The History of Poetry Express

Poetry Express History by Mark States
Poetry Express was founded 4/1/2002 by Mark States, who already had a long history as a
poetry host. Starting in the 1990s at “Touch of a Poet” and its founder Louis Cuneo (with
whom Mark to this day remains closely identified), Mark assisted along with Dale Jensen,
Randy Fingland, and others. Touch of a Poet had a long stretch at a variety of venues,
including Spasso Coffeehouse in Oakland and Caffe Med in Berkeley before settling in at the
Berkeley Art Museum. During these years Mark also co-hosted other series, including The
Coffee Mill in Oakland, the Red Café in Berkeley alongside Paula Farkas, the popular Saturday
night reading at Victor’s Café in Oakland (co-hosting with Lee Williams after Jonathan Blum
left the state), the Bay Area Poets Coalition monthly readings, and other venues. At times,
Mark was hosting 3 nights a week, somewhere. After Touch of a Poet closed shop, Mark stayed
on at Berkeley Art Museum for 2 more years as the front man for the band coordinating the
“Rhyme & Reason” series. Then he returned to the Cuneo group to co-host the Duomo Reading
Series at Café Firenze and then Poetry Nitro at Café de la Paz. When Poetry Nitro concluded
in 2002, Mark decided to branch off and found his own series.
A big part of the Poetry Express vision is to provide a different kind of experience for the
audience than the stereotypical “coffee and donuts” menu prevalent in the Bay Area poetry
scene in 2002 when it started. We had some previous success at Poetry Nitro, held in the
banquet room at Café de la Paz, the tapas restaurant in Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto.” We
provided a space where the audience could “break bread” together before (and/or during)
the reading, and saw deeper friendships develop between poets sitting together at the same
table. We had what Louis Cuneo called “a poetry reading where you could bring a date.” It
was a night out and not just another poetry reading. So when it came time to start a brand
new series, finding a venue that served meals and also had enough open floor space for a
staging area for the poets was really important.
In many other parts of the country, there are open mikes held in restaurants (as well as
poetry slams of course). Many have a cover charge imposed by the restaurant to make up for
losing seats for their regular dining crowd, which is fair. The cover charge also might pay the
featured poet or poets for appearing. Except for poetry slams, not many Bay Area poetry open
mikes had cover charges at that time, and a number of poets did not like paying one to get in
the door and read. Poetry Express wanted to exist and flourish somewhere in between the
experience of the typical local open mike and the poetry slam. Finding the right venue was
going to be key to its success or failure.
The birth of Poetry Express and its unique format can be largely credited to two people. The
first is Dorothy Jesse Beagle. She was kind enough to offer to help Mark States locate possible
venues for a new series – even though she had a series of her own, The Whole Note Series at
The Beanery in Berkeley, to run already. She knew Mark worked full time (and was a public
transit commuter to boot) so she hit the streets and contacted numerous venues on his
behalf. Jesse called one night and said that John the Baker was interested in meeting with
me. John the Baker owned the Berkeley Bakery & Café on Solano Avenue in north Berkeley –
which offered salads & sandwiches during the day, ice cream cones for children & their
parents/grandparents in the evening, and in the wee hours of the morning they baked
wedding cakes.
John the Baker too had a vision of what he wanted: a hybrid of a poetry reading and a
community rap session. He wanted his customers to feel free to speak up and express
themselves, whether politically or personally. After several years of attending and co-hosting
Saturday Night at Victor’s Café in Oakland, where up to a quarter of the audience were nonpoets
(neighbors and café customers who found the poets an educating and entertaining way
to spend a Saturday night), I excitedly agreed. Yes! We can do this!
On John the Baker’s insistence, there would be no sign up sheet to read. No calling out of
names by the host in a rigid, formal program. It was intended to be a forum where anyone
could speak up when their spirit moved them to do so. For poets so accustomed to sign up
sheets, it was a rough transition at first, but eventually we settled into the “organized chaos”
of jumping up and walking to the front of the room without creating a stampede. In the long
run, I think this helped create a community of poets that looked out for each other and
become an audience of attentive listeners.
