Poetry is arguably like punk rock. It's an underground art form committed to raw emotion, placing emphasis on self-expression. It's a conduit for social and personal angst, and has little regard for the status quo. Poetry is nearly invisible in pop culture and local events, but the rhymesayers of the Orange County Poetry Club are looking to change that by bringing spoken word back to the community. The group's open mic poetry readings kick off at 7 p.m. every Wednesday, in the outdoor atrium of the 4th Street Market in Santa Ana.
Founded by longtime musician and poet, Thomas Monroe, the club is comprised of readers from throughout Orange County who speak about whatever ails or inspires them. Monroe not only founded the group, he started self-publishing poets under a press by the same name. Four writers are currently in print under the OC Poetry Press insignia. Monroe feels that giving his group a chance to see their work come to life is vital to keeping poetry alive, and offers each of the published poets an opportunity to be a featured reader.
“I feel like having the press helps them to have enthusiasm for what they're doing,” Monroe says. “Maybe they don't always get validation from their peers, parents or teachers, but here's a place where they can come read their work and possibly be published. I want them to keep writing poetry, to keep contributing their voice to our culture.”
Monroe found his way to the 4th Street Market after being met with adversity at the club's original location, Saddleback Valley College. His previous club gained enough popularity to snag Campus Club of The Year in 2011, but as the years went on and social activism began playing a larger role in his events, the Saddleback administration began skirting their room requests.
After performing acoustically at a social awareness event for The Orange County Music League, Monroe approached the music collective's co-founder, John Safari, for suggestions on Santa Ana venues that would be willing to host a poetry club. Safari introduced him to the 4th Street Market team and after complying with the venue's rules of no profanity or bigotry, Monroe had found a home for the new incarnation of his club.
Torrin Greathouse, a twenty-year-old student at the University of Irvine, was the winner of the group's recent poetry slam and published his first book with the OC Poetry Club Press, a collection called Cosmic Taxi Driver Blues. The young writer points out that being a poet was once reasonable, but notes that in today's artistic climate, it's nearly impossible.
“Small presses like OC Poetry Club Press are really what gives life to poetry. If it weren't for open mics like this and the press that [Monroe] started, I think being a poet would be even more difficult,” Greathouse says. “The days of the written academic poet are slowly dying. Academic poetry is getting worse and worse, and connects less with people. This is poetry from the street, from the voices of the people. That resonates.”
While these metaphorical punks have more eloquence than electric guitars, their art form undeniably stands against the grain of the mainstream. Monroe, a former resident of Santa Ana, hopes to attract more voices from the immediate community, and shares that he's reached out to professors of Santa Ana City College in hopes of attracting nearby students. He also plans on drawing in touring poets from throughout the country, and aspires to find books from the OC Poetry Club Press in classroom curriculums.
“I felt like this a place where the community needs to be able to speak and have dialogue. There's a lot more going on here than craft beer and burgers,” Monroe says. “But more than anything, I want this to be a place where poets help each other burn brighter.”
The Orange County Poetry Club meets Wednesdays at the 4th Street Market, 201 East 4th Street, Santa Ana, 7 p.m., free. All ages. For more information on Orange County Poetry Club visit www.facebook.com/orangecountypoetryclub.
If there’s music or art involved, she’ll take a chance on it.