Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ten Years of Mothertongue

I was at Keene State College earlier this week and one of the students asked why I had chosen to establish a press specifically for the work of girls and women. I gave some superficial, not well thought out answer. Something about being a girl, blah, blah, blah.

What I should have said was mothertongue. mothertongue is DC's longest running women's only spoken word open mic. This organization has been a part of my life for the last 8 years. I stumbled into the venue on a cold, rainy April night and never stopped coming back. Our website says "mothertongue is a community-based organization that works to create a safe space where all women may speak freely and powerfully and have their creative and artistic voices heard." But mothertongue has evolved into far more than that. Over the last ten years, national and local artist have used the stage to hone their skills, grow their fan base, and totally rock DC!

My first time on the mothertongue stage was after a couple months of attending the shows. I had been grinding out some poetry as a result of a messy break up and was contemplating signing up to read. When I got to the show, with my friend Tessa in tow, who totally hates poetry of all kind, I chickened out. In 2000, over 250 people (women and men) where attending the mothertongue shows on a regular basis, and I couldn't imagine getting up in front of them, offering up what I thought was anemic love poetry. But my friend Tessa thought differently. For whatever reason the poetry was a little off that night (nice way of saying bad) and she was convinced that anything that I had to share had to be way better than what we were being subjected to (her words, not mine).

Out of nowhere I heard my name as "the next poet up to the mic." When did I become a poet? Why did Tessa sign me up? How many people had thrown up on the stage from being petrified? But when my turn came, I got up there. I immediately lowered the bar of expectation (sorta like what they did with Sarah Palin and the debates) and declared that my friend had put me up to this and if I sucked they could blame her.

Then something completely unfamiliar and amazing happened. I opened my mouth and I was good! Through my poetry I shared, with this charged and rowdy crowd, how my love affair with the crazy, southern lawyer had gone south (pun intended). On that stage, I could be funny and pathetic and mad and good. As the last verse rang out into the large performance space of the Black Cat the crowd went CRAZY. They clapped and stomped and whistled. They affirmed me in a huge way.

Eight years later and I can absolutely claim that moment as life changing. The moment that I embraced my identity as a poet and writer. In gratitude for that affirmation, over the years I have served as the organization's Poet Liaison, sat on the board, and taught workshops. Even now I am still amazed by the power that this venue has to enrich and buoy women's lives. I don't perform as much as I use to because life has gotten super hectic, but I always leave the second Wednesday of the month open to attend the monthly show. As we celebrate our tenth year we are going through some transitions. Natalie Illum is stepping down as the longtime Board President (the enthusiastic Danielle is taking over), the shows are moving to an every other month format, and the crowds are not as big as they once were.

But what does remain - the enthusiasm and support for women as artists and writers and that much needed safe space.

Until Later

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