About a year ago, Lucinda Marshall hosted the first-ever DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading and Open Mic at the Gaithersburg Library. Many of the faces in the audience turned up again the following month. And to her delight, the month after that.
Marshall still marvels at the consistent turnout for the two-hour poetry sessions that take place the second Sunday of the month in a library meeting room.
“As a poet, I’ve read at readings with just two people in the audience, but we consistently have from 20 to 40 people,” she said. “Maybe we’re just riding on the coattails of the resurgence of interest in poetry, but to have this kind of attendance is fantastic.”
Marshall began hunting for a home to hold poetry readings in Gaithersburg in late 2017. “There are poetry readings all over the DMV, but from Gaithersburg, you’d have to drive at least 45 minutes to get to them,” she said. “I wanted to set up readings in my community for my community, but also for myself. I hated those long drives!”
She hosted a couple of poetry readings at a Gaithersburg shop earlier in 2017. But when it relocated, Marshall approached her hometown library as a possible venue. “Gaithersburg Library staff knew me from my four years of mentoring teen writers and were immediately supportive. They knew I’d be doing something good for literature for the community,” she said.
More than two-dozen published poets from across the DMV read from their work at DiVerse events during 2018. From featuring Maryland state and city poet laureates to published local writers, Marshall designs the agenda to ensure diversity is more than just a catchy name for the group. “Gaithersburg is one of the most diverse cities in the country. And using the word ‘DiVerse’ in our name perfectly reflects our mission of presenting diverse forms of poetry to be enjoyed by our community,” she said.
Usually three published poets read from their work for about 15 minutes each, then Marshall opens the floor to audience members. Only two rules apply to those coming up to the mic: that what’s being read is poetry, and that the reader wrote it.
“For some, this is the first time in their lives that they’ve stood up at a mic to read their poetry,” Marshall said. “It’s heartwarming to hear from people that DiVerse has motivated them to read more poetry and to write poetry.”
Fran Abrams, of Rockville, credits DiVerse with encouraging her own interest in writing poetry. Retired from a 40-year career writing everything from legislation to reports, she began writing poetry two years ago. She has followed DiVerse from the shopfront to the library, and during the group’s second meeting, stood to read her own work. She still attends regularly and often takes a turn at the mic.
“DiVerse is a good place to see how people react to your work, if they chuckle at the right places,” she said. “I’ve also read sad poems, poems I couldn’t get through without crying. It’s not easy to stand at that mic, but the DiVerse audience is warm and receptive.”
With no funding to back the group, Marshall runs DiVerse on — well, not even a shoestring. But she is nevertheless building a home for poetry in Gaithersburg, to include acting as the Poetry Chair at the Gaithersburg Book Fair on May 18.
“Poetry is the poor relative of the art world; there’s simply no money in it,” Marshall said. “But people are hungry for it. DiVerse may be in its infancy, but we have plans to grow.”
And growing, it is. Word is getting out about DiVerse, thanks to the tight-knit community of poets in the DMV. Marshall now has a list of some 100 authors to pick and choose among for the monthly readings.
And while some audience members may simply have wandered in during a visit to the library, others are there on a mission, thanks to fellow poet Marianne Szlyk, a professor at Montgomery College.
Szlyk encouraged students in her English 101 classes on the Rockville campus to attend a session of DiVerse during the fall semester. Nearly a dozen students turned up a reading in December. To Szlyk’s delight, two students even took the mic to read some of their own work.
“I certainly had no expectations that my students would read, but people are clearly hungry for the opportunity to hear poetry in a community setting. DiVerse offers that,” she said.
With three poetry books to her credit, Szlyk is slated to read at the April meeting. Abrams also hopes to join the ranks of published poets and is currently working on a small collection.
“One of my new year’s resolutions is to submit poetry to magazines and to pull together a short booklet,” she said. “I don’t know that I would have gotten this far without DiVerse. Reading my work in front of strangers has somehow given me the courage to move forward.”
DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading and Open Mic will meet from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10 at the Gaithersburg Library, 18330 Montgomery Village Ave. The group regularly meets on the second Sunday of every month. Visit https://diversepoetry.com or email DiVersePoetry@mail.com.