Don't let the name fool you. Spokane's long-running Broken Mic series is intact and vibrant as ever

click to enlarge Don't let the name fool you. Spokane's long-running 
Broken Mic series is intact and vibrant as ever
E.J. Iannelli photo
Poet Wendy Harvey reads at Broken Mic inside Neato Burrito.

With a ledger in one hand and a pen in the other, emcee Liz Marlin circulates through the tiny dining area of Neato Burrito. It's approaching half past 6 on a glowing evening in early summer, and the few remaining seats are quickly being claimed by poetry readers and their audience.

She greets a guy with a graying goatee. He's seated close to the front, wearing a black T-shirt with a fading graphic of the words "Death Metal" below a cartoon-style rainbow.

"Are you reading tonight?" she asks. He hesitates. "If you're on the fence, that's OK."

He is on the fence, as a matter of fact. But after a few beats he reconsiders.

His name is Anthony. Marlin jots it down in the ledger below Wendy, Mel, Elsa and Jake.

Every Wednesday in this space and at this time, a fresh page fills with readers' first names, accompanied by an assortment of the host's doodles, quotes, notes and reminders. And after 13 years, the cumulative list of first names is a long one. This is Broken Mic, Spokane's longest-running open mic poetry event.

Partly because of its longevity, Broken Mic continues to draw newcomers as well as established poets. They use the weekly forum to try out new material, to reprise their existing work or to share poems they admire. In the earthy parlance of Broken Mic, those broad categories are "new shit," "old shit" and "other people's shit." Signaling their familiarity with the rituals, veteran readers preface their poems accordingly when they step up to the mic. Otherwise the audience and host will do it for them.

Broken Mic

Wednesdays, sign-up at 6 pm, starts at 6:30 pm; free, all ages

Neato Burrito, 827 W. First Ave.


Anthony — full name Anthony Hauck — already knows the drill. He's opted to read "other people's shit," specifically, a "A Poison Tree" by the Romantic poet William Blake (of "Tyger Tyger, burning bright..." fame). His initial hesitation didn't stem from the act of reading itself but from deciding what to share.

"It's just that I haven't written a new poem in a long time, so a lot of the poetry that I've read here before I've read two or three times over," Hauck says.

By contrast, Amelia Schuhler — Mel in the ledger's shorthand — is a relative newcomer to Broken Mic, even if the self-described "fugitive artist" is no stranger to similar events. She's hung out in spaces like these since she was a teenager. She recently moved to Spokane from Southern California and was encouraged to attend as a way of tapping into the support and solidarity that open mics can offer.

"It was a really big part of my life and who I was, my community and my romantic relationships," Schuhler says. "Now that I've moved here, I don't really have a community."

On this evening, she reads an original poem prompted by the death of a writing partner. The emotions are still raw, but she welcomes the opportunity to share them candidly with an audience that's vocal in its acceptance. Raucously so.

"I'm looking forward to getting more comfortable with not protecting myself so much and being in spaces where I feel the most like myself," Schuhler says. "So it's scary, but it's more of a relief."

Hauck likewise links the experience to a mix of catharsis and comfort. He compares Broken Mic to "a form of therapy."

"The reason I come out here is that I just love the atmosphere. I love the people. I love people being able to share who they are, what they are, what their feelings are, what their thoughts are, without being judged or examined or anything," he says.

Marlin says the absence of judgment goes further than that. Broken Mic is, in her words, "militantly supportive."

And though Marlin happens to be the one taking readers' names and rousing the crowd with liberal use of four-letter words, she isn't the series' only host. Poets Twahan Simultaneous and Caya Berndt are also in the weekly rotation. Zachary Anderson-White steps in on occasion, too, as does past Spokane Poet Laureate Mark Anderson, who founded Broken Mic in 2011.

Among the regular hosts is yet another former Spokane Poet Laureate, Chris Cook. Toward the end of tonight's event, he arrives to conclude with a poem that has a timely tie-in with Pride Month. He settles into his cadence, and the entire room falls quiet — even the casual customers who are stopping in to order burritos. Then comes the outpouring of hearty and heartfelt applause.

The response jibes with Marlin's thoughts on Broken Mic as a fixture in the regional poetry scene.

"It's about supporting each other as a community," she says. "Without that, why the hell are we here?" ♦

Broken Mic @ Neato Burrito

Wednesdays, 6:30 p.m.
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E.J. Iannelli

E.J. Iannelli is a Spokane-based freelance writer, translator, and editor whose byline occasionally appears here in The Inlander. One of his many shortcomings is his inability to think up pithy, off-the-cuff self-descriptions.