Graphic by Nina Hufman

The Humboldt spoken word community is alive, stomping, snapping, and whistling

Local nonprofit Word Humboldt hosts regular, lively open mics

by Valen Lambert

Every Tuesday, Word Humboldt takes over Northtown Coffee to host their free open mic nights, where anyone is welcome to join and perform. From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., you can expect everything spoken word, from poetry, song, and rap to short stories and improv. The nonprofit builds a thriving poetry scene through safe, supportive, and accessible events for new and seasoned writers of all ages.

The beginning half of the night is saved for the community to share, and the second half of the night is for seasoned staff writers. To wrap up, everyone writes a line of poetry to add to a collective group poem. 

Word Humboldt was started six years ago by co-founders Dylan Collins, Wil Gibson, and Susanna Gibson. Eureka poet laureate Wil Gibson prides the organization on curating a radically inclusive environment, where people feel safe in expressing themselves and being vulnerable.

“The basis of Word Humboldt is to reach out to the community to make poetry accessible for everybody; to amplify and uplift underrepresented voices,” Gibson says. “You can’t be a poet in a vacuum.” 

Gibson lived many years as a traveling poet and has performed at enough open mics to know what works and what doesn’t. This informed his belief that open mics should be free so that they are accessible to all, to encourage people of all ages and walks of life to attend and share so that everyone has a chance to feel seen. The love that permeates this community is what makes it special.

“We built this community wanting love to be the main focus,” Gibson says. “You can feel the love between the crowd and the poet.”

Bamidele Menchu Hotep has been attending the open mics since 2019 and is now on the Word Humboldt board of directors. He sees this community as family.

“The importance of a writing community is that we’re able to inspire each other through our work,” Menchu Hotep says. “Through our writing we heal, so this is a community of growth and healing.”

For Julie Avina, an environmental science and management major at Cal Poly Humboldt, Word Humboldt open mics were her first time performing a poem.

“Everybody was so supportive even though I was so nervous,” Avina says. “They cheer extra loud for you once they know it’s your first time.”

The crowd is eager to engage with the poems. They snap and stomp for powerful lines, echoing around the small cafe space. They shout ‘rewind!’ when it’s so good they want to hear it again and ‘new shit!’ when the poet shares something new. 

The room is animated and electric, far from the solemnity that some people may associate with a poetry reading. Susanna Gibson, the executive director of Word Humboldt, starts the night off by hosting the first half with energetic charm and attentiveness, making each poet feel heard and seen by uplifting their performance. 

Beyond the open mics, Wil Gibson hosts three poetry workshops throughout the week: Sundays 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Epitome Gallery in Eureka, Mondays 6 p.m.-7 p.m. at Fit Coast in Sunnybrae, and Thursdays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at The Thing in Arcata. Each workshop is a $3-$5 donation, but no one is turned away for lack of funds.

“We believe every poet has value in the future,” Gibson says. “Every poet deserves to learn.”

On the second Saturday of each month starting at 6:30 p.m., Word Humboldt hosts the Redwood Poetry Slam at The Thing. Poetry slams are competitions with a cash prize, using elimination rounds in front of a panel of judges and a lively, engaged crowd.

Word Humboldt is also co-organizing the second annual Redwood Poetry Festival taking place April 23-29 which boasts performances from local and national award winning talent, as well as workshops and community building.

Whether you’re looking to dip your toes into poetry or are a seasoned writer, Word Humboldt hosts an array of events to make you feel at home in a community.

“Poetry saved my life,” Gibson says. “I just want to give back.”

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