After two meetings with John the Baker, a handshake agreement was reached on March 16th,
2002. Poetry Express was to launch at the Berkeley Bakery & Café on Monday April 1st, 2002.
Poetry Nitro’s final night was March 18th, and Mark was to attend several other events that
week. Mark quickly Word-processed and photocopied handbills at his own expense to publicize
the new reading at the various events he’d be attending prior to opening night for Poetry
Express. It wasn’t long though before people started commenting that the handbills were a
prank. (Remember, April 1st is April Fool’s Day. Also, Solano Avenue was "off the beaten path"
as far as Berkeley poetry readings go and maybe people found that suspicious.) Fearing that
the promotion effort might backfire, and his dreams of starting his own reading might be
squashed as a result, Mark hurriedly reproduced the handbills with a disclaimer along the
lines of “NOT an April Fool’s joke!” If you still have either version of the Poetry Express
opening night handbill in your possession, you have quite a collector’s item!
Where did the name “Poetry Express” come from? It’s a play on words, has multiple meanings,
and in part defines what the series is about. In other words, it was the perfect name :)
John the Baker’s goal for events held at his venue was to encourage his customers to talk with
one another and to express themselves. His customers, the people coming in for a sandwich
or to grab an ice cream cone with their children after dinner. Not just the poets in the case of
our poetry reading. As I listened to him, my mind was working on how to merge John the
Baker’s vision with my previous experiences at hosting readings.
Inspiration struck at one point, I said: “We can call this poetry series “Poetry Express” – to
reflect your desire that people express themselves, and also in the sense that I bring in a lot
of touring poets from around the country to feature at the venue, a sort of express stop on
their national tours. (Mark was well-connected with the national poetry community, actively
involved in Larry Jaffe’s Poetry Hosts listerve, for example, and had done some touring
himself. Mark had already developed the reputation through “Poetry Nitro” and “Rhyme &
Reason” for being the guy who features the “out of towners”.)
John the Baker immediately endorsed the name Poetry Express. He was happy that his vision
was heard – and incorporated rather quickly. He also appreciated the multiple meanings of
the name, and saw the added value to his business when we advertise our upcoming features,
especially ones who might be nationally known.
The Poetry Express Vision:
To be a place where more experienced poets mingle with local residents, inspiring them to
take up pen & express themselves artistically. A place where the wanderer is free to share a
personal story or political thought, a place to share without fear of argument or
(Like the corporate mission or corporate vision statement that you’ll find on many business
web sites today, this is from the template for Poetry Express’ weekly email list
announcement, circa 2003.)
Poetry Express Trivia: the first featured poet at Poetry Express was Claudia Giselle on April
15th, 2002.
Poetry Express Trivia: the first all open mike theme night at Poetry Express was “Pet Peeves”
on April 29th, 2002.
This *might* have also been the night when one of the Bakery’s ice cream customers became
the first such customer (with ice cream cone still in hand) to venture to the back of the room
to “express themselves” on our theme after listening to us while waiting in line.
Introducing Jim Barnard & Nance Wogan to the Poetry Express hosting team in 2002!
Poetry Express was (and is) a weekly series. It may take an occasional night off for a major
holiday, but otherwise it is open every Monday night and available for you to come and share
your words, or just to sit, eat, listen, and be edified. Its founder got into the poetry open
mike scene when the weekly open mike was the norm, not the exception. He had previously
co-hosted or was an assistant for a number of weekly open mikes - or had full hosting
responsibilities one night a month at weekly poetry series run by a committee of organizers.
As the decade progressed economic pressures compelled many venue owners to cut back the
open mikes from weekly to once or twice a month, Poetry Express defied these pressures and
flourished as a weekly event!
