By SUE TAYLOR | Uptown News
Poets are sharing their art all around the Uptown area. Most of these spoken-word performances take place in coffeehouses, libraries, Balboa Park, event venues, and at least one North Park bar. Think about Ernest Hemingway and his writer friends in a café in Paris. Paired with coffee, alcohol, or just a good microphone, writers thrill listeners with poems and prose, beautiful words and brash expressions that take listeners out of their ordinary routines.
City Heights Coffee House recently held a spoken-word and visual arts event. A few known and novice writers read to a cozy crowd while sipping coffee and eating samosas. This was a fundraiser for The AjA Project, an organization that provides scholarships for underserved youth.
Other writers frequent Lestat’s West, which regularly hosts an open mic night on Mondays from 6:30-11:30 p.m.
A little edgier is Queen Bee’s, in North Park, popular for its Tuesday night “Lyrical Exchange.” On the second Monday of each month, the venue also hosts The San Diego Poetry Slam. Admission is $5, and it’s said to be extremely loud, competitive, and trading on vulnerability.
Who can resist poetry readings called the “Gelato Series”? The sporadic event is held at Meraki Café in University Heights. “Meraki” means “to do something with passion, love or creativity.” While they do not sell gelato, sorbet is available for purchase.
Balboa Park is home to “The Poetical Party of Choice,” also known as the Poetry Party, put on by the city of San Diego’s Parks and Recreation Department. It is free and held the first Friday of each month from 2:30-5 p.m. They encourage people to “Come to read poetry, listen, or to be seen.” The tone is sometimes drolly funny, and always thought-provoking. The poets meet at Balboa Park in the Santa Fe Room, located at 2150 Pan American Road West, by the Puppet Theater. Also in the park, the Poetic Legacy Program occurs the last Friday of each month at 3 p.m. This is a monthly workshop exploring renowned poets. In July and August, the poets Kenneth Patchen and Patricia Smith will be read.
Walk through Tiger! Tiger!’s restaurant and bar to the enclosed patio for this spot’s poetry readings on the third Sunday of every month at 7:30 p.m.
For writers who want to practice their own original poetry and prose expression, the Gypsy Writers meet every Wednesday at Lestat’s in Hillcrest. They follow Natalie Goldman’s book, “Writing Down the Bones,” which recommends writing nonstop for a timed period, usually to a prompt from the leader or other participants. The Gypsy Writers normally write for 10 minutes straight, and then read their work aloud. This is a free, fun event, starting at 10:30 a.m. and lasting about 75 minutes. Lestat’s lets the group use a quiet upstairs room and purchased food and beverages are permitted. Everyone is welcome to join in (including dogs as it’s a canine-friendly establishment).
Another welcoming and nonjudgmental place to read and write poetry is at the Mission Hills-Hillcrest/Knox Library. Participants study a selected poet each month. At the conclusion of the study, participants write their own poems using ideas from the selections they just read. Again, there is time to share. The library is a relatively new building with validated underground parking. The poetry studies run from 6-7:45 p.m.
Finally, Uptown is lucky to have a small neighborhood book store at 30th Street and North Park Way. Verbatim Books is an eclectic bookstore, with used books and it has been very successful in attracting an overflow crowd for its monthly spoken-word nights. The bookstore recently expanded, remodeling what was a dental office next door, so there are more seats for the audience. The event is held on the last Monday of a month at 7 p.m.
Though Nell Rose Smith, one of the Gypsy Writers, says “she is the late to the game,” you don’t have to be an English professor or published writer to join in the fun. Life has already given us pages worth of experiences to write about. Poet Michael Icarus Blades said, “Heck, yeah!” when asked if he wanted to read poetry with the spaces provided by Park and Rec. Poet Christophver R, known for his outstanding poetry, seems to know everywhere in Uptown to read and listen. When not giving workshops, R is busy reciting. He will be signing his newly released book, “Intellectual Suicide: Poems to Die For,” at a launch party at Lestat’s Hillcrest on Saturday, Aug. 24, at 3 p.m.
– Sue Taylor is a retired English teacher and currently works as a private tutor and freelance writer. She has written for North Park News and Edible San Diego. Taylor can be reached at