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'Power in vulnerability': Local open mic night reflects on one year of performances

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Spoken word artist Nick Courmon said he feels like he can "let his hair down" at Orange County Arts Commission's Weave & Spin open mic night.

Started by poet Morrow Dowdle in January 2023, the monthly event encourages poets and artists from all levels to share their raw and personal work. 

During his featured performance earlier this month, Courmon said the space allowed him to focus more on his storytelling and explore a new way of delivering his pieces. The pieces touched on subjects from his childhood and time as a community organizer as well as his advocacy for wrongfully incarcerated individuals. 

Dowdle was inspired to host Weave & Spin when they noticed that a lot of the open mics they attended were oriented toward an older, white and cisgender crowd. They wanted to create an event that was more inclusive and catered to a diverse audience and readers. 

To make space for speakers from all levels, Weave & Spin is split into two parts — a scheduled performance and an open mic for the general public. 

Featured performances often last 30-45 minutes, which, according to Dowdle, is much longer than the amount of time allotted at other open mics. They said they found huge value in bringing the featured artists into the public eye.

“[The performances showcase] people who have accomplishments in their field, who can be an inspiration or a source of learning for the audience," Dowdle said. "And then I also really enjoy how that kind of sets the tone for the open mic that follows."

Dowdle said that they try to bring in a level of warmth to the poetry readings to establish an environment where speakers are comfortable to share personal topics.

“I think we just create the intention and the atmosphere grew from that, because we've had so many people who have come who had never been to an open mic before who read poetry — and they've never written poetry before, much less read it — and sometimes it is about very explicit trauma that they've experienced.” Dowdle said. “And, they've shared how somehow it felt like an environment to them where they could do that.”

Published poet and biographer Katie Bowler Young was the September 2023 featured reader for Weave & Spin. Throughout her time as an audience member and participant, she said Weave & Spin has been a place where poets and storytellers from diverse communities can bring poetry and workshop it together. 

Bowler Young often brings her work when it is still in progress, and she said receiving feedback from the audience is very helpful for sharpening her pieces.  

“It is a group of people that are very supportive of one another as writers and as readers and as listeners,” Bowler Young said. "And there's joy that's in the room from the shared experience." 

She described the community as a “neighborhood of poetry” and said it has become a welcoming place for new and returning voices alike. 

Courmon said open mics like these are important because they offer a space for artists to share their experiences and establish a sense of solidarity among their audience.

“It gives you the space to not only reclaim that power but to also empower others and to let them know that there's power in their voice,” Courmon said. "There's power in the words that they use and there is power in vulnerability.”

In the coming year, Dowdle hopes to feature local musicians as well as younger artists. In April, the featured artist will be a UNC student for the first time.

The next open mic night will take place on Feb. 14 with Debbie The Artist, an interdisciplinary artist who uses creative expression as a vehicle for social change. 

@preethikaratnam

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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