“[There is power in] writing down your own words and speaking and performing them in public. If people push through the barrier, they can blossom.” – Esther Hoffmann
Photograph courtesy of Hoffmann.
“You need to get in touch with Esther Hoffmann.” That was the advice given to Jenn Melby-Kelley when she bought the Coffee Hag coffee shop in Mankato more than seven years ago.
The new business owner and Hoffmann, a community artist, discovered a shared passion for performance arts and community building, and struck up a partnership. The Coffee Hag would be the host venue, and Hoffmann would be the ringleader for monthly events connecting the community by sharing talents.
The Coffee Hag is the host for the Big Deal Poetry Open Stage and the Spice of Life Variety Show – opportunities for women, men and children to show up and share their words.
“It could be anything – a skit or belly dancers or a song on an accordion. It’s poetry or music,” Melby-Kelley says as she describes the Spice of Life. The Big Deal Poetry Open Stage is more focused, with people sharing their original poetry. The events alternate months.
Hoffmann spoke of the power in “writing down your own words and speaking and performing them in public. If people push through the barrier, they can blossom,” she says. She has found that people do have something to say if the space and encouragement are provided. One participant said: “We are not doing this because we like poetry, but because we like to express ourselves.”
Participants range in age from early teens to elders, and they have a range of experience from beginners to some who have written all of their lives. Audience members – ranging in age from 8 to their 80s – are entertained and find community, Hoffmann says. “They are drawn in. There is communion, interaction and sometimes inspiration,” she says. “It’s a fun vibe.”
There is something about the energy and feel of a live performance, Hoffman says. Seeing someone else perform can lead one to finding her own inner poem just waiting to come out. Evenings usually conclude with the audience participating in a group poem composed Mad-Libs style: each person writes a line, after seeing the line just above their turn.
Hoffmann wonders if the fact that both of the leaders are women makes this a more collaborative environment, noting that poetry in many places has become quite competitive.
What calls them to continue hosting these monthly events?
Hoffman reflects that everyone has something they wish they could do. “I wanted to do something for my community. If you just try and have your best intentions, everyone will open their arms for you,” she says. “I’m having the time of my life. I love it!”
Where is your opportunity to provide space and support for voices and women’s words to be heard?
Where do you see women connecting and making change in your world? Send me your story,email@example.com
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