What: Words on a Mic open mic and poetry competition

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Bright Place Gallery, 909 SE Armour Road, Bend

Cost: Free

Note: Registration required for performers at bit.ly/WordsOnaMic

Contact: deschuteslibrary.org/calendar or Liz Goodrich at 541-312-1032 or lizg@deschuteslibrary.org

The Deschutes Public Library’s Words on a Mic contest Saturday aims to bring poets and writers out of their shells and put them front and center. At the finale of the event’s fourth series, artists will have the opportunity to share their work with an audience and try to win a $500 cash prize.

The Words on a Mic series finale will be hosted by visual artist, performer, educator and hip-hop producer Mosley Wotta (the alter-ego of Bend creative laureate, Jason Graham) at the Bright Place Gallery in Bend.

Blending an open mic night and a poetry slam, the event celebrates spoken word poetry by giving participants a microphone and up to 5 minutes to perform original material in the format and genre of their choice. They could present an excerpt from a novella or memoir, song lyrics, a personal anecdote, poetry or some other format altogether.

“I was curious to see what it would be like to have folks come through and do a rap, versus reading classical poetry, versus performance poetry, versus a classical monologue,” Graham said. “I want to pit those things against each other creatively and see if it helps make it more powerful. I’m really fascinated by the idea of that cross-pollination in a competition environment.”

Words on a Mic is part of the Write Here program that Deschutes Public Library launched in January 2018 to provide workshops, seminars and author events designed to feed and nourish the writing community of Central Oregon.

“The library sees all reading and writing events as serving the common goal of creating community,” said Liz Goodrich, adult programs coordinator at Deschutes Public Library. “Spoken word events are a little different because the art that is created by the performer is singular in that it’s never the same piece twice. It is unique every time. It’s a powerful thing to witness the genesis of a powerful piece and the genius and bravery of spoken word performers.”

Words on a Mic offered several workshops with Graham over the past three months, helping participants hone their writing and performing skills. However, participation in those prior events is not required in order to sign up for the finale. There are 18 performance slots available on a first-come, first-served basis, with advance registration recommended.

Graham says the event is open to artists with any level of experience. They just need to have something to say.

“I think the biggest thing is busting up some idea that you’re supposed to be perfect or that you’re not supposed to sweat,” Graham said. “I want to know that your heart is beating in your chest and that you’re willing to risk public humiliation. I would encourage anyone who feels less than prepared or not ready, to just try it. This is a good life practice kind of thing. Like if you’re really confident in the world of athleticism, then come and try this. If you’re really confident behind a guitar, then get rid of the guitar.”

The audience will become an integral part of the evening and is encouraged to be lively, reactive and even interactive with the performers, as long as no one is drawing too much attention away from the performance on stage. This ongoing feedback loop is part of what makes these kind of events so organic. Random audience members will even be selected as official judges.

Anyone planning to attend should be aware there’s likely to be some adult content presented from the stage as there are no taboos regarding subject matter. The recommended age for audience members is 15.

Graham advises performers to focus on presenting something personal that has real meaning to them, rather than trying to be extremely polished or mimic stylized spoken word performances or themes they may have seen elsewhere.

“Personally, what I’m more interested in is seeing what an individual is doing to come up against a fear or barrier for them and then finding a way to push past it,” Graham said. “Talking about something really personal to you, the sincerity and authenticity are going to shine through — whether it’s done really dryly or it’s highly animated.”

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