Running a weekly open mike with featured poets as a one-person operation can be
exhausting. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work (booking features, doing PR work for the
news media, the weekly email list, managing the reading’s relationship with the venue, etc.)
in addition to setting-up and emceeing the event itself every week. Mark looked forward to
teaching someone the hosting ropes just as he had been taught years earlier by Louis Cuneo
and Dale Jensen. Passing along information to the next generation is what life is all about,
whether we are talking about biology or poetry.
Jim Barnard and Nance Wogan attended the Poetry Nitro series. They started attending Poetry
Express as we recall on its 2nd week. Jim & Nance were big-time supporters and valued
members of the Poetry Nitro audience, and Mark was so excited to see them at Poetry
After the 4/08/2002 reading, Jim approached Mark and offered whatever assistance he could
to help get Poetry Express up and running. Mark, being of quick wit, offered Jim a role as a
co-host. Jim just as quickly said “As long as I can host with Nancy and if she is okay with
that.” Jim and Nancy are good friends who often work together in poetry groups, and after
Jim talked with Nancy about it and Mark thought it over, Mark said YES. Jim and Nance
became official hosts of Poetry Express by April 15th or 22nd, 2002.
At first Jim & Nance assisted with logistics, much the same way that Mark began assisting
Louis Cuneo at Touch of a Poet years earlier. They helped set-up, greet audience as they
arrived, and answer questions about our unique format with no open mike list. They also
spread the word about Poetry Express at other venues and at the poetry writing groups they
By June or July 2002 Jim and Nance took over hosting one night a month: the 1st Mondays all
open mike night. As Poetry Express grew and they gained experience, we decided to start
booking features on first Mondays. The first feature they booked was Claudette Sigg, who
read on October 6th, 2003. Jim and Nance also hosted when Mark was either out of town
touring or home with an illness.
Over the years, Mark watched Jim & Nance grow. As issues arose, Mark offered instruction and
suggestions on how to handle those issues. Mark encouraged them to assume leadership, and
they ran with it. Any night they hosted was good, and their decisions were trusted.
Poetry Express would not have flourished without them. Much is owed to their dedication and
steady hands through thick and thin, through changes in venues and the other challenges that
all reading series face. Particularly, Jim and Nancy essentially ran the series by themselves for
several months in early 2009 while Mark was seriously ill. When Mark left California in 2011
there was no doubt that Poetry Express was in capable and experienced hands, and assuredly
Poetry Express would continue to grow and prosper under Jim and Nance’s leadership, as they
bring on new hosts, and create their own path to the series’ future.
Why does Poetry Express have monthly theme nights?
Mark booked features for 2nd and 3rd Mondays at Poetry Nitro. When Poetry Nitro ended there
were perhaps 6 to 8 features already booked who read at Poetry Express instead. That left
the 1st, 4th, and occasional 5th Mondays open. What do we do with the rest of the weeks of the
month? Since Poetry Express’ opening night was all-open mike, we decided to make 1st
Mondays all-open mike nights indefinitely. No feature meant two rounds of open mike reading
for each poet, and that is a great way to grow the reading and for the poets to bond.
Theme nights are a tool in the poetry event organizers tool box. Theme nights are a way to
celebrate holidays (especially Valentine’s Day, Halloween and around the end of the year
when attendance may otherwise dwindle); or to respond to current political news or cultural
events (such as anti-war readings or the death of a beloved celebrity). Theme nights can also
attract new audience to an established series when promoted properly and strategically.
Remember that part of John the Baker‘s vision was that Poetry Express helps his customers
express themselves? What better way to do that than to give people a subject to talk about?
We decided to have a theme night EVERY month and not just for special occasions. And we
believe it is just as important for the audience to have a say in the event they attend – so
every few months at the end of a night we the hosts asked that night’s audience to suggest
the themes for upcoming theme nights.
Our first theme night was on April 29th, 2002 and the theme was “Pet Peeves.” We have had a
theme night every month since, most frequently on the final Monday of the month.
Two theme nights became annual traditions, one was OPP Night (Other Peoples Poetry Night)
on the ML King Holiday, where the poets put their poems in a communal bag and a poet would
pull a random poem out of the bag – as long as the poem was not their own they would read it
aloud to everyone. In the middle of the evening Mark would read a section from one of Dr.
