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Bookstore hosts critique forum for aspiring poets

Are you a poet ready for some honest input? Are you strong enough to hear constructive criticism?

Then maybe your poems are up to the scrutiny of three published poets who started 5/5+ this fall, otherwise known as Five Five Plus. They’ve established a forum for poets to have their work heard and receive criticism. The trio promises to mince no words.

Lana Hanson, who co-founded the group with John Michael O’Neill and Nick Marco, said that, as a writer, getting an honest critique —no matter how brutal —is a good thing.

“We all need them. You’re not going to grow from praise,” she said.

Five Five Plus holds poetry readings from 4 to 6 p.m. about every other Saturday at Dead Poet Bookstore, 937 S. Rainbow Blvd. The group’s name stems from the way the meeting operates. Readers have five minutes to present their poems. After that, the group gives five minutes of feedback. The “plus” symbol denotes that they sometimes host a featured reader.

“At any open mic, you’re going to get applause,” Hanson said. “That’s guaranteed. As a writer, that begins to feel empty. You need more, if you really have a passion for writing. Here, you’re not going to get the polite applause.”

Writers who were just arriving Nov. 30 said they welcomed the honest approach. They saw it as a way to grow and to gain a new perspective.

“You write for other people; you want to see if anybody else actually likes it,” said Gary Ashman, an attorney and a published poet who participated. “Here, I’m not going to be told a line of bull.”

“Everybody here wants you to become the best at what you do,” said Adam Littman, an artist who also writes poetry and had attended two previous meetings. “ … The mutual admiration society? We don’t do that.”

On Nov. 30, six people, including two of the founders, attended the fledgling group. They gathered in a back corner of the Dead Poet, where an eclectic mix of chairs and tables filled the space, which was defined by draped bookshelves. The scent of old books and rare finds drifted in the air as Marco stepped up and read some of his poems.

At the end of five minutes, a timer blared. Perhaps it was his status within Five Five Plus as a co-founder, but the comments were complimentary. Harsh criticism? No-holds-barred blasting? Not here. Not yet.

Others got up and read from hard copies. In one instance, the poem was scribbled on a tablet.

Despite warnings that criticism would be harsh and heavy-handed, it was instead presented in an earnest and guiding manner: “Use fewer ‘alas’ es.” “Find a different word to use in that one line.”

“If you just go to the open mics, you believe that 95 percent of poetry is just junk,” Ashman said. “You go, ‘Why am I bothering with this?’ To be in a place where the poetry is of a certain quality makes you believe that there is good writing out there.”

Marco said he’s been to open mic readings and seen people congratulate the poet on beautiful work only to then whisper to one another that it was bad.

“So people never find out what’s good or bad about their work,” he said. “… Anybody can withstand five minutes of critique. That’s all good poets really need. They need a nudge.”

This night, topics ranged from being in a smokey bar to a fun day spent riding dune buggies along the ocean, culminating to lying on the beach in each others’ arms. The latter ended with a jolt: “Sand clinging to the curve of my ear moistens as she whispers of her big brother and bad news from the Mekong.”

“I worked hard on that last line,” said Ashman, who wrote the poem. “I always work hard on my last lines because that’s where you leave them (your reader).”

Not all of the writers were there just to get feedback. Dana Anderson has been honing her craft for 15 years.

“I have stage fright,” she said. “I know I’m a really good poet … I just have bad anxiety.”

How do Five Five Plus workshops further the artistic realm of Las Vegas?

“Hopefully, it results in better writing,” Marco said. “There’s so much garbage going around out there. You go to the average open mic reading, and maybe you hear one image that’s worth your time, but you have to pay with several hours of your time in order to hear something that may improve your own imagination. This idea came up to kind of cut through all that and get to the essence of what was there and draw people in who are willing to (participate) and slug it out … for the purpose of refinement.”

Lee Mallory, a retired English professor whose poetry appears in eight books, said workshops such as this elevate the craft. He said at open mics, the audience is just “common folks who don’t know if they’re hearing something good or something bad. … If it’s presented with (an emotion), everyone thinks it’s good, where he could have been reading the Sears catalogue.”

For more information about Five Five Plus, call 702-227-4070.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 702-387-2949.