Whenever I stop in at the downtown Sweetwaters, I see nearly as many laptops as coffee mugs. Sure, most of those laptop tappers are probably rapping out term papers, checking emails, or instant-messaging friends, but I’m guessing that at least some of them are working on a novel, or writing poetry.

I know for certain that on the third Tuesday night of every month, nearly everyone in the side room, off the main Coffee and Tea Club room, is a writer, or a fan of writing. It’s the monthly Writers Reading at Sweetwaters, started in October 2006 by Chris Lord, a poet and winner of several local writing contests, and Esther Hurwitz, a freelance writer who used to coordinate the similar Feed the Poets series at the dear departed Del Rio.

There’s not a laptop in sight as the writers walk to the back wall and recite poems or brief prose pieces, even sing a song or two, into a lone microphone plugged into a nearby boom box. The mike helps them compete with the faint hum of conversation and cappuccino machines, and the clinking of cups coming from the main room. Their reward when they finish? Enthusiastic clapping and a chunk of a chocolate chip or molasses cookie, courtesy of Sweetwaters.

The other main reading venue in town is the Heidelberg Club Above, monthly home of the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam — but, as someone said at a recent WR@S, “not everyone is a slam kind of poet.” And since Sweetwaters serves no alcohol, it has a less competitive, combative ambience.

WR@S does attract some slammers. Larry Francis, who teaches English at Canton High School and heads up the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam team, is a regular. Mike Moriarty, a U-M frosh and a member of that team (which made it into the top twenty-five at the nationals), showed up recently with his younger brother, Chris, who read “How to Fall in Love with Your Father,” a poem he might not have featured at a rowdy slam. Not that every poet is greeted with reverent silence: a man from Toledo was warmly welcomed by a shouted “We won’t hold that against you!” Another drew a big laugh when he began, enigmatically, “Being a retired poet is like being a defrocked priest.” And while most of the poetry is family friendly, there is the occasional X-rated expletive or anatomical reference.

Most months, the format of WR@S is a brief reading by a featured writer, followed by an open mike. In December it will be different. Lord and Hurwitz are publishing an anthology of works by past WR@S participants, and the final Writers Reading at Sweetwaters of 2007, on Tuesday, December 18, will be devoted to readings by those writers.

[Review published December 2007]