(Photo courtesy: Nicholas Ewing) “Writers shared all sorts of poetry.”
The Lowell Poetry Society hosted the January 2024 Untitled Open Mic Featuring Mill City Speaks Qualifying Slam to bring together the Lowell community for a night of poetry at the Coffee and Cotton. It began with an Open Mic in which poets would approach the podium to share their latest creations. Later, there was a competition among the top poets in Lowell for cash prizes and advancing to the next round of the tournament.
“Picturesque pink clouds / Soft and idyllic / For whenever an angel falls / She would be caught among / The safety of the cosmos,” said Li Ming De, a speaker who shared his poem A Protected Angel under his pseudonym. The January cold bites one’s skin on the way to an evening of poetry at Coffee and Cotton as they walk along the poorly illuminated streets of Lowell. Then, the red elevator would take guests to the third floor, where one would discover that the third floor was designed like an outdoor Western film set. Inside a bar with cheap drinks, poets would express their creativity and release their emotions to Lowell’s poetry community.
A man expressed his broken heart after his girlfriend broke up with him on Christmas day. A friend, a child at heart, created laughter in the crowd as he shared his embarrassment. An activist poured out her anger as she watched her country tear itself apart for power. A recovering drug addict shares the tragedy in his life and the hope he continues to hold. It is in this room where poetry can bring together a community that yearns for relief.
The Open Mic lasted the first two hours. For three minutes, poets braved the stage to share their latest writings that expressed their opinion on current events, the triumphs and tragedies in life and showcased their colorful personalities. The poets discussed diverse stories to Lowell’s warm and non-judgmental community. Some of these stories include finding joy on a snowy day and the exciting experience of the author’s first blizzard, or a woman’s journey on love and acceptance for her conflicted body. Laughter spread in the crowd as another poet shared an anecdote of his sister and himself catching a mouse in his old childhood home.
Later in the evening, the Mill City Speaks Qualifying Slam had six of the brightest poets in Lowell to compete as the night wined down. Each judge rated each poem from best to worst. The winner was selected based on the crowd’s enthusiasm for the poem and the judges’ score. One poet whose parents survived the Khmer Rogue shared his family’s painful experience and their difficult journey to the United States. Another poet reminisced about the good times with her grandfather watching the New York Mets even while her parents were going through a tough divorce.
Poetry may seem to be the unlikely art form to allow self-expression. Does anyone understand it? Yet, its complexity is its beauty. The best poems break down the most complex messages into simple messages. Poems challenge writers and speakers to be eloquent with language. After all, poems can be the highest form of fiction for self-expression.
Poems can also speak to the times. The Japanese Haiku was invented to make poetry more accessible to poorly educated commoners during a time of civil unrest that led to the fall of the aristocracy. An American poet Amanda Gorman presented her poem The Hill We Climb during President Biden’s inauguration to address the divides in this country and hope for unity that is in the young generation.
Poetry exists because poets want to share their complex message that cannot be simply said. In their message, they share their hopes and their anguish; their dreams and their defeats; their histories and their futures. Doesn’t everyone have something to say when no words come out? Poetry may seem to be an unlikely art form to speak for the times, but in this small bar with cheap drinks, a community exists in Lowell to explore these facets of life. The next Untitled Open Mic is on February 7th from 6-9 p.m. at Coffee and Cotton.