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Washington poetry: Hillyer Open Mic Event is a safe place to share poetry

Friday, March 5, 2010; WE25

Hillyer Open Mic Event, HOME, which International Arts & Artists launched in May 2008, was conceived as a subtle bit of literary counter-programming to tie in with its gallery's occasional -- but crowded -- DJ events and art parties.

One Friday night a month, Hillyer Art Space staff arranges rows of folding chairs and a spread of cookies and coffee for the audience; through the doors come Hillyer's patrons, friends and supporters of the local poetry scene and a palpably nervous few grasping dog-eared books or ratty sheets of notebook paper -- the poets.

HOME can feel like the antithesis of Busboys and Poets, a place poets don't have to compete with clattering plates or one another. ("No mike, no stage -- it makes it like home," explains Simone Jacobson, a D.C. poet who founded the event.) Each month, a featured poet or two is scheduled, and the host, Fred Joiner -- a fixture in Washington's poetry scene -- says he hopes a balance is struck between "stage" poets and "page" poets.

"What I try to do," he says, "is create an environment that we can all come and share with one another and not have to worry about who's a better performer.

"Let's have a safe place to discuss work. The people at HOME aren't looking to cash in on poetry," Joiner continues. "They want to bring people into the space to see what they do."

What to expect: A place to test the waters. Sign up for the open mike; the crowds often number 40, making HOME a safe space to learn. HOME attracts high-school-age audience members and performers.

If you go: HOME, which is held the third Friday of the month, has time for about six to eight to perform. Sign-up is at 6 p.m.; the event begins at 7 p.m. Hillyer Art Space (9 Hillyer Ct. NW). 202-338-0680. http://www.artsandartists.org. $5; performing poets, free.

-- Lavanya Ramanthan

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