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The Whole Note Poetry Series

In a back room, in a quiet, upscale coffeehouse populated by students typing away at laptops, sit five poetry old-timers waiting for The Whole Note Poetry Series. This open mic series happens at The Beanery on College Avenue every other week.

The patrons of the Whole Note are a group of poets and writers who know each other and their work fairly well. They appear surprised at the intrusion of a newcomer into their tight-knit circle; one even asked me if I was aware there was a poetry open mike going on in the space.

The Whole Note, hosted by the eccentric performer Jesse Beagle, is a good space for new performers to try out their work in a non-threatening space without worrying about getting on the list or who is going to see them perform. There are few people who sign up on the open mic list and few in the audience as well. The energy in the room is scattered at best, and the host adds to the confusion rather than channeling the energy to rev up the few onlookers in the room.

When one of the features is late, we wait for almost an hour before she starts up the open mic. Several people who wander into the back room and have stayed to check out the reading leave before the open mic ever starts. Several times, Beagle launches in a reverie of past times, leaving the audience to wonder when the next poet will be reading.

Beagle -- with long white curls, a black cap, and an outfit reminiscent of the 60s free-love scene - is a colorful character who interjects between each poet a poem by a friend, some of her own work, or a story about a past performance. Touching on the theme of Black History Month, she gaily noted that she had been the first white performer to read at a black church before introducing one of the features to the stage.

The room is sparse -- beige walls and a few black and white framed photographs don't do much to inspire creativity. In fact, those who want to write may do better in the main room that is brightly lit, sitting next to a bright-eyed bushy-tailed student typing away.

The best thing about the night is the strength of the feature poets, Reginald Lockett and Ayodele Wordslanger Nzinga. Both Lockett and Nzinga perform powerfully despite the lack of numbers and energy in the room. The two take the mic with gusto and enthrall the intimate crowd of poetry-lovers with their poetry. One benefit of having a small crowd is the ability to sit up-close next to these powerful performers and take in every last word and note from their performances.

Be what it may: if you're looking for a laidback place to test out some new pieces before venturing to a packed room elsewhere or if you see a poet on the menu that intrigues you, The Whole Note Poetry Series may be a place you want to check out if you're in the neighborhood.

The Whole Note Poetry Series
The Beanery Cafe
2924 College Ave, Berkeley, 510.665.1404
Every 2nd & 4th Tuesday night, signup at 6:45pm, start at 7 pm
All ages, Free