On a recent Wednesday evening, in the cozy, yellow-walled central room of Burlington's Dobrá Tea, a young man stands up and declares, "Given the opportunity, I would totally have fucked ee cummings."
Maybe it's not such a weird confession for a college town. But the speaker, Taylor Sacco, is actually reading from a witty poem about his, shall we say, passionate relationship with his literary influences.
Next up at the monthly open-mike night is featured poet Neil Shepard, a professor at Johnson State College and editor of the literary journal Green Mountains Review. While a lattice-shaded lamp casts opium-den light on the walls, he reads from a series of "teenager poems," portraying himself from ages 13 to 19. The audience of about a dozen applauds. Then Shepard plugs his journal's upcoming 20th-anniversary issue, entitled "Literature of the American Apocalypse." After the last presidential election, he says, the GMR started receiving submissions with a distinctly dystopian turn - "probably not by coincidence."
Open-mike nights have a tendency to be nomadic, going where the space is. Organizer and poet Daniel Chadwick says he's been involved with this one since November 2005, when it was still held at the Euro Gourmet Market and Café. When that Main Street establishment closed last June, Chadwick looked for a new home and found the owners of Dobrá "really enthusiastic," he says. "They'd thought of getting together something like that themselves."
Several of the readers are members of Chadwick's long-running open writers' group, which meets weekly at Winooski's Blue Star Café. "We got a little bit of a boost from people who had been going to the Firehouse," he says, referring to the now defunct First Friday readings run by Burlington City Arts.
The Dobrá open mike has a more freewheeling feel than the Firehouse ones did - maybe it's the compact space and the warming Old World brews. Toward the end of the evening, bearded employee Adam Ernst, who's been serving tea, is inspired to get up and read some rhymes addressed to his "lady."
Chadwick has a full slate of local readers lined up: three members of the Otter Creek Poets workshop in October; Katrina refugee and noted "street-life" poet Macklin Finley in November; writer, blogger and Vermont Public Radio commentator Philip Baruth in December; and novelist Marc Estrin in January. "I'm trying to encourage more variety in the range of readings," he says. In addition to their own prose and poetry, people are welcome to voice folk songs (a cappella) or selections from their favorite writer.
Chadwick shows his commitment to expanding the field of spoken word by closing the evening with a vintage Benny Hill monologue and comic ditty, delivered in a spot-on accent. Has anyone followed his example? "I'm the only one so far," he says.