I was surprised, shocked, flabbergasted to be the first recipient of the Marion Kimes Open Mic Award.
I met Ms. Kimes, in 1992, at Red Sky Poetry Theatre, one of the first people to welcome me to Seattle. I had moved here for theatre with a handful of poems and stories. I had taken a few writing classes, though I had never read my own out loud, nor had sent much out.
Marion was a dynamo of energy, good cheer, and selfless enthusiasm for everybody’s writing and participation. She was especially welcoming to newcomers. As an actor, I was wary of another cliquish caste system, one very much evident in the poetry scene.
I felt in awe of the many new voices I was experiencing, commanding the room’s attention. And with Marion as everyone’s advocate, respect was always widely generated around the room.
As I attended other open mics, while auditioning around town, I wasn’t sure whether I was a writer wanting to act, or an actor wanting to write. Both required endless homework and, hopefully, an audience. With theatre you are continually selling oneself; with writing, however, you are selling something far more personal and unique, intangible perhaps, certainly not an obvious commodity as in theatre.
When performing a show, I’d get nervous about everything—external things beyond my control—whereas with writing, all that mattered really were the words themselves. Performance was a matter of presentation. To be clear, be yourself, and communicate to those listening to what you had placed upon the page.
From open mics, I discovered the most effective time to edit was about an hour before you were going to read. Like a lot of younger poets, my reading and listening to poetry, not my own, was minimal. I was resistant to the idea of “poetry,” which, at the time, I would have said seemed precious, manipulative, and unduly clever.
My enthusiasms began to shift and open mic became my drug-of-choice, and poems—such as I wrote them—weren’t ready or finished until, like a tired actor, they had made the rounds through a series of venues, tweaking them along the way.
Marion was always amicable and a generous resource, welcoming to all poetic fledglings, eager to encourage or reinforce whatever positive experiences therein gleaned. She might stop someone who was nervous and have them begin again, only, “take it a tad slower this time,” said in her soft Texan twang and a calming smile all the while.
Something I recall regarding a utopian society—put everyone first and be kind and respectful to all, and while I didn’t necessarily ever hear Marion say this, this is what I observed from her in my formative years reading in Seattle’s open mic scene.
Larry Crist lives in Seattle and is originally from California, specifically Humboldt County. He has also lived in Chicago, Houston, London, and Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University, receiving an MFA in Theatre. He’s been widely published. Undertow Overtures is Larry’s first poetry collection, published by ATOM Press, in 2014.