Ideally, an open mic is a catch-all for a community's voices. It's a forum, a stage, a place where one could visit to hear a wide range of opinions.
The diversity on stage isn't guaranteed, however, and the most open of mics can't be inclusive if the community doesn't know about that stage.
The problem between diversity and awareness led one area poet to ask a crucial question: Are Black voices being heard enough in Colorado Springs?
Christopher "Beas J" Beasley, who sits on the board of Hear Here Poetry, doesn't think so and he took the initiative to create an open mic to specifically cater to the Black community.
This week's event (Click here for details | Cover: $5 ($3 with a student ID)) coincides with Black History Month and Beasley said he hopes it helps spread the word in town that the Hear Here stage is an active outlet. We sat down with Beasley to discuss this major event.
What led you to organize the Black Voices open mic?
I feel there aren't enough black voices in Colorado Springs coming together and sharing their stories. I hope we can start a conversation within the black community to find out what's happening in our neighborhoods, the education system, and local government.
The event seems to be gaining momentum on social media, are you expecting a good size crowd? Any special guests?
It feels great to have a good social media response. I would really love to have a big crowd and get people inspired to want to come to some more Hear Here events and have a more diverse crowd.
We're going to have featured performances by some of the strongest Black poets and artists in the region followed by the open mic. Everyone is welcome to attend, but the mic will be reserved for Black poets and performers.
We'll also have Roll Up Food Truck on site for dinner.
You said Black voices aren't being heard in Colorado Springs, what do you mean by that and how do we address that issue?
I don't think Black voices are heard in Colorado Springs at least not in the poetry community and i think that's because a lot of people still don't know about Hear Here.
I bet there are poets out in the city writing and don't know where to go with their talent. I just want to reach as many people as possible with this event.
How does poetry play a role in the Black community?
Poetry is art, it's self expression, an outlet for creativity and we as a community have a lot to say.
I wanted to do the work to help make Colorado Springs a city that people would want to stay and make art in.
Actress Meryl Streep implored those disenfranchised by the election of Donald Trump as president to "Take your broken heart and make it into art," which is exactly what two Colorado Springs poets have done.
On Jan. 20, the day Trump takes the oath of office, Haymarket Books will release 'Inauguration' a free digital chapbook by Colorado Poets Idris Goodwin and Nico Wilkinson.
The book is a collection of ten poems written in reaction to the onset of a new political regime. Writing out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, one of the most divided cities in the country, Goodwin and Wilkinson trade their stories of survival in a hostile political climate. Yet Inauguration transcends partisan rhetoric. It is a response to the noise and the silence, a rallying call to collectively find our way forward.
The book release party is set for 7 p.m. on Jan. 20 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, hosted by Keep Colorado Springs Queer.
We sat down with Wilkinson and Goodwin to talk about the release.
The Inauguration is thousands of miles away so why does a book release in Colorado Springs matter?
Wilkinson: Colorado Springs is a microcosm of the divisions that exist across the country. Despite its reputation as simply conservative, it is diverse in its identities and opinions, and we seek to highlight that in being more outspoken and honest in both our love and criticism for our city and our country. The religious right has always been very quick to own America as their country, and to respond to political environments they disagree on with that ownership. Now it is our time to stand and say “Not in my country,” not out of blind nationalism, but out of love for our communities and our neighbors who have been left vulnerable to bigotry and hate in the recent and upcoming political climate.
It’s always been a tradition to have poets at the inauguration, and we are working in that tradition, invited or otherwise.
When were these poems written? Have they all been created since the election?
Goodwin: These are the kinds of poems we stay writing year in and out. But I pitched Nico on the idea in the late fall, mainly because I felt that “we need to talk about what just happened.” As we got nearer to “the day” we began to think about which of our existing works fit and of course what new things we could say. This project is about bringing folks together to co exist in a space of imagination. And for us to collectively reflect on where we are going next.
Was Streep correct to say now is the time for artists to make art?
