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Hinge in Northampton offers open mic poetry readings

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE<br/>Host Craig Nelson

    PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE
    Host Craig Nelson

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE<br/>Ansel Appleton

    PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE
    Ansel Appleton

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE<br/>Chris Gonzales

    PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE
    Chris Gonzales

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE<br/>Yevin Roh

    PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE
    Yevin Roh

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE<br/>From left, Benj Spound, co-hosts Chris Gonzales and Christina Beam

    PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE
    From left, Benj Spound, co-hosts Chris Gonzales and Christina Beam

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE<br/>Host Craig Nelson
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE<br/>Ansel Appleton
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE<br/>Chris Gonzales
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE<br/>Yevin Roh
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HINGE<br/>From left, Benj Spound, co-hosts Chris Gonzales and Christina Beam

Four minutes, a microphone and the freedom to do what you please: That’s the strategy behind an open mic poetry reading that takes place Tuesday nights at Hinge, the Northampton restaurant that opened recently at 48 Main St. It’s a tempting invitation for poets and poetry lovers alike.

On most Tuesday nights, the petite bistro-style tables in the small upstairs room at the establishment where the open mic takes place, are packed with people from all walks of life, working toward the same goal: to carry on the literary and oral tradition of poetry.

It all sounds very serious and prestigious, says Craig Nelson, the director of Northampton Poetry, the event’s host. But the atmosphere of the room promotes a different attitude.

“I think there is a dwindling amount of places in the world that are just places where you don’t need a lot of clout to speak in front of the microphone,” Nelson said in a recent interview at Hinge. “You don’t need anything other than a voice and some time to write something down.”

The weekly event that runs from 8 to 10 p.m. (sign-up for poets starts at 7), draws a pay-what-you-can ($1 to $5) crowd; some come to recite their own poetry, some read works by other poets, some simply listen.

The last half-hour of the event each week is reserved for a featured artist, who “could be a local voice we love, or someone reasonably famous, at least in the poetry world,” Nelson said. On a recent Tuesday evening, the featured guest was Jared Paul, a poet, musician and activist from Providence, R.I., who has toured internationally and is a top spoken-word artist.

Go for it

The variety of poets who attend range from teens to grandfathers, Nelson says, and the content and style of their poetry run an even wider scale. When called to the stage, poets are given four minutes, a microphone and the freedom to do with it what they please.

At a recent open mic, for example, poet Joshua Michael Stewart brought poems to recite about what he called “the mundane.” In one, he wrote about the much-needed escape from daily chaos that reading in the bathroom can offer. Another poet, who introduced himself simply as Ernie, brought a more serious piece about trying to help a loved one.

He recited: “I took out my heart and made a red sail boat … anything to save you.”

The style of poetry varies from theatrical, crowd-involving renditions to monotone recitations read off a smartphone. Some poems, like one recited by 19-year-old Chris Gonzales, have a musical vibe.

“A lot of it is about the beats, the silences, the rhythm of it, explained the Northampton native who attends Greenfield Community College. “I try to get the drummer in me going.”

Gonzales calls the opportunity to try out his poetry at the open mics “empowering.”

“It’s nice to feel that something inside your head, that you thought was weird, other people are like, ‘Oh, that’s so great.’ It’s so validating,” he said.

“Whether you consider your work to be academic poetry, slam poetry, spoken word, political poetry or poetry about how much you like cake, you and your words are welcome,” says the host’s website, www.NorthamptonPoetry.com.

“We want to let people see that poetry doesn’t have to be a vitamin, it doesn’t have to be boring,” Nelson said.

Just do it

GennaRose Nethercott, a 21-year-old Hampshire College student, poet and playwright who commutes from Brattleboro, Vt., to attend the open mics, says the readings offer her motivation and a reason to write every week.

“It’s an opportunity to surround myself with other people who are driven by the same things I’m driven by,” she said. “To hear really great writing being produced by other people, it makes me want to do the same thing.”

Even the venue’s design — candle-lit tables and a cozy, red-leather couch, all enhanced by dark, rustic wood — seems to inspire: On a recent night, one poet went onstage to perform a poem he “just wrote on that table back there.”

To those contemplating attending, Nelson says, just come and do it.

“Just write something and bring it in,” he said. “I’ve seen people hesitate and not sign up and by the end of the night they almost always wish they had.”

The crowd is extremely supportive of first timers; they get “mad love,” Gonzales said. For those not ready to share their work, he added, “Come and listen to every word that everyone says and your poetry is just going to get better.”

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