I’ll just come out and say this – I have a really hard time writing blog posts in the first month of traveling to somewhere new. I think it must be because I don’t know the area yet, and therefore don’t feel comfortable giving an opinion on a place. But I have done some things since I’ve been here, so I’ll share them now.
Long Beach has an incredible poetry scene, making it the most auspicious city for me to get started on my New Years resolutions for 2016. Thanks to a friend of a friend here who knows the ropes, I acquired the most excellent calendar for open mics in the city, of which there are one (sometimes three) nearly every night of the week!
My first open mic experience here in LB was at Fox Coffeehouse with The Definitive Soap Box (TDSB). I have been to two others since and so far TDSB was my favorite and unlike any other one I’d been to before. Usually at open mics, whether musical, spoken word, or both (this one was both), each person is allotted a number of minutes to fit in however many pieces he or she wants. Not with TDSB.
Every one could only read one poem or perform one song, which made it all the more interesting. As a copywriter and poet, I adore conciseness. I loved hearing each work as a snapshot of who that person standing on stage might be. And if the poem was no good (there were a couple of weird Valentine’s Day raps), then it was just one poem to bear and onto the next one.
Another thing I loved and noticed very quickly about TDSB Open Mic was that it was almost entirely people of color. This was a nice change from Seattle. The whole room was very diverse, everyone coming from different backgrounds and yet all representing West Long Beach (I only know this because someone running for City Council came up to speak at one point). And with that came a whole lot of support. Everyone cheered each other on for reading, whether or not their stuff was any good (matter of opinion). You felt good to stand up there. I didn’t read, but I could tell. Next month, I plan to sign up.
After the first two hours of open mic, there were two featured artists. The first was Edwin Bodney (@eddy_be on IG), an exuberant poet who shared poems and stories about growing up with the undying support of his grandmother, his mother’s backlash not making a “masculine” enough choice when wanting to play flute as a child, and of course, fuckboys. I loved Edwin because, while his poems were beautifully descriptive in their characters and deeply personal, they all had an edgy, sassy, “Mhm, we’ve all been there!” kind of feel to them.
The second and last feature was this local, soulful band, The Black Noise. Their music was so awesome, and the singer’s voice was on par with John Legend. I feel that a band can only get so far without insanely good instrumental musicians, no matter how good the singer is, and I’m happy to say that The Black Noise had it all. They did a very cool cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” but they didn’t need to cover anything to get recognition – their original songs were really good.
At one point between the features, the host of TDSB spoke to us about how when they ask for support for the artists, they mean physical, tangible support.
“When we tell you this band is going to be in concert, we want you to go. When we tell you that this poet has a chapbook for sale, we want you to buy it,” he went on.
I think it’s important for people to hear that at these things. It’s one thing to show up and be there for the performances that have no cover. But I always try to tip or donate whatever I can to a small-time artist. You never know where your $5 will take them that week, and where that week will take them next month. I hope both Edwin Bodney and The Black Noise get the recognition they deserve moving forward.
One piece of advice I will offer after experiencing 3 open mics here: If you’re only going to try going to an open mic once and you want to pick a good one, try finding one that is once every month or maybe every 2 weeks. With longer time in between, the evening comes out more organized and a better experience for all. Also try to find one with features, and do your research on the organization hosting. Otherwise you might end up being the only person under the age of 65 in a room filled with men and women reading very sexually graphic poems that you will never unhear. But maybe you’re into that sort of thing.