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'Everyone wants to be heard': The Poetry Café radio show to debut on WUNC

Courtesy of Josephus Thompson III

Poet and artist Josephus Thompson III has been showcasing poets and spoken word artists from around the world for more than a decade. He hosts The Poetry Café based in Greensboro, where performances are packed with music, laughter, and sometimes some tears.

The good news is, if you can’t get to Greensboro it’s not a problem. The Poetry Café is coming to WUNC for a weekly show, beginning this Sunday at 6 p.m.

WUNC host Eric Hodge caught up with Thompson to discuss the longevity of The Poetry Café and the community it has fostered.

This is an excerpt of an edited transcript of that conversation. You can hear the full interview by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this post.

Why do you think The Poetry Café has carried on for so long and been so successful?

"Oh man, it's simple. I think that everyone has a voice. Everyone wants to be heard. And at The Poetry Cafe, we validate voices. Not only are they heard, but they're also experienced, loved, cherished, applauded — and who doesn't like to be applauded? I like to compare it to performing for company [in the] living room back in the day. So it's just a great environment for artists to support each other and for the community to support them."

Whether it's a joke or a dance or a poem or a song or a rap — it's all welcome at The Poetry Cafe.

Where do you discover the artists that become part of your events?

"They just show up. I don't discover them, they discover me, yeah. And they come up, to share, to be heard. And it kind of goes from there."

Is it open mic or do people audition for you?

"It is open mic, okay, no auditioning. There is no red-tape. There is no, you know, pristine poet. It is just somebody that wants to be heard. Whether it's a joke or a dance or a poem or a song or a rap — it's all welcome at The Poetry Café."

I've watched a few of the clips on your website and it looks to me like you have another performer in the room and that's the audience. When you got started more than a decade ago, did you realize that the community of people who attend your live events will be part of the show?

"I did, it's designed specifically for that purpose. People come thinking they're going to see a show, [not realizing] they're going to be part of the show. And as a community, it takes all of us to make the thing work. You need the clappers, the snappers, the "Hallelujah" people in the background. You need the performers, need the band, need the lights, the technical directors, all those things play a part and what makes the show a success. And so giving each person a responsibility, whether it's a small one, or a huge one, makes them invest that much more in the product that we're creating in this community."

You get people going and they just take to their feet. They can't sit down for it.

"Yeah, it's a great time."

How's it different for people listening on the radio, do you think?

"I think theater of the mind is going to play a role. I think that hearing it is going to want to make them want to be a part of it. I think that it's going to make them smile, remember, connect, and maybe inspire them to write something of their own. It's very transferable. People love podcasts; this is in the same exact vein. So, I think it's not going to be any different for people."

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
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