EL SERENO — Readers at The Writer’s Underground open mic recite poetry from memory, notebooks or off their phones. Each person attends the monthly reading at the Eastside Cafe for a different reason. Some are new to poetry and this is their first push into the open water. Others have shaken off any sense of timidness from countless other readings and reveal their entire self to the room of strangers.
“I’m sure it saved my life,” said Jeffrey Martin of the power of poetry. Last Thursday night, he read an original piece about prayer, anger and frustration from his Baptist upbringing. His cadence is fast paced, and he often pauses from his reading to give asides on his work, about his life and how he became the man he is today.
As far as open spaces go, the Eastside Cafe is a Swiss Army Knife of community centers. Narcotics Anonymous, ESL classes, Son Jorocho lessons and many more public services dot the calendar at the space, all organized by a series of collectives and individuals. Eastside Cafe borrows from the Zapatista Movement, relying heavily on donations and shying away from any grants. During The Writer’s Underground, a donation box is filled about halfway with singles, and, by the end of the night, there are few open seats available.
The audience is seated in a crescent shape and the room lit by strands of Christmas lights. From the street corner, a traffic light illuminates readers in the room with green-yellow-red patterns. William Gonzalez bangs on an empty wooden box he brought from home, and his percussion seems to only make the room grow more intimate.
Naomi Molinar traveled by bus from Upland to El Sereno to read her poetry in a somber, voice that grew bold and vibrant during her time at the mic. Sophia Rivera, in her first reading at the monthly event, read one of her poems about being true to herself.
Poet and host Iris De Anda began The Writer’s Underground in January of this year, and she remarks that the group is growing steadily with newer readers at the mic.
“Even though the Eastside may have other places for people to go to, there’s always a need to have places that are in walking distance,” says De Anda, who began the evening by reading her poem “Blood Moon.”
“We wanted to open the space to as many people as possible, who may have never had the opportunity to express themselves,” said De Anda, who has lived in El Sereno for most of her life.
When the sign up sheet is exhausted De Anda asks the room for any more readers. She calls out, “OK. Last call for poetry.”
The Writer’s Underground open mic meets the third Thursday of every month at the Eastside Cafe 5469 Huntington Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90032
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis stories, reviews and photos at Smashed Chair.