Five Places to Find Your Poetic Soul in Oklahoma

7 minutes
Inside the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry prospective poets will find everything they need to inspire a new masterpiece. Photo by Nathan Gunter

Inside the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry prospective poets will find everything they need to inspire a new masterpiece. Photo by Nathan Gunter

When I was in junior high, I wanted one of those parents who was so wrapped up in their own lives and drama that their kids went essentially unsupervised. I had some friends who could ask to go literally anywhere—an opium den, a rave, Mars—and the answer would be, “Whatever.” I longed for this kind of negligent, uninterested parenting that would afford me the ultimate freedom every teenager craves. Alas, I had a mom who cared, who paid attention, who had some overweening need to know my whereabouts.

Why did I crave all this freedom, you might ask? Did I have big plans around attending raves, punk-rock concerts, or raging keggers thrown by my unsupervised peers? No, I really just wanted to go to Medina’s and read poems.

In the 1990s, Medina’s was a coffee shop in the Paseo that regularly held open-mic poetry nights. Some of my friends went and reported back to me that the menu contained items like Ezra Pound Cake, which my wannabe-artistic ninth-grade self just loved. Ohh, how I wanted to go and read my carefully crafted lines in front of people in black lipstick and spiky bracelets and punk-rock T-shirts (I imagined). But no, ’twas not to be. I never got to go, and by the time I was old enough to make my own decisions about such things, I was in college 1,200 miles away, and Medina’s had closed.

My junior year of college, I had the opportunity to take a class from Maya Angelou. The course was titled World Poetry in Dramatic Performance, and though it only lasted about a month, I could write an entire book about how it—and she—changed my life. Most pertinent to today’s topic, though, was the fact that, from Dr. Angelou, I got a masterclass in how to perform poetry. It would be nearly twenty years before I read my own work in public, but over the past six years, I’ve had a few public readings, including as part of the Woody Guthrie Poets, who meet every year during the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival (though the two organizations are not affiliated).

But like many social things, my poetry-reading (and writing) habit fell by the wayside during COVID-19. Even as everything has reopened and the pandemic has receded from our constant attention, I haven’t quite found the groove my old life was in, and I feel the loss of poetry most keenly. So if you, like me, are thinking you might throw down some lines and read them in front of others—or if you just want to listen to the words your fellow Okies bring forth—here are a few places around the state where you can explore your love of poetry via an open-mic night or otherwise (though if you are planning to read, maybe review the poetry open-mic rules of etiquette before proceeding):

Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry in Locust Grove

Whenever I’m at a poetry event, I’m always delighted to run into Shaun Perkins, the proprietor and director of the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry in Locust Grove. This small museum is packed tight with visual fascination, inspiring words, and activities galore to get your creative juices flowing in the right direction. There are regular events and an annual festival called Wonder City Wordfest that are always worth checking out. rompoetry.com

The Gypsy Coffee House in Tulsa

Opened in 2000 in a building that once housed Meek’s Furniture Warehouse, the Gypsy Coffee House in the Tulsa Arts District hosts its Velvet Chair Poetry Open Mic every Wednesday at 7 p.m. Sip like a Beat Poet with a Café Cubano—a double shot of espresso over sugar—or, if bedtime is calling immediately after the reading, try a non-caffeinated hot chocolate, steamer, or Italian soda. 303 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Tulsa, (918) 295-2181 or gypsycoffee.com

Ponyboy in Oklahoma City

Nestled upstairs from Oklahoma City’s iconic Tower Theatre, Ponyboy is one of the city’s hippest bars. And every Wednesday at 8 p.m., its small-yet-powerful stage hosts the Red Dirt Poetry open-mic. This is my open-mic poetry event of choice, as Ponyboy has an impressive whiskey menu, and if I’m going to stand in front of people and read some of my most intense thoughts, I’m going to need a shot of something brown. ponyboyokc.com

Poetry on Lost Street in Durant

If you find yourself in a poetic mood while touring the scenic reaches of southeast Oklahoma, stop at downtown Durant’s Lose Street Brewing for their regular Poetry on Lost Street Event. Sip on an Iron Horse IPA, Copperhead Red Ale, or Rocky Top Chocolate Milk Stout while listening to some of the state’s best poets read their words—and then join them during the open-mic section! Our friend Ron Wallace, whose words have appeared in Oklahoma Today many times, is one of the great minds behind this event. facebook.com/loststreetbrewingco

Poetry and Chill OKC

This amazing open-mic event combines R & B, jazz, and any other form of music with spoken word and poetry performances and is hosted by Gregory II. Any type of performance is welcome at this open-mic, so come ready to listen and cheer for your fellow brave souls at the Queen Lounge on Northwest 23rd Street and MacArthur Boulevard in Oklahoma City.poetryandchillokc.com

Written By
Nathan Gunter

A sixth-generation Oklahoman, Weatherford native, and Westmoore High School graduate, Nathan Gunter is the magazine's editor-in-chief. When he's not editor-in-chiefing, Nate enjoys live music, running, working out, gaming, cooking, and random road trips with no particular destination in mind. He holds degrees from Wake Forest University and the University of Oklahoma. He learned how to perform poetry from Maya Angelou; how to appreciate Italian art from Terisio Pignatti; comedy writing from Doug Marlette; how to make coconut cream pie from his great-grandma; and how not to approach farm dogs from trial and error. A seminary dropout, he lives just off Route 66 in Oklahoma City.

Nathan Gunter
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