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I was surprised at the
lack of balance to the criticisms of the black poetry scene that were expressed in “Cipherspace” (8/9) about the readings at It’s Your Mug. I can understand some of the sentiments that were expressed; however, there is another perspective that is being missed.
I have read my poetry regularly at the Mug for a while now, and I submit that the Mug readings compare favorably to most of those that I have attended at other restaurants and coffee houses. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to other readings where I have had to compete with noisy dinner crowds that either don’t know or don’t care that there is a poetry reading going on at that time. There are also the coffee houses where they have a cappuccino machine that sounds like the cement mixer from hell. It is very distracting and not very respectful toward people who have worked on their poetry in order to give a decent performance. You don’t have to deal with any of this at the Mug.
Then there are the audiences. The article seemed to suggest that the only poetry being read at the Mug is the love-and-lust variety. That was news to me. You see some of that poetry at any reading; however, my experience as a white man and a poet at the Mug has been somewhat different.
Most of my poetry has been political and social commentary from a left-wing perspective. I have always found that the Mug crowd is far more willing to listen to this point of view than at other poetry readings. Some of the white yuppie poetry snobs I have seen in D.C. coffee-house readings will dis anybody—black or white—who does even the most faintly political poetry. Heaven forbid that anything approaching serious political expression should ever go down.
This is why I will never write my poetry only for other writers, as was suggested by one of the poets in that article. I want to improve my writing as much as anybody else does, but I am not going to accomplish that by writing only for the approval of other, more established writers and turning my back on the people who have been consistently coming out to support poetry. I always ask for feedback from other writers, but it means a lot to me when a person who has only a passing interest in poetry expresses appreciation for what I am doing. I thought that the whole idea of open mikes was to bring people in who are not familiar with the art.
It is my hope that the Mug will continue to be a supportive environment for all poets. I strongly take issue with the idea that there is too much applause for poets that someone has decided are mediocre. What are we supposed to do? Start booing and throwing rotten eggs? If you don’t want to clap than just fold your arms and don’t clap.
The first time I ever stood up at an open mike, I was scared witless. If I thought that I would be facing The Gong Show I never would have given it a try. I can still empathize with the “virgin” poet who has the nerve to try out their stuff. So what if it sucks. I am not entirely proud of all of the stuff that I have read, but I managed to improve anyway.
Meanwhile, with regard to It’s Your Mug being a meat market, of course I have found that the women there can’t wait to throw themselves at a 39-year-old white guy with a beer gut and a receding hairline. Yeah, I am getting more pussy than Denzel Washington. Sure.
I have no doubt that the guys who are on the make have made themselves painfully obvious (painful for them) and are not taken very seriously. Besides, if you go to any other poetry venue in the city, I give you my personal guarantee that you will see some of the same stuff. People are people.
I just hope that people do not underestimate what has been accomplished at It’s Your Mug. It is a special place with a lot of special people. It is also contributing more to the local poetry scene than a lot of other places I could think of.