Bringing the 'word up' to Lower Queen Anne

The Seattle poetry scene has changed as often in the past 20 years as an aging matinee idol's hairstyle.

In the mid-'80s, if you wanted to read poetry in public, there was Red Sky in and around Belltown and not much else.

The ladies (mostly) were joined by the motley crew of  Radio Free Leroy's in 1987. Then came the Two Bells' Spoken Word Series, initially hosted by the late Mark McDonald, and the city's golden age of performance poetry had begun.

From about 1988 until 1993, poetry readings, buttressed with musical accompaniment, seemed to be everywhere in the city.

Saturation point was soon reached, although nobody told Title Wave Books' owner Nickie Jostel, whose series started its 10-year run in 1994.

Poets, good and bad, will always write, but fashions change.

Although there are still elderly Wordsworths and middle-aged Bukowskis declaiming around the city, Slam forged to the front of the "scene" next, and Seattle has fielded some poetry "teams" (this isn't your father's poetry) that did well on the national stage.

Now, in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, slam is beginning to share the mic with a hybrid called Street Beat poetry.

If you're interested in where performance poetry is at these days, you don't have to go far to check it out.

The Mirabeau Room, at 529 Queen Anne Ave. N. in the heart of Lower Queen Anne, hosts "Street Beat Poetry and Open Mic" every Tuesday evening.

The inaugural show kicked off things on March 15. Street Beaters take to the stage around 9 p.m.

The format is simple. A "featured" performer-poet does his or her thing, either before or after those brave souls who have signed up for the open-mic portion of the show have gone head to head, and word to word, for a small cash prize.

Signups for the show start at about 7:30. Admission is a mere $3, although last Tuesday two out of every three people walking in the door quickly retreated to the Mirabeau's bar, once the heart of old Sorry Charlie's (where there is no cover, and very little poetry, unless you count pickup lines that occasionally stray from the ordinary).

Street Beat's host, Piece, aka Laura Kelly, was in Oregon doing another show last week, so the honors were done by Matt Gano, a member of last year's Seattle Slam Poetry team - which finished eighth at the Nationals in St. Louis - aided by poetry promoter Heidi Jackson and emcee Korvus blackburd ("the hue-min metranome").

The featured poet was Seattle's own Rajnii Eddins, another 2004 Seattle Slam team member, whose mother Rande Eddins is well-known in her own right through her work with the Seattle-based African American Writers Alliance, which opened for business in 1991.

Rajnii, a personable young man with a big smile, a sharp wit and a performance style that blends patter, rap, poetry, social commentary and even snatches of song, followed Horace's ancient dictum for art and successfully both entertained and instructed last Tuesday night's small but enthusiastic crowd.

"My goal is to engage and empower through poetry and raise consciousness," Eddins said gently, after being prodded for a production statement by an observer.

Following Matt Gano's brief but powerful performance, the amateurs vying for the evening's cash prize, faced the mic and put on an uneven but entertaining night of poetry, song, sermons and pleas for human understanding.

There was even a tribute to the ladies for putting up with we men, declaimed at a fever-pitch by a sincere-looking young fellow who had brought his own audience of one, a cute young lady who seemed to think her man might be the next Eminem Frost.

Street Beat is just one night a week at The Mirabeau, which is creeping up on its first anniversary. Co-owner David Meinert, who promoted poetry slams at the old Emerald Diner in Lower Queen Anne a decade ago, is a Queen Anne booster. Meinert even lives in the neighborhood. His club, ably managed by Mandy Park and currently employing a staff of 12, features different musical entertainment every night of the week.

Happy Hour still stars Howard Bulger, the sing-along king, at the piano on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. On Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. there's something Meinert calls "The Playlist"; customers can come in and play 15 minutes of their favorite tunes on their IPods. Don't ask me, I'm a Baby Boomer, but a young fellow who works with me on my "day job" in market research was raving about the concept the other day in the break room.

Wednesday night the Mirabeau hosts burlesque, modern-day style. Thursday night is house music. Friday night at 9 p.m., The Mirabeau hosts Jambalaya, hip-hop and soul night extravaganza. Saturday night there's Bollywood music two nights a month, and Southeast Asian music the remaining two nights. Sunday features rockabilly. In other words, there's something for just about everybody.

"It's going really well, and I'm really happy about it," Meinert noted. "It's really diverse musically and ethnically, from rockabilly to hip hop to Bollywood."

Meinert also modestly mentioned that he's been hosting a lot of political fundraisers at his joint, too. In fact, although he didn't bring it up, his political activities made Meinert the focus of a cover story in one of Seattle's "alternative" weeklies not too long ago.

"I'm happy The Mirabeau is becoming a place people feel they can 'do' something," Meinert said. But politics still take a back seat to entertainment. "I really feel like the Queen Anne community has adopted The Mirabeau as a positive for the neighborhood," Meinert said, smiling broadly.

Nobody in the noisy, happily crowded bar (on a Tuesday night!) disagreed.

On the other side of the club,  the poets were too busy with the Word and the Beat to think about any business except "art."

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