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Washington poetry: Mothertongue gives women a place to share their words

Friday, March 5, 2010; WE24

Open-mike nights in Washington have a way of burning up, then fizzling out; with events every night of the week, poets invariably migrate and so do their audiences.

Mothertongue's regular gig at the Black Cat -- launched in 1998 as a venue for women interested in hearing and performing poetry -- has nevertheless endured, even if the heat around the event isn't what it once was.

At the collective's recent Anti-Valentine's Day Slam, dozens of women and men quietly settled into folding chairs to hear poets parse relationships and excoriate exes. But the resonance of this open mike isn't to be measured in numbers. More than 10 years in, poets such as Busboys and Poets open-mike host Jenny C. Lares and Seattle slam star Karen Finneyfrock return to Mothertongue for its inviting atmosphere.

The all-women focus still "compels people to read things they wouldn't necessarily read other places," says president and host Danielle Evennou.

"I cut my teeth on Mothertongue," says Natalie Illum, who was involved with the collective for 10 years before moving on to more high-profile gigs, including a spot on the Split This Rock bill. "I went from being a shy, journal-diary writer to . . . certainly more polished. We're going to care about your work. We're not going to make you feel like you're not a good writer or good performer."

What to expect: An eclectic crowd that includes women, men, college students, academics and folks who wander in from the Red Room bar. You can read or hear work in an intimate, supportive environment addressing gay themes and women's issues.

If you go: The collective performs as featured artists at the first Split This Rock open-mike event Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. at Busboys and Poets (2021 14th St. NW). $5. The next Mothertongue is April 14 at the Black Cat (1811 14th St. NW). Admission is free, though a donation for a charity benefiting women and girls is requested. Visit http://www.blackcatdc.com.

-- Lavanya Ramanathan

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