King’s books or essays or speeches, such as portions of “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”.
But by far, the theme night that generated the most excitement as well as press interest was
the annual “Between the Holidays Erotic Poetry Night”. Held between Christmas and New
Years (when most other series took time off) it of course centered on the erotic words of the
audience. As well, quips and quotes from Mae West were provided by the hosts throughout the
course of the evening. The East Bay Express literary events writers LOVED this event and
wrote about it every year, but newspaper articles and/or “arts events of the week” listings
also appeared in the Berkeley Daily Planet, Contra Costa Times, the Oakland Tribune, and the
SF Bay Guardian. One year, even the Mae West Fan Club heard about our event and wrote
about it in their club newsletter.
The Poetry Express philosophy:
What makes people come to a poetry reading for the first time is to see a feature or an
opportunity to share their own work with a new audience. What makes people come back is
that they had a good time.
July 22nd, 2002, the first “internationally known” poet features at Poetry Express: Poetri the
Poet. A fan favorite on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and host of Los Angeles’ largest poetry reading
Da Poetry Lounge, Poetri was in the Bay Area as one of the stars of the Def Poetry Jam
Theatre Show from June 21st through July 28th at the Theatre in the Square in San Francisco.
Despite doing 7 or 8 performances a week while on national tour of this unique production
bringing slam-style poetry to a theater audience, Poetri the Poet was gracious to accept our
invitation to appear before our group on his one night off of the week.
After weeks of appearing in front of audiences numbering around 500, Poetri came to Poetry
Express and performed in front of 12-15 people. For some, that might be a letdown - but not
for Poetri. He did a great set and remarked in the middle of it that he was having so much fun
doing his favorite poems – and we loved every moment!
July 22nd, 2002 also marked the start of a tradition at Poetry Express: to provide a special
treat or surprise for our out of town features. It was an idea Mark “borrowed” from the Poetry
Hosts listserve group, from readings that did a sort of “King or Queen for the Day” for their
Poetri’s special surprise was a notebook of messages from his fans and audience from back
home in Los Angeles. Mark happened to be on tour in southern California from June 21st
through June 28th and appeared at Da Poetry Lounge. Poetri of course was not there that
night as he was performing in the Def Poetry Jam Theater Show in SF. During DPL’s
intermission, Mark wandered through the audience and got random members to write
personal notes to Poetri in a notebook – these notes ranged from “We miss you Poetri!” to
“Rock on, poetry super star”. Mark presented these notes to Poetri at the conclusion of his
feature at Poetry Express. As the commercial goes, the look on Poetri’s face was priceless, it
was a touching moment.
Poetry Express also was involved with community from the very beginning.
Its first special event was October 21st, 2002, a fundraiser for the California League of
Conservation Voters Education Fund, featuring guitarist Jesse Rosemond. Poetry Express also
involved itself with Poets For Peace and other groups by sponsoring themed events in
coordination with other readings around the country. In September 2004 we spearheaded
“Gator Aid” along with two other Berkeley open mikes to raise money for Florida hurricane
relief, and then again after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 our audience collected 5 large storage
boxes full of toothbrushes, toiletries, socks (adult & children) and other items and we shipped
them to Louisiana where we had a friend distributing those supplies directly to families
dislocated by Katrina.
If you remember the night the power went out at Priya in the middle of the reading, then you
were there on the night we were fundraising for COSAS (the Committee on South African
By November 2002 Poetry Express had already surpassed the 6th month mark, assuring that it
might indeed survive. A majority of new open mikes during those days died within the first 3
months or less. Poetry Express was building up steam, its audience size regularly in the teens
and stable, and everyone seemed happy until …. the owner of the Berkeley Bakery & Café
informed us that the bakery would be closing for renovations after Thanksgiving for a period
lasting anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks.
