Dread poetry? These live events could prove there’s a style just right for you

Ana Castillo reads one of her poems at the Sacramento Poetry Center.
Ana Castillo reads one of her poems at the Sacramento Poetry Center. Courtesy Sacramento Poetry Center .

Live poetry is thriving in Sacramento.

So says a man of words – Lawrence Dinkins, also known as spoken-word artist NSAA – who describes a “renaissance” of the art form on the streets and in the classroom.

Or as poet Simone Youngblood said, “Sacramento is in and of itself budding with artists and artistic fervor.”

When locals experience the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series at Queen Sheba restaurant, drop into Joe Montoya’s Poetry Unplugged or attend a Sacramento Poetry Center event, they are supporting people with experiences and thoughts indigenous to Sacramento, said Dinkins, who hosts the Mahogany series.

“They feel your pain, and they write about your pain,” he said of the poets. “If the Sacramento community was an organism, they would be your soul that was talking to you.”

Poetry events are “supportive and full of love, focused on giving people an open ear,” said Youngblood, founder of Scriptorium Saturdays, a local poetry and words series. Such events go beyond entertainment by offering a relaxed, positive community environment, she said.

“There’s a surprising number of people who write poetry and read and enjoy it,” said Bob Stanley, a past Sacramento poet laureate and president of the Sacramento Poetry Center board of directors. And it won’t remind you of your 10th-grade literature class, either.

“I think there’s kind of a societal impression that poetry is difficult or it’s hard or people who do poetry are weird,” he said. “But when you actually go to a reading, I’ve heard this hundreds of times, people say, ‘Oh, this is really fun.’ 

Like music, food or artwork, there’s a style of poetry for everyone, Stanley said. People pour onto the sidewalk during Poetry Unplugged, he said, and hundreds went to the Crest Theatre recently to see U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.

Reyna Adams, president of UC Davis student collective SickSpits, said many people use spoken word “to process, protest and resist, and deal with the current political climate.”

“If you say a line that resonates with people, they will snap or hum or say things like, ‘Come on,’ ” Adams said. “You’re not put on the spot, no one is calling on you specifically to do anything, but you are engaged in the poetry that’s going on.”

As Dinkins sees it, poetry is a practice in both communication and empathy for poets and audience members alike.

“That is life-changing, even if you’re just doing it for fun or a certain window of life,” he said. “That poetry experience has followed people, especially when it comes to spoken word, through the rest of their lives.”

What's the word?

April is National Poetry Month. Here are a sample of where to hear poetry in the Sacramento region:

  • Sacramento Poetry Center: Featured poets and open mic, 7:30 p.m. Mondays, workshops and weekly events, 1719 25th St., Sacramento. Cost varies, sacramentopoetrycenter.com.
  • Mahogany Urban Poetry Series: Open mic, featured poets and slam poetry competitions, 9 p.m. Wednesdays, Queen Sheba’s Ethiopian Cuisine, 1704 Broadway, Sacramento. $5, mahoganypoetry.com.
  • Joe Montoya’s Poetry Unplugged: Open mic, rotating hosts, poets, 8 p.m. Thursdays, Luna’s Cafe & Juice Bar, 1414 16th St., Sacramento. $2 cover or one drink minimum; Sac United Poetry Slam, 7:30 p.m. third Friday of each month. Free, lunascafe.com, www.facebook.com.
  • Sacramento Area Youth Speaks has an October-February yearly slam season. Free, says.ucdavis.edu/events/.
  • SickSpits Spoken Word Collective, UC Davis: Weekly writers’ workshops, open mic, 7-9 p.m. first and third Wednesdays monthly. Location varies on UC Davis campus. facebook.com/SickSpits.
  • Davis Poetry Night Reading Series, featured poet and open mic hosted by Davis poet laureate Andy Jones: 8 p.m. first and third Thursdays monthly, John Natsoulas Gallery, 521 First Street, Davis. poetryindavis.com Other poetry on an irregular basis: Crocker Art Museum, Sol Collective, Scriptorium Saturdays.

Information: Poetry in Davis maintains a list of more than a dozen regularly scheduled poetry readings in the Sacramento Valley.