Before I took on this open mic quest, travel meant doing what most people do—go see things I’d heard of. Whatever the city was known for.
I went to historic homes with my parents, moderately impressed by the butt prints of famous people on overstuffed chairs. I’ve done my share of museum tours and monument walks, and taken bad snapshots of fountains, unblinking bronze men on horses, pearl-encrusted buffalo, wax musicians, and other marvelous sights.
I still enjoy seeing what a city takes pride in. But ever since a couple work trips to Chicago and Atlanta that synched up with local open mics, I’ve taken to building all my travel around poetry.
Honestly, I’m not sure why open mic tourism isn’t already a thing. What better way to meet the city in person than by hearing from the people who know her well, who move within her and are moved by her?
I mean, poets are creatures of place, right? And an open mic is a portal or at least a peep sight with a really good view. A place will make itself known in the words of her writers, in detail or in relief.
Some places turn up overtly—the poets call her by name—as I heard at the Nuyorican and at Mic Check in Texas. Sometimes the city shows up in between lines and rhymes. In Savannah, a couple poets wrote about wanting to get away, how the city left them wanting. In Las Vegas, the poets seemed to make a point of ignoring their city, distancing themselves from its reputation maybe.
So get all the history you want during the day.
At night, go ask the city how she feels today, tonight, this week. Hear it in her own living words. Catch the scent on her breath…