Go East, Young Man:
Poetry in East Austin



by Sonya Feher

An upsurge of poetic activity has begun in East Austin, with many wonderful and diverse readings every week. The trend really began with Stazja McFadyen in October 1997, when she created the monthly "East End Black and White" reading series. Originally hosted at East End Coffee House on 12th Street, the series lasted until January 1998 when the proprietor lost his lease. It just so happened that Marla Fulgham, the owner of Ebony Sun Java House on East 11th, was at the last East End reading and offered McFadyen the chance to move the reading to her venue. The reading series was renamed "East Side Black and White" and in February of 1998 the new reading series began. It ran until October 1999 when Ebony Sun closed. The series featured local and traveling poets who'd come from New York, New Orleans and Southern California to share their words with Austin.

Another East Austin venue supporting poets is Gaby & Mo's coffee house on Manor Road. Scott Wiggerman began hosting the monthly "Queer Poets" reading last July as an extension of the reading series called "Cornerstone Poets." That series lasted until Cornerstone closed (are you noticing a trend here?) but eventually found a new home at Gaby & Mo's. Wiggerman changed the name of the series from "Cornerstone Poets" to "Queer Poets," he said "to reflect a more 'out' attitude and a fresh start." The past year has included features by a great number of gay, lesbian, and bisexual poets -- even one transgendered one. The readings have ranged from an intimate dozen to standing room only. They take place the second Tuesday of every month and include an open mic as well as a featured artist.

The Austin Poetry Slam moved its weekly series to Gaby & Mo's, hosting a slam every Thursday night beginning in October of 1999. The slam itself has been in Austin since 1995 but began its search for a new venue when the Electric Lounge closed in April of last year. The slam is a poetry competition judged on a 0.0 to 10.0 scale, just like the Olympics. It's an open mike with a twist. Slam has attracted many new poets and audience members since moving to Gaby & Mo's. This could be attributed to relocating to East Austin, to its being housed in a lesbian coffeehouse, or simply that more people began hearing about the slam. Whatever the reason, the slam loves its new home. Though the summer months get a little quieter, many weeks of the slam have filled Gaby & Mo's to capacity, with audience sitting outside on the deck to be able to hear the poetry.

Another East Austin reading series is "Estro Flow" at Cafe Mundi. The series hosted monthly events from March until June and is currently on hiatus, though they plan to continue in the near future. Piper Anderson, one of the hosts, says, "Each night there are new people experiencing poetry for the first time and loving it." As far as deciding who to feature, Anderson explains, "Since our audience is mainly young people between the ages of 14 and 30, we also like to invite older poets like our art mama Sharon Bridgforth to share their work. Sort of a way for the young to sit at the feet of their elders to gain wisdom and foundation on this poetic journey. Also poets who cross genres and represent both hip-hop and spoken word. Especially since each night the poets are accompanied by live music."

The Heritage House reading series on E. 13th Street is hosted by Ivan Miller and has been running since the fall of 1999, with no sign up sheets or features. It is a small reading with a steady following. Heritage House and Gaby & Mo's have both hosted Austin International Poetry Festival events. McFadyen and Larry Jaffe compiled an anthology, Heritage Blue: Poets Reading at East 13th Heritage House, with the proceeds going to preservation and restoration of the house.

Every host I spoke to agreed that one of their primary motivations when choosing their venues was based on an East Austin location. I think it's time to recoin that old saying to read, "Go east, young man." Please do go east. For more information on these events, see the Litera section of the Chronicle and on the web at www.poetheads.homestead.com/Calendar.html.


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