“…I sleep on a pallet of needles
Wait for a whisper to wake me”
My cousin Richard from Worcester was the featured speaker over the summer when I had my first experience at Speak Up! at Walnut St. Café.
I went to hear him and see what this weekly Wednesday spoken word was all about. Well-known Beverly storyteller Tony Toledo, the master of ceremonies, asked right away if I would be getting up to the mic. I’m no stranger to public speaking, but I had nothing to say. Cousin Richard was there to talk about cancer—a subject that is so past and so present in my family. Nothing I had to say that night was nearly as important. Luckily, others did.
There was a very long list of speakers. You just walk in and sign up. There were comedians, singers, guitar players, poets, storytellers, Occupiers, and others in need of a soapbox and a crowd of receptive ears. Clay Ventre was there and I recognized a few other Salem faces in the crowd, which was considerable for a small unassuming, eclectic café on a bend in the road in Lynn.
Tony gave great impromptu introductions such as “She makes grown corporations cry,” for one activist, and offered the crowd tongue-in-cheek etiquette instructions like “Every time a cell phone rings, a kitten dies.” I looked around and noticed Kafke was there on a shelf and Lou Reed was somewhere in the room. They laughed as one woman told her jokes, and listened when Richard read his war, cancer, and love poetry. My favorite were versus about meeting Moses on the Green Line that took me right back to college life at Boston University.
One of the biggest surprises was Rosie from Albania, a patriotic immigrant, there to stand up and express her love for America by singing “America, My Home Sweet Home.” She recanted the story of how her mother had to hide her American father’s flag by sewing it between two blankets that covered her bed. Art Throb’s own Lilly McCrea read from her work about one removed side of her family, the Warburgs. “What is it to be related to a group of people and try to understand them and know them?” Lilly said. Unbeknownst to her, I was having a similar journey that very night. I was there to meet another side of my mother’s first cousin Richard through his poetry, his spoken word—his art.
Tony spins a yarn after every speaker, presenting them with a coin. Rosie got Betsy Ross’s coin, Lilly a boomerang so she will come back. Richard got a jar of Fluff that all of us in this gypsy bar signed.
Do you have something down deep in your soul that you yearn to say? Go to Speak Up!, for you will find a welcoming audience. Are you sick of listening to politicians prattle on? Well then, go to Speak Up!—you will find open minds. Do you have jokes to tell, songs to try, or stories to share? Go to Speak Up! and gain some groupies in no time. Just let Tony know you are there—he will write your name on the White Board next to the microphone and give you your token.
“…Language is a mangled art, only babble is clear.”