Goodwin: Well, I think Meryl’s sentiment was right BUT I don't believe “now is the time” -- it’s been the time. Yesterday, today, tomorrow--we are the types of artists who are interested in creating work that draws from our culturally specific experiences and the feelings of those around us. We write for any and all, BUT primarily for those on the margins.
My 2010 book These Are The Breaks was written in the Obama era and still dealt with similar issues. My 2014 album Rhyming While Black - same thing. Inauguration would have existed even if Hillary won, because the campaign road illuminated so many of our tragic demons. This is not about who the president is this year, it’s about who WE have been and still are.
People don't typically think thriving poetry scene when they think of Colorado Springs, is that changing?
Wilkinson: I’ve spoken to people who have lived here for years, or lived here years ago and then moved to Denver, who remark on Colorado Springs now as vastly different than it was even 4-5 years ago. We’ve got a thriving population of artists, and more college alum who are sticking around post-graduation, that are doing the work to improve both the arts and activism scene in Colorado Springs and shake it from complacency.
I started as a poet with Hear, Here! and upon going to the slams, I realized Colorado Springs was a place I could stay and make art in, with a passionate community of poets and artists. That is why I so appreciate Hear, Here’s work with youth and cultivation of space for poets in high school and younger to speak and feel a sense of community that they might not otherwise feel here.
I wanted to do the work to help make Colorado Springs a city that people would want to stay and make art in. That’s why I founded Keep Colorado Springs Queer with Han Sayles. It has brought queer and trans artists to the stage and consistently fills the house with an audience that has craved representation. Although some valuable DIY artist spaces have shut down, such as Mountain Fold Books, The Flux, and Rooted Studio, the people that were most fundamental in the work those spaces held have not lost steam. We are working on creating new collectives, venues, and co-ops and keep the arts scene going and growing in Colorado Springs.
The fact that this event can happen, that Idris and I can perform these poems with artists from the Keep Colorado Springs Queer collective, with so much support from our community is evidence of the fact that Colorado Springs is changing, and that people want to hear poetry and art that represents them, in both our outrage and sorrow, as well as our celebration.
Where can people pick up a copy?
A digital copy is available online via haymarketbooks.org and our “han-made” limited edition letter pressed versions created by Han Sayles can be purchased at our gigs. Folks should visit our websites to find out where we will be and when.
KEEP COLORADO SPRINGS QUEER is a collective of comedians, poets, and musicians in Colorado Springs who gather at monthly open mics, hosted by Nico Wilkinson and Han Sayles.
HAYMARKET BOOKS is a Chicago based independent, nonprofit whose mission to publish books that contribute to struggles for social and economic justice
IDRIS GOODWIN is an award winning playwright, poet and essayist. He is the author of the pushcart nominated collection These Are The Breaks. He’s performed poetry on HBO, Sesame Street, and Discovery Channel. Goodwin’s work is featured in The Break Beat Poets and Spoken Word Revolution anthologies, in addition to numerous literary journals. His widely produced stage-plays include: How We Got On, This Is Modern Art co-written with Kevin Coval, And In This Corner: Cassius Clay, Hands Up and Bars and Measures. He’s received support from the NEA and Ford Foundation, and awarded Oregon Shakespeare’s American History Cycle Commission, The Blue Ink Playwriting Award and InterAct Theater’s 20/20 Prize. Idris is an assistant professor in The Department of Theatre and Dance at Colorado College . Find him at www.idrisgoodwin.com
NICO WILKINSON is a spoken word poet and organizer in Colorado Springs. In 2015 they were the Grand Slam Champion of Colorado Springs, and represented the city at the National Poetry Slam in Oakland. In 2016, Nico released “good morning cruel world,” their first album.They host “Keep Colorado Springs Queer,” a monthly open mic, and they write for “Queer & There,” a weekly column in the Colorado Springs Independent. Their work has been published in Rust+ Moth, Voicemail Poems, and Cactus Heart. Find them at www.nicowilkinson.com
A pillar of Hear Here Poetry's mission is enabling teen and youth voices in the Pikes Peak Region.
This year will be the third time the organization has sent a team of poets to Brave New Voices, a national tournament and event.