Poetry Express was lucky that it had already scheduled a holidays break from mid-December
to mid-January. But Mark had also seen poetry readings go on hiatus and never return – or
come back but never regain its audience (people find other readings to go to or other things
to do), and so he was reasonably worried about Poetry Express’ future. He might have to
cancel the January features and cross his fingers that the February features would not back
out due to the uncertainty of the venue re-opening on schedule.
At this point, Jim Barnard did the most selfless thing Mark had *ever* seen a host do: he
offered his own home as an interim meeting place for Poetry Express!
December 16th, 2002 Jim hosted the Poetry Express holidays get-together at his home, and
then Poetry Express returned January 13th, 2003 to Jim’s home where we sat around in his
living room for an open mike and featured poet Paula Farkas. The following week we
welcomed Phoenix’s Carol Hogan as feature, and so on, while we waited for renovations to be
completed at The Bakery.
The 6 to 12 weeks passed, then 15 weeks, then 18 weeks, still no word from the Bakery as to
when we could return. Jim was out of town for two weeks in the spring of 2003, so Nance
Wogan and Mark States hosted outdoor open mikes those breezy nights in a courtyard down
the road from the Bakery –not well-attended, and in fact on April 7th, 2003 Nance & Mark
took part in a candlelight vigil across the street instead.
On top of being an imposition on Jim & his family to continue to hold Poetry Express every
week in their home, it was also unfair to the features. We could not adequately advertise
their features on the internet and in the local newspapers without giving out Jim’s personal
address. As a result, audience was dwindling. By May 2003 the Poetry Express hosts lost
patience in waiting for the Bakery to re-open and started to search for a new and permanent
public venue for Poetry Express.
Given the way that things turned out, there is no doubt in Mark’s mind that the number 1
person responsible for Poetry Express reaching its 15th birthday is Jim Barnard – because
when the series was 6 months old and had a 50-50 chance of dying, he was there to save it by
hosting it in his own home during that critical time.
How did Poetry Express wind up at Priya Indian Cuisine?
Jim, Nance and Mark spent the good part of a day in May 2003 wandering up and down Solano
Avenue (where the Berkeley Bakery was and the Poetry Express core audience wanted to
remain). We talked with restaurant owners and coffee shop managers about moving Poetry
Express to their venue.
It is not as simple as walking in and saying “Hi, we’d like to have a poetry reading here” and
they either say “yes” or “get outta here!” You have to be prepared with a business plan, a
marketing plan, a resume of the host or hosts’ experience, and to be able to identify
precisely how your poetry reading is going to bring them business and therefore dollars in
their cash register. As you know from the history of how Poetry Express started at the Bakery,
once a venue shows interest a lot of negotiating goes on between the venue and the poetry
hosts before an agreement is reached.
As it turned out Solano Avenue was not looking viable. We talked with nearly every business
that wasn’t too small nor too upscale for our audience that would speak with us. As we
reached our starting point of Solano Avenue at San Pablo Avenue (where the car was), Mark
said why don’t we just drive down San Pablo Avenue a while just to look for possibilities for
our next day of door-knocking? There’s also one venue there that might be receptive to
talking to us today. That venue was Lee Wah Restaurant – where the Bay Area Poets Coalition
often gathered to eat after their monthly reading at the West Berkeley Public Library.
Jim parked the car down the street from Lee Wah, in front of Priya Restaurant. Nance looked
up as she exited the car, saw the Priya sign, and exclaimed “Oh I just ate here last week,
they’re pretty nice and the food is good!” And wouldn’t you know it, at that very moment the
Priya owner walks out of the restaurant, sees Nancy, recognizes her, and comes to the car to
say hello. We sat down with the Priya owner; Mark gave basically a 5 minute pitch about the
Poetry Express vision as a reading in a dinner environment, and our established advertising
network. Within 15 minutes or so, we had an agreement in place and Poetry Express moved to
Priya beginning on June 2nd, 2003. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between
restaurant and reading.
