Toledo Takes the Mic

Toledo Local Features  |  08/17/2010 7:00 am

As far as poetry is concerned, the Midwest is responsible for some of the most influential movements in American literature and poetic style.

In the 50s and 60s, Cleveland was ripe with free verse and confessional poetries at the hand of d.a. levy, a rogue poet who printed his own works as well as the works of poets like Charles Bukowski and Ed Sanders using a mimeograph. Levy was a soldier in the early wars of free speech, and with his poetries he fought for an individual’s right to language.

In the mid 80s, Chicago was experimenting with free verse which led to slam poetry; a sensation of lyrical performance inspired a new wave of poetic expression. Poets like Marc Smith organized poetry readings at various venues where poets would compete with their ability to improvise verse.

Decades later, cities like Cleveland, Chicago, and Toledo are thriving with active venues for poetry readings and publishing. The community of poets, writers, and literary performers in the Toledo area are finding more venues of expression with the help of a few smaller local businesses opening their doors and providing microphones.

For the past few years, the poets Michael Grover and John Dorsey have humbly hosted their open poetry series at the Collingwood Arts Center on Tuesday nights with featured poets every second Tuesday. They have now decided to pass the torch onto another community activist and writer for but will continue hosting readings at The Ground Level coffee house. “Rebels Without Applause” will be held every third Thursday.

The Ground Level also hosts many other weekly events including open mic. Every Thursday is dedicated to celebrating the spoken word, including poetry, literary events, and theatrical readings.

“Originally we were focusing on poetry,” said Imani Lateef, co-owner of The Ground Level. “But poetry has recently blossomed into an overall arts scene. We try to support the poetry scene here and bring in more young people.”

The venue is very accessible, located near the corner of Douglas Road and Central Avenue. It is a big contributor in people becoming more comfortable with going out to events and finding the courage to read in front of a crowd. It is very friendly for first time readers and performers and welcoming for families.

“I think that Toledo has turned a corner so to speak,” Lateef said. “As far as contributing to the arts, I think it started with surge of downtown galleries. That community contributed to the overall reception for the arts. Events like the art walk and Artomatic 419. The visual art events increase the value of the arts in general, and that helps contribute to our success as a venue for poetry.”

Brooklyn’s Daily Grind, located on Airport Highway in Holland, is a newer café and a growing hub for local arts.  The venue also hosts music and poetry events weekly. They host “Simply Poetry” once a week, usually on Wednesday.

“I didn’t get into poetry until it started here,” said Larry Humphries, owner of Brooklyn’s Daily Grind. “I fell in love it. I’ve learned how important poetry, art, and music are.”

Before opening Brooklyn’s Daily Grind, Humphries came from manufacturing and aerospace technologies.

“My way of putting value on things was based on time and materials,” he said.  “I appreciate more, incredibly talented artists. Anything the artist creates with mind rather than paint what they see. I’ve learned that art is more than the canvas and the oil and mediums.”

With the efforts of Lorraine Cipriano, a writer for Toledo Poetry Examiner, poets and writers have been encouraged to share their work with the community. Cipriano has keeping a catalogue of the literary activity in Toledo and Northwest Ohio by interviewing local writers and community activists.

“Right now, the poetry scene in Toledo is vibrant,” Cipriano said. “There are a few different venues to read at, some of which have live stream poetry going on, and there is an energy flowing that is contagious. While there are not many places that host regular readings, most are at high quality locations such as the Original Sub Shop, the Ground Level Coffeehouse, and the Brooklyn Daily Grind. Of course, the Collingwood Arts Center is without rival when you think about the eclectic mix of wonderful poets and artists that reside there.”

According to Cipriano, the widespread of internet and blogging as well as the open venues in town allow for poets to have a larger audience. With cafes, coffee houses, and restaurants opening their doors for literary and theatrical events, the community has an affordable way to have a fun evening.

“Even though Toledo is not considered a big city, there are enough outlets available for Toledoans of any age, race, or gender to express themselves poetically,” she said. “I think what Toledo lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. As I mentioned above, the internet and live stream blogging has allowed local poets to reach a much broader audience and gain prominence without leaving the Toledo area. This is important because I think that is necessary to help sustain and improve Toledo’s poetic culture.”

To view schedules for poetry readings and open mic events in the Toledo area, visit: