The Word Is Out

Kalba Ororume steps up to the mike at Bar Nun, one of U Street NW's numerous venues showcasing the area's poets.
Kalba Ororume steps up to the mike at Bar Nun, one of U Street NW's numerous venues showcasing the area's poets. (Mark Finkenstaedt for The Washington Post)
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007

"Attention Attention
The mic is now open
The mic is now open
The dome headed cylindrical apparatus
That amplifies wordsoundpower
aching to reach eager ears
is now open
Page Stage Slam Street and Sidewalk.
Gutter scribes, field hollers, ring shouters, and street preachers
Big mouths, slam champions, anti-slam activists, haiku masters and motor mouths
Lovers of the word . . . "

-- Derrick Weston Brown

It's standing room only for the poets on U Street NW.

Standing room only -- for poets.

And there's nothing new here. Nothing that wasn't happening 10 years ago. And 70 years before that. And ever since the dawn of humanity.

It's just some folks talking. Telling stories. Wrapping thoughts into words. There's no computer animation or big-screen explosions or digital remixing or precious YouTube kitsch.

There's nothing new here. Nothing except this particular talking, these stories, these thoughts and these words.

And it's standing room only to listen.

* * *

On Monday nights they stream into Bar Nun. On Tuesday nights they wait two hours and are sometimes 200 deep, clamoring for a seat at Busboys and Poets. They get turned away and go to the new place next door. On Wednesday they go to Bohemian Caverns, where Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway used to play. On Thursdays they fill the booths at Mocha Hut, where the strawberry smoothies cost $3.75 but the poetry is free.

They talk sometimes about the ones who came before them. About how, before their grandparents could even imagine their parents, Langston Hughes walked these streets and Zora Neale Hurston lived here.

But just as often they talk about heartbreak, redemption, survival. They talk about how the neighborhood has changed, the region has changed, the world has changed. And how it hasn't. How it needs to and how they need to be the ones to change it.

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