At 6:30, the scheduled starting time for the AXIS Coffeehouse, the only people in the multipurpose room of the Malletts Creek Branch of the Ann Arbor District Library are teen services librarian Sharon Iverson and intern Cherie Lee. They’ve covered the room’s tables with books, blank paper, pencils, and games—Parcheesi, Boggle, Bang, Jenga Extreme, and Spite and Malice.
Refreshments are in the corner, but “coffeehouse” is a bit of a misnomer for AXIS. There’s nary a latte in sight, though there is decaf and black tea. “We don’t drink very much of those,” admits Iverson. “It’s just the idea of it.” “Cocoahouse” would be more accurate, as there are plenty of packets of cocoa mix, plus pretzel sticks and a couple varieties of cookies.
As the middle-school-age audience trickles in, Iverson and Lee welcome the young people. Iverson repeats their names out loud to help herself memorize them. “I remember you guys,” Lee greets two girls enthusiastically. “You’re back!” A boy shyly introduces himself and adds, “I’m just here to listen.”
By 7 there are a dozen teens milling around the room. AXIS Coffeehouse is about poetry reading and writing, and Iverson takes the microphone to invite everyone to read an original poem, or from one of the books on the tables. There are rewards for all readers: $5-off-library-fine coupons, a free book, and extra-credit slips. “When someone comes up to the mike, we want to be a good audience,” she says. “For example, the Boggle game—if you don’t shake the letters at that time, we appreciate that.” Then Iverson models a performance, reading a poem called “Frost,” and ends with “So, that’s how it happens.”
For the next half hour everyone is busy reading, writing, playing, sipping, munching, and egging each other on: “You need to fight the fright of stage fright!” “I’m serious!” “I’m not going up there!” “Read it! Read it!”
At 7:30, a girl braves the mike and reads a David Parker poem that begins, “Pay attention, youth, and seek to find a seed that grows in a cave of light.” That breaks the dam. A steady stream of readers follows, some alone, some in tandem, some in larger groupings. One girl can’t face the audience when she starts but does by the time she ends. An original poem, “When I Pray,” gets an especially heartfelt response.
By 8, almost every one of the more than two dozen teens has read—to appreciative peer applause. A boy, accompanied by three friends adding hip-hop sound effects, appears to close the evening with his poem, “My Voice Is the Voice That Ends This Set.” But the boy who earlier announced he came only to listen no longer can resist the lure of the limelight, or perhaps the rewards, and approaches the mike to wrap the night with one final poem.
The Malletts Creek Branch hosts the AXIS Coffeehouse on Friday, February 6, and Friday, February 13.