Listening and Being Heard

martha cinader
Kards1 works on the wall at Listen & Be Heard Poetry Cafe in Vallejo, CA Jan. 27, 2005

I am almost at the end of a writing journal that has taken me a couple of years to fill. I was looking back through it this morning and came across this entry. I was taking a first stab at writing a story about my experiences with Listen & Be Heard both in New York in the nineties and California after that. Maybe I still will, but I thought I would share this for a change of pace from all my notes…

Listen to the unexpected and unforeseeable words of a stranger who shows up for open mic. Be heard by the same people who show up because they want you to listen to them. It seemed catchy and simple to me, Listen & Be Heard. It occurred to me while walking alone at night on 8th Avenue, heading for the subway back to the East Village. I didn’t get a shivery feeling, more like a lightbulb feeling. I didn’t say it aloud to anyone when it came to me, cuz like I said, I was alone.

I didn’t like being alone. Really I wasn’t alone, alone cuz my little girl was still a little girl. But I felt lonely. And, it had finally dawned on my unreasonable optimism by then that some of my choices had created obstacles for us that I might never surmount in this lifetime.

Some things are deceptively simple, like ‘just be honest.’ That sounds simple enough. That’s all I want to be with you, honest. But we all know how hard that can be sometimes. So if you ever think I’m not being honest, just stop me. Cuz I might be tempted to try to make myself look good. And really none of us are good because we all have trash swirling around in a dead zone in an ocean somewhere on this planet.

Listen and be heard. That’s straightforward and simple. You listen. You are listened to. But most people want to be heard. The listeners only come in a couple varieties. I know I’ve tuned out when I shouldn’t have. You can’t always be listening. But there’s plenty of people who don’t hear anything even when they are listening.

I had just left the radio station. Volunteer producing and hosting a radio show was assisting me in my fantasy at the time that my life with my little girl in our studio in the village might one day sooner rather than later become viable without food stamps. This in itself was a travesty considering that I had spent my high school years living on Park Avenue and acquiring a high school degree that was no doubt more expensive than some college degrees.

There are two kinds of poets at an open mic. The ones who call themselves poets and the ones who write some poetry. The ones who write some poetry have jobs and sometimes they come still wearing their name tag or uniform or job title. The ones who call themselves poets have jobs too. But if you ask them what they do they might bristle at the question.


There was a crowd, people who could be called upon to read a part in an episode of Mission of Love, which I had been writing as I went along. I explained and cajoled while Anthony was setting up microphones and Jeannie walked in late with her turntables and the tape recorder of course. Charlotte was wearing a blonde wig and had gotten mad at me when I didn’t recognize her. I guess that was a little strange.

She was sitting on a stool at the door taking $3 from everyone. Some of the guys who were used to hanging out before I ever asked Mohammed if we could do Listen & Be Heard at University of the Streets, never wanted to pay. They didn’t like me or Charlotte either. But I was taking assistance from those willing to give it. So I didn’t care if they didn’t like her. Anyway, as long winded as Carlos was, he needed to pay his $3.

Most people who come to an open mic just want to listen. The more crowded it gets the more true that is. Most of the people who I impressed into playing parts in Mission of Love would never have gotten out of their seats or said anything while they were there if I hadn’t asked them to. I used to go through anxiety coming up with a new script every week. I’m sure some of it was pretty bad. Essentially there was EarthWoman schooling SpaceWoman about the meaning of love on Earth. SpaceWoman was on a mission to Earth to discover the meaning and was always asking naive questions.

The other thing that was different about Listen & Be Heard is that we had an improv round with live musicians, or sometimes just a DJ, well our DJ, Jeannie. Slams had a lot of rules and it was always a competition. For me that was restricting….

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