By Biz Bledsoe
Kevin Klaus / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Albert Lannou reads at Hazy Dayz Lounge and Cafˇ's open mic night Wendesday. Hazy Dayz, 187 N. Park Ave., holds open mic poetry readings at 9:15 p.m. every Wednesday. Call 884-0272 for more information.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday November 5, 2002
Open mic poetry readings bring students the audience they can't find on campus
The scene at Hazy Dayz Lounge and Cafˇ is not unlike one you would imagine when thinking of an open mic poetry reading. The walls are colorful and full of art, the hardwood floors creaky, the eclectic furniture mismatched but still comfortable and homey, the air musty like an old house, and the lights dimmed. A single pale blue velvet chair and a slim microphone stand are placed directly under a barely-lit chandelier, ready for Wednesday nights when a steady stream of poets, musicians and wannabes expose their minds for inspection.
Hazy Dayz is only one of many local Tucson locations that houses open mic poetry events, but this particular coffee shop holds a special charm. The rustic and censor-free setting makes this event one of the most popular in Tucson. On any given Wednesday, you'll find a variety of people with nothing in common but a willingness to bare their souls in public. Listeners and poets alike range from the young and trendy to the young and dread-locked, from the older and pony-tailed to the older and professional, and just about anything in between.
"Poetry is a way to make your communication dense and eloquent," said Dov Diamond, a senior majoring in media arts and creative writing who is also the emcee for Hazy Dayz's poetry nights.
"You can put through your attitudes or your style. You can have your own style."
Creative writing and photography sophomore Tom Sivilli agrees, although he understands the pressure that comes along with public artistic expression.
KEVIN KLAUS/ Arizona Daily Wildcat
Dov Diamond, the emcee for Hazy Dayz's open mic nights, performs his poetry Wednesday evening.
"You can hear some great poetry, some terrible; so it doesn't matter who you are ÷you can get up and read whatever you want, any style," Sivilli said. "(I began reading because) it scared me to death."
At Hazy Dayz's open mic nights, anything from free verse to live music can be heard. Free verse is poetry that is based on an irregular cadence, rather than a conventional meter. Also unlike formal poetry, in which the standard unit is a foot (usually a syllable), free verse feet can be entire paragraphs. The foot in free verse is usually determined by rhythm or thought rather than syllables.
Sivilli, who first began reading publicly a year ago, is a self-described surrealist poet. For him, open mic readings are "an exorcism."
"It's about the battle inside the artist between ĪWhy don't you just shut up?' and having other people understand you," Sivilli said.
"It's coming up with new ways to say the same old stuff."
Poetry readings, slams and open mics around Tucson
Land of the Pharoahs
74 E. Congress St.
First Saturday of the month at 8 p.m.
Call 808-0798 for more information.
745 N. Fourth Ave.
One Shot Open Mic
8 p.m. Thursdays
Call 624-6844 for more information.
The stress and nerves that come with open-mic poetry are common, especially for first-time reader and creative writing junior Ted Gerstle. On this particular night, he read two poems, both about coping with death.
"I read the shit out of that thing," Gerstle said with a laugh.
"I don't think I've cussed in front of that many people, ever."
Obviously relieved that his first open-mic reading was over, Gerstle went on to describe the reasoning behind sharing your thoughts with scores of people.
"Being honest with yourself on some level is key," Gerstle said. "If you're going to reveal yourself to others, you've gotta know what you're revealing."
The Hazy Dayz Wednesday night poetry reading, along with other local open mic events, attracts a large local audience. But worth noting is the number of UA students who are going out of their way, and off campus, to participate in these events.
"This town's got a whole lot to offer; this town's got a lot of culture," Diamond said. "It's bleeding culture · (but) I feel like the U of A really cuts itself off from the Tucson writing scene."
The UA is home to one of the country's top poetry programs. The UA Poetry Center was founded in 1960 and has held over 1,000 readings since 1962, in which world-renowned poets and writers read from their work. However, non-professional and undergraduate readings occur only once a semester.
Diamond and some other local poets,
students or not, feel that the university ignores the local poetry scene in order to promote a more formal understanding of poetry among students. Although this is necessary, Diamond said, he feels that limiting access to local and informal poetry hurts, rather than helps, the learning process.
"Everybody here writes," Diamond said. "And how do they improve their work? By seeing other styles, by trying to understand how people communicate with one another."
"I never saw any posters for the Tucson Poetry Festival; Tucson Poetry Slam, never saw a flier; open mics around town (that are) non-UA affiliated, never saw a flier. And so I put them up, but they'd magically disappear," Diamond said. "Maybe (the Poetry Center) is overlooking it, maybe they're not."
He also noted that students are not regularly encouraged to read their work unless they have earned it, so to speak, through contests and other competitive evaluations.
"You got some really great writers in Tucson, and you got some really good writers at the U of A," Diamond said.
"But I hate the idea that these artists are only being exposed to levels of formalism · there are teachers at the U of A that say free verse isn't even poetry."
According to Diamond, a free and open exchange of ideas and work is what's missing from the poetry program.
"You can't get better if you don't read. I've never seen a writer come to a poetry reading regularly, and not have his style change for the better · I mean, with more confidence, with more clarity, more force, more conviction behind it," said Diamond.
Gail Browning, the new director of the Poetry Center, agrees.
"I'm very much interested in how we can involve the community, both the literary and poetry community of Tucson, and how there can be more of a dialogue between the two," Browning said. "So I think you'll be seeing within the next few months more opportunities for that dialogue to take place and hopefully more partnership between local other reading series, small presses and the Poetry Center."
Whether or not the UA and the local poetry scenes ever unite, one thing remains certain: Tucson and its poets "bleed culture." Hazy Dayz Cafˇ, 187 N. Park Ave., holds open mic poetry readings 9:15 p.m. every Wednesday. Call 884-0272 for more information.