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Poets weave fabric of local literary culture

Even with budget cuts to publicly funded arts and literary programs, downtown continues to thrive culturally. The Las Vegas Poets Organization, 617 S. Seventh St., is one example.

Jorge Lara Santiago, executive director, started the organization nearly eight years ago with the hopes of establishing a poetry culture in Las Vegas. It wasn’t until nine months ago that he and some of the other active members began to seek non profit status. The Las Vegas Poets Organization is in the midst of becoming a nonprofit, having already formed a five-member executive board and an advisory council of community members.

President Jeffrey Grindley, who has been involved with the Las Vegas poetry community for 10 years, said he hopes to open membership opportunities in the next few months and is confident about seeing a large response.

“We are still young but we keep growing,” Grindley said. “We have (an online) MeetUp group of about 300 strong, and the support’s growing.”

But Grindley said it wasn’t always easy to capture and keep people’s interest in the valley’s poetry community. “For a long time, the poetry scene and open mics were centered around the university,” Grindley said. “The crowds would fluctuate. We’d have strong crowds at events for a couple of months and then they would die off.”

Grindley said he witnessed numerous people who grew frustrated with the lack of a literary community move to other cities with an already-established poetry scene. He said he, too, was frustrated but made a commitment to establishing a poetry culture in Las Vegas. Grindley said this commitment has yielded positive results. “In the last three years, (the trend has) changed, and it’s more about, ‘We’re all artists. We’re all creative people, and we’re all going to support each other,’ ” Grindley said.

Megan Milligan, secretary of the Las Vegas Poets Organization, has been involved with the valley’s poetry culture for more than a decade. Milligan, along with two other active poets, Mark Snyder and Lucy Botwick, host Las Vegas’ longest-running poetry reading, Word UP!, at 7 p.m. each Tuesday at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, 4550 S. Maryland Parkway. Milligan, who has hosted the reading since 2002, said she has seen the poetry community evolve, especially in the last few years.

“In the beginning, we had a younger crowd (at our events) and more compartmentalization,” Milligan said. “I’ve seen a lot more integration in the past couple of years. Las Vegas has such a diverse community, and it’s beautiful to see how we’re all coming together with visual arts and poetry.”

People outside of the Las Vegas Poets Organization have taken notice of the valley’s poetry culture , too. Vegas Valley Book Festival coordinators have placed an emphasis on poetry this year. Grindley said the organization plans to be involved with every aspect of the poetry-focused events, starting with the release of “ViVA Vegas Poets Anthology: Volume 1,” which features works from eight Las Vegas poets.

Milligan said the organization’s involvement with the book festival presents opportunities to showcase the variety of the local poetry scene.

“A lot of the outside world thinks of the typical Las Vegas stereotypes,” Milligan said. “We want to show that Las Vegas is more than just a transitory community.”

Of the local poets who will present original poems and writings are Prynze Flynt and A.J. Moyer, who are featured in the anthology. Organization members also are bringing in nationally known poets. John Survivor Blake, a slam poet from Albuquerque, N.M., will give readings and participate in The Craft of Poetry Workshop , set for 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Historic Fifth Street School, 401 S. Fourth St., as part of his national tour.

Grindley said bringing in poets on both a local and national level makes people aware of the poetry scene that exists in the valley. He hopes to build on this awareness in the future through the organization’s involvement with schools.

“We want to get kids involved with poetry and excited about it on a local and national level,” Grindley said. “Our ultimate goal is to be community leaders and help forge a unique poetry culture in this place we call home.”

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at lcarter@viewnews.com or 383-0492.

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