Celebrating National Poetry Month in Las Vegas was like throwing a purity party in a Pahrump brothel, wasn’t it? Still, there are real bards in town crafting intense verse and speaking powerful words, as long as you know where to look. Here’s a handy guide for finding your way around the literary hinterlands of Sin City.
First, get your bearings. The best place to start is by Facebook-friending and also Twitter-following The Las Vegas Poets Organization. These local, veteran metaphor-slingers do a tireless, thankless job of updating the verse-crazed community on readings and book signings. Whether it’s a wine-and-cheese academic panel at UNLV or an open mike in a garage, this group knows about it.
One you’ve grasped the virtual lay of the land, look for certain names in the spoken-word scene—like detective-poet Harry Fagel. Although he’s been quiet so far this year, Fagel usually comes alive in the summer with a big poetry/punk-rock bash at a dive bar. Last year he released the Wordmurder CD (available at CDBaby.com), with musical accompaniment courtesy of The Vermin. His poetic nemesis is, appropriately, public defender Dayvid Figler, a sporadic performer locally who more often packs clubs in Portland and San Francisco and is essentially Vegas’ best-known literary figure. Younger superstars include the shamanistic Jeff Grindley (who co-hosts the hip-hop-edged “Human Experience” poetry night every Thursday at Club Forbes, 3400 S. Jones Blvd.) and quirky yet passionate local slam queen Kari O’Connor.
Open-mike poetry nights are tricky, but manageable. You may want to get your toes moistened at Word Up!, Tuesday nights at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf near UNLV (4550 S. Maryland Parkway). Hosted by Mark Snyder and Megan Milligan, this gathering gets a tad weird on themed nights (“Country Music,” seriously?), but whenever an out-of-town or prominent Nevada poet is featured, it makes for a satisfying affair. On the third Friday of every month, The Poets Corner at West Las Vegas Arts Center (947 W. Lake Mead Blvd.) showcases a diverse, urban style of spoken word and is always a surefire pleaser. On the wilder side, consider S.O.A.P. (Society of Anarchist Poets) on the first Sunday of each month in an Arts District shop called Hillary (1104 S. Third St.). On the milder side, check out the all-ages Seldom Seen Poets assembly at Sunrise Coffee Co. (3130 E. Sunset Road), hosted by Hannah Marisahl every Wednesday.
As far as Vegas poetry publishers go, the Black Mountain Institute at UNLV, which runs a reading series in the fall and spring semesters, is responsible for Witness, an acclaimed and annual literary journal that contains some of the best (if a little rarefied) poetry being written today. Over at College of Southern Nevada, Red Rock Review, under the consistent editorship of professor Richard Logsdon, soldiers on as, arguably, Nevada’s best-known literary forum, in which lots of really great (i.e., readable) poetry appears. Zeitgeist-Press, run by Bruce Isaacson, continues to produce beautifully designed full-length collections and chapbooks by Vegas and Bay Area bards (Julia Vinograd of Berkeley, Calif., for example) and shows no sign of slowing down. Zeitgeist titles are available at Dead Poet Books (937 S. Rainbow Blvd.) and via Amazon.com.
Finally, make the pilgrimage to the downtown Poets Bridge, at the Lewis Street Pedestrian Corridor (between Fourth Street and the Strip). There you’ll find stanzas written by Nevada and Las Vegas poets inscribed into the very concrete in the year 2002, a sonnet’s throw from Fremont. Good to know that even in the slot-machined heart of Vegas there’s a place for poetry.