Crowded bars aren’t quiet places. Conversations fueled by cocktails tend to grow loud and multiply – and laughter regularly interjects. Glasses clank, flatware does its tap and scrape on plates, and music (sometimes live, sometimes through speakers) fills in the gaps. Not that there ever are any.
And crowded bars aren’t easily hushed, which means a single voice would be hard pressed to get itself heard over that wonderful ruckus.
Unless it’s Word Portland night at LFK.
The monthly reading series invites local poets, storytellers, and writers to share their work inside the welcoming confines of LFK, and “good words, good drinks, and good friends” are celebrated equally. The bar might be a wordy rumble most nights of the week, but when the first speaker begins, the conversations taper off. The music is muted, the tinking forks subside. And people listen.
Co-founded by Danielle LeBlanc and Emily Jane Young in November 2012, Word Portland takes place the first Monday of every month. The readings start at 9 pm, but word-lovers are encouraged to arrive at 8 pm for drinks. And the drinking is encouraged during and after, too. Word Portland is held at a bar, after all, and that’s no accident. The event is partly modeled after a similar bar-meets-words reading series that LeBlanc and Young attended while attending the University of Maine at Farmington. There were readings, and there were shots of Bushmills whiskey.
But let’s be clear: Bar revelry might abound on these Monday nights, but Word Portland is still very serious about its writers.
There are three writers every month, each selected by LeBlanc and Young through a submission process. The night’s readers might be published writers or poets, writing students or people who are just trying out the whole writing thing. But they will be good.
“It’s quality writing in a casual setting,” said LeBlanc. You can hang out, hear people’s work, and have a beer. And while there’s an “open mic” kind of vibe, there’s more of a guarantee that what you’ll hear will be worth listening to.
“We’ve been so lucky to have such good writers,” LeBlanc said. “We’re so lucky to live in Portland. There are so many talented people doing talented things.”
Writers who are interested in reading at an upcoming Word Portland event can submit a sample of their work through the Word Portland website: wordportland.wordpress.com. And people are submitting.
“We’re getting more and more reader submissions,” said Young. “People we didn’t know.”
And that, they say, is why they put in the time and money to host the event each month. Not everyone is suited to read at the local library or bookstore. Creating an environment for local writers that was simultaneously casual, lively, and welcoming (and where a beer or shot of Bushmills was close at hand) was the ultimate goal. And that’s exactly what they’ve created.
“It’s because of people,” said Leblanc. “People want to share their work. People want to come out.”
Most Mondays, Young added, it’s been standing room only. And she’s noticing a lot of the same faces coming back each month. Those returning faces speak well for Young and Leblanc’s efforts. Even better: The ripple effect that events like Word Portland can have.
“One of my favorite compliments to get is, ‘Now I feel inspired to go write,'” said Young. “Or not just write, they say they’re inspired to go do whatever art they do.”
Here’s hoping they’ll share that art with the rest of us sometime – perhaps at an upcoming Word Portland event.