“Good morning America, how are you?” sang Expression Mondays East cohost Bobcat Carruthers, playing “City of New Orleans” — the Steeve Goodman song that Arlo Guthrie made famous — with guitarist Sal Fusco and Terence Clarke on harmonica.
Others in the audience answered with their own instruments, and another night of sharing and expression began.
Poet and host LeahJoy Pearson greeted the group and explained a little about why they were all there — but not before asking me to explain that I was writing an article about the show for the Independent.
You see, this is not your typical open mic. Expression Mondays prides itself on being less about the mic and more about the open. The flyer for the show — held the second Monday of every month at 7:30 p.m. at Never Ending Books on State Street — has the phrase “pure raw you … let it go, let it flow” across the bottom of it. The idea is that it’s a place where you are heard and are listening, and can feel free to try something you may not have tried before.
“Our mission is to create a safe space to share your inner voice, and to inspire those who have suppressed their voice,” said Pearson. “Many of us have been terrorized at a young age and told we can’t do it, can’t express ourselves, and we can get ill from not doing that. I encourage you to push past your comfort zone. For some people that’s simply getting up on the stage. We salute them too.” Pearson noted that the show has its regulars, but also has its share of occasional visitors. All of them bring to the show “all forms of expression.”
Pearson began Expression Mondays in Los Angeles under the guidance of Harry Grammer, whom CNN anointed a “hero” in July for his work with NewEarthLife.org. Grammer developed an open mic where people were not fighting to be heard and could experiment with being more deep and raw with their expression. When Pearson moved back to Connecticut she missed having this type of space and got permission from Grammer to start the East Coast version of the show, which she called Expression Mondays East. Beginning in Newtown in 2013, it made its way to New Haven in 2014, and to Never Ending Books. The original in L.A. is still going strong and happens on the same night; Expression Mondays East is starting roughly when the one in L.A. is ending.
On Monday, Pearson led the show in “popcorn style,” letting people come up as they wanted because, as she explained, “sometimes you need to percolate in your seat and have to warm up to the experience.” She gentle guided the proceedings, interspersing the acts with readings of her own poetry, some of which were accompanied by other attendees on their instruments per her request.
Some performers asked me not to film or document them. Some decided not to perform at all, choosing instead to remain active listeners in the experience. Not all acts were poetry or music related, either. Lynn Charles shared her artwork, bringing up two of her paintings to the stage and explaining her inspiration and methods to the audience. Joe Higgins had a print of his miniature tile paintings hanging on the wall of the bookstore just to the left of the piano, and he invited the guests up to view three of his pieces right on the stage. Yasmin Amico, who Pearson announced as “an Expression East favorite,” combined story and song along with tambourine and drum playing. Fusco and Clarke shared more music, with Fusco inviting Clarke and Carruthers up to jam with him for his first song while Pearson played flute from her seat. Clarke, also a EME regular, talked about his first demo recording, which he had available that night, as well as his newly strung old guitar — which broke a string during his third song, a cover of The Eagles “Take it Easy,” but did not deter him from his music.
Two attendees read haiku; one decided to share after hearing the other. And yes, this reporter also ended up sharing three of her poems. I had been to the event before and others in the room were familiar with my work, and I was encouraged to share with the crowd. It was hard to say no in such a welcoming and free environment.
David Pilot, the featured performer of the night, brought with him scenes from the first episode of an episodic television show he is directing about New Haven called Buber Driver — referencing philosopher Martin Buber — about “drivers who feel like they should be doing something else, but realize this is what they are doing.”
It was Pilot’s first time showing the scenes he shot around the city, including Long Wharf, Grove Street Cemetery and East Rock. He discussed his process before and after showing the scenes, fielding questions even after the show was over, but not before the end-of-show jam, a regular occurrence at EME, which included Carruthers and Pearson on flute, Amico on drum, and Higgins on piano. Many performers stayed long after, extending the warmth of the night beyond the stage.
“The more far out, the more fascinating I think,” said Pearson with a huge smile. “Spread the word to your quirky friends!”
Expression Mondays East happens at Never Ending Books, 810 State St., the second Monday of each month. Show starts at 7:30 p.m.