Mark States never lacked confidence when it came to his hosting and publicity skills. Give him
a room of any size and he will fill it. Poetry Express at Priya Indian Cuisine was held in the
restaurant banquet area, adjacent to the main entrance and separated by a waist-high
partition wall. Normal seating capacity was 34 in the banquet area alone.
Mark promised the owner personally that within the first 3 months Poetry Express would reach
an attendance level of 30. Mind you, the series average at the Berkeley Bakery (not counting
the ice cream customers standing in line) was in the teens; moreover Mark knew from his
experiences elsewhere that one always loses audience whenever a series moves to a new
It did not take 3 months to reach an audience size of 30. It took two weeks to exceed it. On
June 9th, 2003 we featured several poets included in the Farewell to Armaments: Poems For
Peace anthology and its editor Mary Rudge. Standing room only.
Mark does not mention this just to boast. The Priya owner and his staff remembered the
promise, and they remembered that the promise was kept. The restaurant knew very early on
that the poetry organizers could be trusted to hold up their end of the bargain and would do
everything they could to fill the banquet room and to support the restaurant. A successful
poetry series has a good relationship with its venue, and Poetry Express had a GREAT
relationship with Priya. The restaurant also supported the poetry series, for example, offering
a 10% discount on meals on Monday nights.
Poetry Express was proud that more than 50% of its features in any given quarter were
women. Poetry Express advertised itself as a “woman-friendly environment” simply because it
was. Our audience said so, thanking us for featuring women and that they felt their voices
were welcomed and respected at Poetry Express.
November 10th, 2003: Poetry Express welcomes its first mini-feature.
In the early 2000s, Poetry Express was unusual among Bay Area open mikes in that it offered
traveling poets on tour a mini-feature when a full feature was already booked for that date.
(The one caveat being that the feature was asked beforehand for their permission to share
the feature billing.)
The practice was in part fulfilling the Poetry Express mission to be a landing spot for the
touring poet, and in part a way to cast a larger net for audience. Mark picked up this idea
from other parts of the country where he toured and hosts were gracious in extending an
offer to be a mini-feature – or let him read for 10 minutes on the open instead of 5 just
because he was touring.
Thus the idea was born to offer a 10 minute mini-feature when contacted by a traveling poet.
Poetry Express’s first mini-feature was Wendy Brown from Santa Fe, New Mexico, a teacher,
writer, performance poet and installation artist, on November 10th, 2003. Dale Jensen was
the feature that night. For the Bay Area the mini-feature was an innovation that is more
widespread today.
Poetry Express had a sister reading - much like the “sister city” program. Kind of unusual, but
Poetry Express liked to be different ☺
Our sister series was Poetry Diversified. Held on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month at
World Grounds Café in Oakland, Poetry Diversified shared much the same vision as Poetry
Express. On purpose we shared so much more: we publicized each other’s events, and assisted
each other with booking out of town features (meaning for example, if Poetry Express booked
a touring poet for a specific Monday night, we’d contact the Poetry Diversified hosts about
featuring that poet on Tuesday). It was a mutually-beneficial relationship for both series. It
also helped make the larger poetic community more inclusive and stronger, to see two
different poetry readings working together.
In Sept. 2004 several Berkeley CA open mikes collaborated to raise funds for Red Cross
hurricane relief efforts in Florida. We called these events "Gator Aid".

August 23rd, 2004: the night we featured a dead poet (well, sort of)
Malthus Press (run by Dale Jensen) published the first and only book by the late Richard “Dixi”
Cohn, a noted Bay Area poet from the 1970s to early 2000s. The book was titled “Dixi in His
Cups.” Poetry Express was one of the locations where the book-reading parties took place
after the book was published. Dale and others read from the collection, and some of Dixi’s
long-time poetry friends shared memories and stories.
In a special twist, Dale brought in video of Richard Dixi Cohn reading some of his own work,
most likely culled from tapings of the Touch of a Poet Series made by L.A. Wood. The video
was played on a television set Dale brought from home.
So before the Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg concert featured a performance by hologram Tupac –
there was the night Dixi Cohn read at Poetry Express!
