How I got here and why I stayed

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We weren’t there when Katrina destroyed the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but my in-laws were. While we searched online for any news of them, my wife read an invitation from the mayor of a little town in the Ozarks to hurricane refugees from the New Orleans area to relocate there. Intrigued, we were charmed visiting Eureka Springs, and eventually bought a place in the country.

Shortly after moving, we read about the monthly PoetLuck at the Writers’ Colony. We wanted to experience local culture, especially for our daughter, Molly Marjorie, who was studying creative writing at the University of New Mexico and had been active in poetry slams since high school.

At some point, Paula Morell, the creator and host of the “Tales from the South” radio program put an invitation out through the Writers’ Colony for locals to submit stories. I was lucky enough to be selected for an anecdote about my arrest in Laurel, Mississippi, for selling encyclopedias after dark. My wife and I played intro and closing music for the show, recorded at Caribé Restaurant, and along with two very funny women, I got to read my story.

We played music at a couple later “Tales from the South” in Eureka, one at Main Stage and another at Caribé, which featured local artist Zeek Taylor reading from his memoir, Out of the Delta.

“Tales from the South” is no longer being produced, but Zeek has teamed up with Sandra Spotts, another veteran from that radio program to launch a local version, “Homegrown Tales,” the first Wednesday of each month at Brews. When I contacted Zeek about participating, he said they already have storytellers lined up for the next few months, so clearly planning makes this a serious venture.

That time slot used to be an open mic event at Brews. The original emcee there, Mackenzie Doss, has moved on to Connecticut to study puppetry in theater. Molly Marjorie has assumed the role of host and moved the date to second Thursdays. The new format is based loosely on Fayetteville’s “Last Saturday Variety Show,” which Molly has participated in and occasionally hosted for several years. The first part of the show will feature any variety of acts—musicians, mimes, ventriloquists, belly dancers or readers—and the evening culminates in a competitive Poetry Slam, judged by audience members.

Brews has been described as “Eureka’s living room,” and if you haven’t been lately, you ought to check it out. The name is a pun on the place serving local beers and ciders as well as gourmet coffee. Art shows curated by artist John Rankine, now a part owner, change out on a monthly basis, live music is heard many nights a week, with a silly Trivia contest every Sunday night.

With the new “Homegrown Tales” and Poetry Slam nights, Brews expands further to become a literary salon. Storytelling and singing are time-honored Ozark traditions; slam poetry is a much newer art form. Molly has performed all over Arkansas, Kansas City, St. Louis, Albuquerque, and the “Women of the World” slam in Dallas.

Because competitive slam poets are typically limited to three minutes, performances range from poignant personal statements to ferocious diatribes, wild hilarity, but always celebrating the spoken word and the immediate connection to an audience. These are not genteel poets with highfalutin abstract images. Doug Shields, an astrophysicist at UArk, is one of Fayetteville’s best-known slam poets, but his work is always accessible, thoughtful, sometimes ridiculously funny. “Last Saturday’s” host, Houston Hughes, offers rapid-fire commentaries that attack hypocrisy. Who knows what will show up at Brews?

We are lucky to gain these two new programs. Around the country, storytelling and poetry slams draw big audiences in big cities and colleges, cafés and bars. Here in a town of 2000, we have plenty of fine writers hiding in these hills and hollers, and you can attend these free events to celebrate them, or if you are a writer yourself, to participate at some point. And Poetluck still takes place every third Thursday at the Writers’ Colony. Go out and get you some cultcha.

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