Giving voice to the written word

A combination art gallery and coffeehouse, the Block Gallery in Winooski hosts a  storytelling and poetry open mic event, which give writers an outlet for their work.The event, held each Sunday, began in February when the gallery moved to a larger location and opened a coffee shop, Block Gallery owner Loraleh Harris said.”We opened up the coffee shop — Winooski really needed a community spot,” Harris said. “We decided to [host] a lot of community events.”One of these events is the weekly open mic where anyone can come and read their poetry or prose in front of a small crowd.”We do an hour of readings and then we have a little intermission and make coffee drinks, and then we keep going until everyone has a chance to read,” Harris said.The open mic attracts mostly people from the Burlington area, but it has seen writers from farther away as well.”This past Sunday it was great; a couple of people came from Syracuse and read,” Harris said.While everyone is welcome, the event has been especially attractive to students.This may be because Dan Ritter, a Champlain College student and Block Gallery employee, has told fellow students about the event, he said.On March 30, the gallery had a special writers’ open mic for a Champlain College class.”For an advanced poetry class at Champlain, students are required to do public poetry reading,” Ritter said. “[Students from the class] came and their professor also had some other people come.”The open mic has also led a writer’s group to host their meetings at the Block Gallery on Wednesday nights.Truly embodying the community aspect, different groups of people meeting at the gallery can be beneficial to each other.”Especially being young, seeing people who have been doing this for a while was interesting,” Ritter, a writer himself, said.In addition to being helpful for fulfilling class requirements or learning from other writers, events such as the open mic can be a good way for students interested in writing to practice reading their work.”I think it’s important for young writers to have an opportunity to give voice to their work,” UVM English professor Daniel Lusk, who teaches creative writing, said.  The Block Gallery’s open mic also provides writers with a receptive audience.”One of the things many of us are afraid of in the beginning is competing,” he said. “If it’s a situation that people are there to really appreciate your work, then that’s a good thing.” The Block Gallery aims to create a space for this kind of appreciation.”[Harris’s] idea of opening the gallery was … a safehouse for people who need a place to gather and be artistic,” Ritter said.The Block Gallery, located at 1 East Allen Street in Winooski, hosts the open mic from 2–4 p.m. every Sunday afternoon.