Kimberly Southcott runs the monthly open mic and slam for youth poets and hopes every school in Colorado Springs will send a poet to the Final Stage event in March where this year's team will be selected.
She shared her thoughts on youth poetry and Brave New Voices in this month's Q&A.
Why is encouraging youth poets to write and share so important to Hear Here?
Encouraging youth poets to write and share is important to Hear Here because we firmly believe youth voices really matter. We want youth to be empowered to share their stories, ideas and opinions, and to know they are a powerful force in changing the world. Hear Hear also wants to build a community that supports and fosters its developing artists, which includes its youth poets.
This will be the third year Hear Here sends a youth team to brave new voices, can you tell us more about the event?
Brave New Voices is the annual international youth poetry slam festival. It involves a four day competition of youth poetry slams with teams from around the world. The festival also includes showcases for former BNV poets, writing workshops, community service events, and programs that center around how to bring about change in your community.
How can a local teenager earn a spot on this year's team?
Spots are won through our semi-final poetry slam on March 11, but the process starts much earlier. We want to encourage every school to build a place for poetry and ideally a poetry program. Eventually we would like each school to host a poetry slam and send their champion on to the Hear Here final stage slam. That requires a lot of work and we're here to help. We have several poetry clubs established in Colorado Springs and that number is always growing. We made the following chart to guide young poets through the whole process.
When Susan Peiffer, the executive director of Hear Here Poetry, sees a donation come into the organizations coffers, she doesn't see a dollar amount as much as she hears the poem that donation will become.
"Hear Here Poetry is a voice box for the Pikes Peak region," Peiffer said. "We are an open circle where people can write honestly and movingly about their experiences. We dig deep and plant seeds that encourage people to listen, write, and share poetry."
As 2016 wraps up and 2017 is born, the poetry organization that serves all ages in the Pikes Peak region hopes to climb higher than ever before. To accomplish those goals, Pieffer said the organization needs the community's help.
Q: Where does Hear Here Poetry fit into the Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak region community?
A: Hear Here is a playground where we face each other in a high spirited game. We foster courageous community that encourages acceptance and dialogue. We have become a concert hall for the stories in our city. As an essential element of the arts culture in Colorado Springs we partner with several other organizations dedicated to making a local impact with the arts. We are a classroom, a safe haven, a microphone, and a footbridge from our city to national stages.
Q: Why is so much energy placed on youth poetry and creativity? What does that do for a community?
A: Young people need to be heard—they need to be able to sort and share their experiences and they need to be listened to. We focus on the youth of our city because what they are saying is powerful and because they need a safe space to say it. When vibrant imaginations are mentored in crafting and performing poetry they gain new skill sets that benefit them in the long term. The individual stories of the young people in Colorado Springs are a compelling gateway for others to explore who we are.
Q: How do donations help Hear Here Poetry?
A: The majority of our funding is from direct donations—they support our year-round programming, our venue costs, and our operational expenses. Art should be sustainable and donations allow us to continue our work and build our outreach. We exist on donations of time, talent, and the generosity of our patrons.
Q: What is the biggest area of need for the organization right now?
A: Our biggest area of need going into the new year is to build the financial stability of our organization. As a budding non-profit, we’re seeking momentum with our start-up capital. Hear Here’s programming goals for 2017 are ambitious and we need assistance to meet them.
Q: If money was not a concern, what would you most like to see Hear Here accomplish?
A: I would love to see us expand our writing programming to hosting regular sessions, retreats, and workshops in our own dedicated classroom space. Our full time staff would receive livable salaries and be based in a central office. We would have a community gathering space with a library collection. I would want to take as many poets out of town to larger stages as I could. I’d bring more featured poets in from out of town and expose more people in town to poetry. I’d love to host a regional poetry slam tournament and advertise our events in traditional media—and perhaps we’d start a small local press.
Learn more about Hear Here Poetry events on the group Facebook page and follow Hear Here on Twitter. Hear Here Poetry is a non-profit with many financial needs to support the poetry community in Colorado Springs including sending poets to events such as Women of the World Poetry Slam. To make a tax-deductible donation, please click here