lesbian occasion. Both Taggert and Dickey wanted to emphasize local writers and chose to label their project “spoken word” to include genres other than poetry.
If you think in dichotomies, you might see mothertongue’s founders as oppositessoft-spoken Dickey, who conducts writing workshops at a homeless shelter and in Anacostia schools, and Taggert, with her blue-streaked buzz cut, who works as a fundraiser and jokingly claims she writes only “as an excuse to get on the mike.” In the context of mothertongue, however, they complement each other. Dickey brings in people she knows through “the writer community,” she says, and Taggert has ties to the Lesbian Avengers and Women in the Life organizations. Their disparate influences maintain the event’s balance between serious and seriously out-there.
The crowd Monday consisted of women in their 20s and 30s for the most part, with an occasional man in the mix. The readers ranged from accomplished performance artists and published authors to fledglings still finding their voices. The mothertongue definition of “spoken word” stretched even further this time, to include a guitar bard playing funky blues and a band with a singer. For the group-participation exercise, the audience was invited to write down “your favorite cliché from a porno or sexploitation movie” on index cards, to be collected and compiled as a poem.Dawn L. Hannaham
The next mothertongue reading is scheduled for May 3.