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The Work Behind the Workshop: Bethsheba Rem on the Making of a Poetry Hotspot

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A blog from: The Staff of Poets & Writers

Posted by RW Blogger on 3.02.12

Poet Bethsheba Rem hosts the monthly Word Is Born series at the Apache Café in Atlanta. In January the R/W program supported a performance there by spoken-word artists Caroline Rothstein and Moody Black.

The Apache Café in Atlanta has been my home venue going on five years. It’s comparable to the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City, the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge in Chicago, and Da Poetry Lounge in Los Angeles, where Def Poetry procured their idea to spotlight poetry on the largest stage in the world: cable television.

Every fourth Sunday of the month, around 7 PM, a line forms in front of the Apache Café. Veteran attendees know that by 7:30, you’re likely to be holding up the bar with your back if you haven’t grabbed a seat. Late arrivers, self-imposed rock stars, and those who think they have some pull with the host trickle in around ten and miss the sign-up list. The coveted thirty slots to rock your best poem, sing your best cover, or deliver the original tune you’ve been practicing in the privacy of your bathroom with a hair brush and a Misty Mirror are gone as quickly as the chairs.

Recently, we featured Caroline Rothstein, a New York–based writer who is also an eating disorder recovery activist, and Moody Black, an award-winning slam poet who hosts his own slam and open mic in Greenville, South Carolina.

In order to receive their P&W grant, featured poets are required to conduct an hour-long “Word-Shop” in addition to their performance, a quick three-poem punch to the chest. I learned this ratio while touring in Amsterdam, where I was required to do a four-hour workshop and only a ten-minute performance. If done well, both audiences will remember you forever.

Depending on the season, I have been known to bring in pumpkins for carving, eggs for coloring, snowflakes for cutting, and flags for burning (just joking!) to get those not participating in the workshop in the mood for an artsy evening. It only takes a minor amount of instruction and a smile to get people hooked.

But nothing comes without sacrifice. The $7 admission, even with a packed house of 200-plus, couldn’t cover the cost of the venue, host, DJ, and a nationally touring featured poet. That’s where Poets & Writers swoops in to help relieve the daunting task of fundraising.

I learned about the Readings/Workshops program over four years ago, when I received a grant to perform at the Apache Café myself. The grant was small, but a P&W staff member happened to be in town and took a few minutes after the show to talk to me about how her office could help fund some of the shows I was doing in Atlanta.

Photos: (top) Caroline Rothstein; credit: Jonathan Weiskopf. (Bottom) The audience at the Apache Café; credit: Marc Jones.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

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