By Melissa Dearden
Worcester has been stepping up to the plate in the last couple years. New murals, bike sharing programs, craft fairs, Art in the Park, and unique outings are all helping to make it the dynamic city it once was.
Artists have always flocked to the city. John Stinton, Harvey Ball, Don Featherstone – just a few of the famous artists who came out of Worcester. Now it seems to be the writers’ turn. But is this renaissance really for writers of all ages?
Colleges, bars, museums, and craft centers alike are adding writing workshops and open mic nights. The Worcester Art Museum and Worcester Center for Crafts offers workshops for writers of all ages to come to improve their skills. However, these programs can be costly, especially for low-income households or new writers who are anxious to share their work.
Both Worcester State University and Quinsigamond Community College offer free open-mic nights to aspiring poets, singers, and storytellers. The downside is not many people attend these events; whether it’s nerves or lack of marketing, few show up.
Instead, people have started flooding to places like Ralph’s Rock Diner every Monday night for the Dirty Gerund Poetry Show — but because it is a bar, attendees must be 21+.
Ralph’s diner opened in 1930. Since then it has been serving food, drinks, and entertainment to the people in this great city. The building also doubles as a venue for local bands, fundraisers, and artists alike.
When the Monday night poetry slams began, only a handful of people would brave getting up in front of the mic. Now, more and more people have been building up the nerve. In a recent Facebook post, Ralph’s advised attendees’ to come early to sign up because the list fills up quickly.
Nikki Lessard, 23, is a former Worcester resident who has been writing poetry and short stories since the age of 11. However, up until a few weeks ago she kept her words to herself. Lessard owes her bravery to her late friend Meryl and a few tequila cranberries.
“I knew my friend Meryl would have made me get up on the mic on the first night I went if she was with us,” Lessard said.
Now every Monday night you can find her at Ralph’s Rock Diner, either in the crowd or up at the mic.
“The Dirty Gerund is my home away from home,” she said. “Monday nights are literally the highlight of my week.”
If you’re thinking about heading down to read some of your work but are still unsure, Lessard advised that it is worth it.
“Just go,” she said. “Come hang out; you don’t have to perform your first or second time there… Everyone here is here to support you, not to make fun of you; think of speaking to the crowd like speaking to your best friend. It’s an unimaginable feeling to be able to share your work with others and I believe everyone should have the opportunity to do so.”
This is great for business and poets, but is it great for everyone? Teenagers and non-drinkers are still left without an audience. Yes, the Worcester Art Museum offers workshops, but those classes can be costly.
How is a young writer suppose to afford them?
Perhaps you could argue that they can turn to social media. For example, many post their poetry online for everyone to read. But this can be quite dangerous: social media has made it easy for work to get stolen. You also have to deal with rude comments from people looking to start fights online. So how do these writers get good reliable feedback?
Author and poet Dalton Blake Gillette, 26, is a former Worcester resident whose first book is entitled Love Me If You Dare. He is currently writing a second book about his personal gender transition, both the good and the bad. But Gillette has never participated in any open forum for his writing. His work has always been more to benefit his own mental health than anything else, he said. His anxieties have kept him from sharing, but he believes that “going to open mic nights would have benefited me because, if anything, I could have built up a bigger fan base.”
To fellow writers, Gillette said, “Believe in yourself and do not give up on your work; your words can help someone in a really rough time or help them see things from a new perspective. Poetry and words are so strong and powerful that you can either make someone’s day or ruin it with just one little sentence. Everyone should do their best to make someone’s day with their choice of words.”
Worcester is a wonderful place for creative young artists. This has always been the case, and now so more than ever. The increase in recognition for upcoming writers has been impressive. Coffee shops, colleges, even high schools are some places that may be able to help with that. But first we need to acknowledge all our local writers, regardless of age. We need to give them strength. We need to fall in love.