Twenty years ago, the first time I read a poem in front of anybody in my life, I was at Beat night at the Press Room in Portsmouth and I fell in love with the community. I learned that community is not just a gathering of people, but something sacred and necessary. That community gave me so much love and acceptance, I became devoted to it.
Larry Simon, who created Beat Night and ran it for 14 years is one of my heroes. He set the stage for that community of poets and musicians. Larry and the band: Mike Barron, Frank Laurino, Chris Stambaugh, Scip Gallant, Dave Tonkin, Scott Solsky, Cynthia Chatis and Don Davis, along with Bruce Pingree, General Manager of the press room who gave beat night its home at the Press Room, did it all with such love and jazzy coolness and it was so inspiring.
When Larry had to leave in 2014, we all wanted to keep it going. And because Larry didn’t make himself the center of it, he had built something that could live without him. Over the last eight years this community, now at Book & Bar in Portsmouth, has continued to thrive with more poetry, music and joy than ever.
Beat night gets its name from the beat poets of the 50s and 60s who created that style of poetry where they would often collaborate with musicians. But, as Larry has said, it’s also “a reference to the word beat just as a musical element hopefully implying that there will be music with poetry of all types.” Larry understood that he was building off of what others did who came before him and so do I.
During the first hour of Beat Night we get to hear some great featured readers, but the heart of Beat Night is the open mic. The open mic is so important because there are individuals in the audience who have something to share, but are terrified to do so. And if they keep coming and they keep watching their fellow poets do it, one day they’re going to get up and take a chance at that microphone.
The more they listen and the more they feel that connection between reader and audience, they’re going to start to believe in themselves and the power of their own words and share them with the community. They’re going to realize what I did twenty years ago, that the poem isn’t done until you share it, until you make that connection with the community.
They’ll come to understand that there’s nothing to fear, because there’s no ego, no kings or queens in this community, no one person in the center. The community of readers, the band, and the audience is the heart of Beat Night and the interplay of poetry and music is the lifeblood.
No matter what stage you’re at with your writing and your reading abilities, you will be loved just for getting up there, just for having the guts to share, because that’s all that matters. When we are loved, we grow. Come to Beat Night to listen and be heard and to be part of a beautiful community of poets, musicians and audience. Then watch what happens when vulnerability is applauded.
Now in its 23rd year, Beat Night is at Book & Bar in Portsmouth every third Thursday of the month at 7pm