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Aaron "Lefty" Johnson, host and owner of Lawn Gnome Publishing. Images by Jeff Moses.
Downtown Phoenix’s Underground, Independent Bookstore Will Replace Their Monday Night Open Mic Event With A Writer’s Workshop Series

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By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

April 24, 2013 — For the last eight months Lawn Gnome Publishing’s open mic has been a staple of every Monday night in downtown Phoenix. But over the past two months the number of participants has been dwindling according to Lawn Gnome’s owner Aaron Johnson.

“It just got stale,” Johnson said, “Basically, just a lack of participation over the last two months. We went from having 30 to 40 people at every single open mic to having five or 10 people coming out and it just wasn’t really drawing people in.”

Johnson — a veteran of the open mic scene — has a few ideas as to why interest has been declining in his weekly event.

“A couple things can contribute to that. I feel like anytime there is an open mic culture that you find a group of people that really excel at their craft, and those people either end up getting paying gigs or end up joining bands or end up finding other places where their art can be appreciated and shared more sustainably. The other people who don’t end up moving on kind of get discouraged and say ‘oh I don’t want to read in public any more I don’t know if I’m doing the right things since these people have moved on and I’m still doing the same open mic.’ So there’s kind of like a point at every open mic, everywhere I have ever done one, where the steam gets kind of lost for a while and the excitement kind of disappears,” Johnson said.

In response to the declining interest in open mic night at Lawn Gnome Johnson decided to end the open mic season and put the event on hiatus until August, but not before hosting one last open mic for the season on April 22.

The final open mic of the season was also one of the best, according to Johnson. It brought out Fifth street regulars like poet Mio, musician Dagger Pan, and poet Joy Young. As well as some, “open mic virgins” as Johnson put it, like Jimmy the transgendered comedian, Lou a first time poet, and even myself reading some of my opinion pieces out of The Mesa Legend.

“I thought it was awesome I really felt like the amount of people that came out really just shows how popular open mics still are. I thought the content was exactly what I've been looking for, for the open mic all year long. You know just like the expression of all kinds of ideas like a wide range of ideas and people speaking out publicly about ideas that aren't exactly mainstream but are well thought out and definitely deserve to be talked about. I thought it was really cool that some musicians came out of their shell a little bit and did something they wouldn’t normally do at any other show. They weren’t afraid to take some risks and do something different and last night I feel like everything was hitting it was just the best of the best,” Johnson said.

Johnson was not the only person who thought the last open mic of the season went swimmingly. Poet Joy Young also felt the last one of the season might have been among the best.

“It was wonderful! I only caught the last less than an hour because I have been going to support this new LGBTQ open mic as it is the only one of its kind, but what I saw was amazing! Some people who have never performed before were so courageous and took that first step onto the stage — including a good friend of mine who has an amazing voice, Bailey. There was a great mix of things like music, poetry, and comedy. It was a fantastic experience of people sharing their art, critiquing our society, and creating community,” Young said.

Lawn Gnome, however will not be leaving the downtown community without a fun, and insightful community based event for Monday nights. Johnson said he plans on hosting a weekly writing workshop at Lawn Gnome every Monday night, “until the weather feels right for open mic again.”

“We’re doing a writing workshop so that we can be able to encourage a new group of people to come participate and hone their craft so that way they can have their own shows. So they can get up at an open mic and really wow an audience. That they could take their passion such as writing poetry and maybe use the skills and the drive that it takes to write a poem every day and maybe put it in a different form of writing such as screen writing, journalism, editorial writing, or short story writing. So we’re hoping that by bringing in professionals and specialists and people that have been using writing as a profession or as a fun way to express themselves that we could try and bring up a whole community of writers and teach a lot of people a whole array of skills. So that way writers block kind of disappears and we can all critique each other even more and just create a better more informed and more talented writing culture right here in Phoenix,” Johnson said.

The first workshop will be Writing Beyond The Self and it will be held at Lawn Gnome, 905 N. Fifth Street, Phoenix, at 8 p.m. on April 29, and will be hosted by Young.

“It is an exploration on how to write about experiences beyond yourself including about people from marginalized communities in ways that do not appropriate the experiences of others. So, basically how to be an ally. We will also be covering issues around language-- words one might want to avoid and things like that,” said Young.

Besides being an accomplished slam poet and Lawn Gnome regular, Young also holds a degree in women and gender studies from Sonoma State University.

“My background lends itself to doing a workshop like this,” Young said, “I am hoping to help people write in such a way that they are always participating in actively creating safe spaces for expression. That is my personal goal.”

The Monday after April 30 Johnson himself will be stepping up to the plate and leading a workshop on creating realistic characters and using natural sounding dialogue , and the following Monday if Johnson has his way will be journalism, led by Modern Times Magazine Editor & Publisher John Guzzon.

Johnson is not stopping there however, “I’d like to see a lot of stuff maybe a cure for writer's block, maybe a political writing workshop would be fun. I think arguments writing, solid arguments would be a fun workshop. So that way we can have poems and other pieces that have more rhetorical clout than just nuh uh,” he said.

But Aaron isn’t the only person with a vision of these writing workshops could be like.

“I would like to see Aaron and Klute do a workshop on how to be a haiku death match champion. We have a few amazing haiku writers who have been on the national stage to do haikus,” Young Said, “I would also like to see more workshops that focus on creating safe spaces by educating both writers and the community at large.”

Follow this link to the Facebook event page for Joy Young's workshop Writing Beyond Yourself.

Jeff Moses is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at jmoses@moderntimesmagazine.com.
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