At Poetry Express, the poets came first, and the hosts came second. It was a Louis Cuneo
philosophy about poetry readings that Mark took to heart from his hosting mentor and planted
everywhere he went. At Poetry Express, the hosts literally took a back seat to the readers on
the open mike. Without a sign up sheet, poets walked to the front of the room and introduced
themselves. “Hi, my name is Jill” and so on. (While there were wisecracks about Poetry
Express being an AA meeting for poets, our method was quite popular with the AA crowd that
coincidentally attended Poetry Express, but that’s a another story which probably cannot be
told because it’s supposed to be anonymous, right?)
The hosts stayed in the background, monitoring the 5 minute time limit among other things,
and watching the clock in order to know when to introduce the evening’s feature.
The “Poets Come First” philosophy is why Mark States always read last when he hosted, giving
everyone else who wanted to speak the opportunity, before himself. Even if it meant he did
not read at all that night.
Poetry Express 3rd Anniversary
In advance of Poetry Express’ 3rd Anniversary night on April 4th, 2005, the hosts put their heads
together to devise some special treats for the event. One of the things we did was to initiate
a poll among the audience, accepting nominations of their favorite Poetry Express night of all
time (up to that point of course) from among our features and theme nights.
In all, we accepted approximately ten nominations, and submitted the poll through the Poetry
Express email list. After tallying the votes we were to announce the “winner” on the 3rd
anniversary night.
The winner was Shailja Patel, who had featured at Poetry Express on July 14th, 2003 – just a
few weeks after we moved to Priya Restaurant. Shailja Patel is an internationally-acclaimed
Kenyan poet, playwright, theatre artist, and political activist. She is most known for her
spoken-word theatre show “Migritude” (which came out well after 2005 just to be clear).
Shailja herself could not believe her feature would be so memorable almost two years later,
but obviously it was!
Polling the audience - cite_note-
Migritude_Shalija_Patel-1for its favorite Poetry Express event was fun. It was however neither
the first nor last time the hosts polled the Poetry Express audience. Aside from gathering
input before making major decisions about the direction of Poetry Express, giving audience a
voice in the series that they participate in is important to us.
East Bay Express for July 20-26, 2005, in the "Lit Happens" column. Writeup for book party and reading for David Lerner's "The Last Five Miles to Grace" at Poetry Express. Features included the publisher Bruce Isaacson, Julia Vinograd, David Gollub, Mark States and Vampyre Mike.

Poetry Express was the "Pick of the Day" in the East Bay Express arts calendar for 1/09/2006.
The write-up includes a wonderful synopsis of the series as well as highlighting the night's
feature, Jeanne Lupton:

Below you will find the transcript of the email announcement for our 5th Anniversary night on
April 2nd, 2007. It was a big event featuring Al Young the then-current California Poet
Laureate. This announcement was sent through Poetry Express’ email list and its Google
Group, as well as through several yahoo group lists founded for the posting of Bay Area or
California arts events.
Since we are on the subject of email announcements, Poetry Express was among the first
open mike series in the Bay Area to regularly highlight other peoples’ events in its own PR.
Poetry Express firmly believes in strengthening the local poetry community by sharing
information and supporting others’ endeavors. Our PR was not exclusively saying “Come see
us!” – it was also about “Help support this person or organization” and “We think you might
want to attend this!”
Poetry Express Fifth Anniversary
7-9PM, Monday, April 2nd
hosts Mark States, Jim Barnard and Nance Wogan and featuring: Al Young, California's Poet Laureate
Al Young travels internationally and extensively, reading, teaching, and performing. His
awards and fellowships are a veritable who's-who, from Guggenheim to Fulbright to Pushcart to NEA. Young has been published in the New York Times and Rolling Stone Magazine, and has written film scripts for Sidney Poitier, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby. These are selected highlights from four decades of critically acclaimed culture-making. Can't think of a better way to celebrate Poetry Express's fifth birthday!
