On bi-weekly Monday evenings, students at Western Washington University gather in the Underground Coffeehouse on campus. They gradually fill up the couches and tables and take seats on the floor in front of the stage. The coffeehouse is usually filled to capacity. Cacophonous chatter and the clinking of coffee cups come to a pause when the co-president of WWU’s Poets and Lyricists Society (PALS) steps on stage. Anna Marie Yanny welcomes everybody to the open mic, presents simple guidelines for the evening and mentions that PALS meets on Thursday evenings and any student is welcome to attend. She then invites performers from the sign-up sheet to the stage, one by one, to present their poetry.
Students often begin with a precursor to their performance: how many they’ll be sharing, a back story to keep in mind, how often they’ve been attending PALS meetings, or that they’ve never shared a poem before. Regardless, their performance is met with cheers, applause and snaps from the audience. As an attendee, it’s easy to be overcome by the event’s intimate nature. However, according to the members of WWU’s PALS, to participate in the club’s weekly meetings and other events is even more of a blessing.
While many of the poets that share and develop their writing with PALS have writing experience extending to childhood, many had never written a poem prior to attending Western. One member, Symone Camargo, admits to being “tricked” into attending her first meeting. “A friend and I had written a poem together about body image and self love and that sort of thing, and they wanted to show the poetry club leaders at a meeting. They told me I could leave after we shared the poem but I didn’t know that sharing time wasn’t until the end so I sat through the whole meeting and then we got to perform at the end. It was a happy accident I guess!” A year later, Symone attends PALS meetings almost every week. She won the poetry slam last year.
Members of the club attribute much of their personal well-being and mindfulness to their poetry. Weekly PALS meetings provide an outlet for students to share their writing, practice performing, and receive constructive feedback from other writers. Jazmyn Allen, a leader of the club, explains that she’s grateful to take the time from school work and decompress during Thursday meetings. It’s like a little therapy session,” claims Allen, “It’s cool that people can open up and feel supported.”
Students in PALS mention they appreciate the direction the leaders and fellow students in the club provide for their writing. Weekly prompts, free-writes, activities and workshops inspire creativity among the community of writers. While many students may come to their first PALS meeting unsure of what to expect and share very little, the leaders find it rewarding to see these students eventually get more comfortable and open up. One leader, Hanna Webster, mentions how people gradually ease into sharing. “The vulnerability encourages others to share,” says Webster. “Seeing people come out of their shell, get in touch and blossom is rewarding to see.”
Many members relate to the claim that a writer’s poetry is never as bad as they think. “Anyone can write,” states Yanny, “Everyone has a story.” The members encourage each other never to think negatively of their own work. Wyatt Heimbichner Goebel, a member who has participated in poetry slams since high school, claims all it takes is a leap of faith. PALS encourages both novice and experienced poets to share within the community of writers, allowing space for constructive critiques and suggestions from people who love listening and providing support. Shared poems are never met with harsh criticism or negativity and even suggestions for improvement are given in a loving manner.
After three years of writing and developing poetry with PALS, two of the club’s leaders have now published chapbook compilations of their poems. Both Webster’s and Allen’s books are available for purchase online through Lulu.com.
It is the supportive and welcoming community that participants of PALS continue to mention they love the best. “People come from all different walks of life, but have this common interest,” claims Yanny, “They’re good storytellers and listeners, which makes it easy to connect.” Many students claim that attending meetings and open mics feels like home. “It is comforting to have a community to be vulnerable with and know we are always there for each other, even if we don’t see each other daily,” states Camargo.
PALS’ warm energy is contagious during Poetry and Lyric Nights at the Underground Coffeehouse. The tight-knit relationship that this community of students has developed is nothing short of invaluable. For WWU students interested in participating, information regarding weekly meetings and bi-weekly open mics can be found on Facebook through Associated Students.