How to Organize an Open Mic Poetry Night

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An open mic poetry night can be a window into a new world. You may not be a cool-cat poet -- yet -- but a night of performance poetry can reveal a sophistication your friends never knew you had. It's actually fairly easy to put one together. If you have access to a coffeehouse or bookstore, fine, but all you really need is a large meeting place, a mic, some budding poets and a little word of mouth. So slip on your black jumpsuits and berets, order an espresso, and get ready to snap those fingers, daddy-o.

Determine the date of the poetry night. Give yourself enough time to line up a venue and prepare advertising for the event. If you're a student or teacher and your class is throwing the reading, be sure to take the school calendar into account -- for example, don't schedule a reading the night of a football game, or right before a big test. If the reading will be open to the community at large, then schedule it during a weekend, when most people will be free to attend.

Reserve a large meeting place, such as a school gym or a private room at a library, for your poetry slam. Make sure there are plenty of tables and chairs available, and provide a sound system if the space is too big for a reader to be heard without one. Other venue options include private dining rooms at a restaurant or country club, or -- of course -- a coffeehouse.

Lay down some rules. Although an open mic is all about freedom of expression, be prepared to defend your audience against mic hogs. Establish a time limit for each reader. Decide if your open mic will have a theme and, if so, what it is. Will you allow music as well as poetry? Do you plan to decorate the space with local artists' works -- perhaps works that edify the theme? Also, if you plan to charge admission, decide the rate in advance so you can include this information in any advertising you use. Don't make it too expensive -- open mic events are usually free.

Advertise the poetry night in the school paper. Announce it at a school assembly and among groups likely to attend -- the school writers' club or local readers' club, for example. Use social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, to spread the word. If the reading is a community event, take out an ad in the local newspaper and distribute flyers. Consider e-mailing your state's official poetry association to invite its members, or invite a well-known community poet to read.

Once you've determined the theme, when and where you'll have the reading, and the structure for the evening, assign tasks to friends or members of your club or class. Appoint a greeter to help poets sign up for their readings, as well as to seat guests. Have an announcer introduce poets as they step up to read. If you've chosen to serve refreshments, assign several people to take charge of the food.

If you've decided to put on a "slam," or poetry competition, appoint a panel of judges, such as teachers or club officers, to determine the winners. If you don't want the responsibility and expense of prizes, you can simply let the poet be content with the glory -- perhaps print certificates for "1st Prize," "Honorable Mention," and so forth. Be sure to remind your audience that it's coffeehouse tradition to show approval by snapping their fingers, rather than with applause.