See below for Special Announcements
Priya Restaurant 2072 San Pablo Avenue (near University Ave.) Berkeley CA
Most Bountiful Indian Buffet Award 2005, East Bay Express
Reader’s Choice Biggest Buffet Award 2006, East Bay Express
This event is free. The restaurant offers 10% discount to those who wish to eat a meal.
April 9th: featuring Selene Steese and Michael C. Ford from Los Angeles
April 16th: feature Bert Glick from Santa Cruz
April 23rd: celebrating Earth Day with feature Kirk Lumpkin
April 30th: theme night "secrets" plus special guest Blair from Detroit
May 7th: feature Avotcja
April's theme night: "secrets"
From secret codes to secret love affairs, from hiding places to that crush you wish your
schoolmates didn't blab all over town. Whether it’s something you didn't want anyone to know about to the thing you wish you hadn't been told, we want to hear about those secrets!
We also have a special guest. His name is Blair, and he’s well known in slam and music circles. His poetry is both confessional and social. Blair has been on Detroit slam teams and has toured the country extensively. He is in the Bay Area to perform music and poetry in more intimate venues, and we are excited to bring him here for you. Oh by the way, it should be revealed his latest cd is titled "Secrets."
FrancEye, our friend from Ocean Park in southern California who visits us from time to time,
recently celebrated her 85th birthday. An esteemed Los Angeles Press has offered to publish a FrancEye collection, and fundraising is underway. Let's celebrate our birthday by celebrating another's; bring a few dollars for ther cause!
The 15th Annual Youth Arts Festival is holding a Youth Poetry Workshop on Thursday, April 5th from 4-6PM. The poetry topic is peace poems. Send any interested youth you know to
Berkeley Art Center, 1275 Walnut Street (inside Live Oak Park).
By 2008, Poetry Express was fairly consistently pulling in audiences of 25 or more per week.
Even more on weeks with popular features or themes! Some weeks, not everyone got to read
on the open mike, but that did little to dampen audience enthusiasm. Food and beverage and
creativity were served, and people were having a good time.
Poetry Express was popular and loved, yet it was never going to receive the “Best Poetry
Open Mike Reader’s Choice Award” from the East Bay Express. (Not going up against the everpopular
Berkeley Poetry Slam and its 3000 + email list!) But that was cool, no worries. We
were more than happy with what we were (and are), award or no award.
One of the reasons Poetry Express is on Monday nights is that Monday is a “slow” night in the
restaurant business– which meant we the reading had plenty of floor and table space to
operate with. In exchange for the free space, it was the reading’s job to bring in customers
on the restaurant’s slow night.
This fact was rather fortuitous for us when in 2008 the housing bubble burst and the country
went into recession. In general, people stopped discretionary spending such as dining out, in
order to save money. At one point, the restaurant let us know that the restaurant was pretty
much empty every night of the week – EXCEPT for Monday nights when the banquet room was
still full because of Poetry Express.
This is one of many reasons Priya Restaurant appreciated us very much. Priya itself was an
award-winning restaurant (Most Bountiful Indian Buffet Award in 2005 and Reader’s Choice
Biggest Buffet award in 2006 from the East Bay Express). Priya also benefitted from Poetry
Express publicity, we were always in the papers. Often Jim or Nance or Mark would walk in to
the restaurant before the reading and the staff or owner would tell us people were calling
from out of town to confirm we’d be there that night. The owner’s children were interviewed
a couple times by news reporters covering one of our events and they were excited. The folks
running Priya expressed their gratitude for such moments.

The annual Between the Holidays Erotic Poetry Night in Berkeley at Poetry Express became
popular enough that in 2009 it was listed in the Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper's Holiday
Guide ~ in addition to the regular arts calendar.

Above, to honor Poetry Express founder Mark States, here's a photo (by Howard Dy) from
Mark's farewell appearance in February 2011 with sweetheart and wife-to be, Kyha States,
before their departure to North Carolina. Mark & Kyha celebrate their one-year wedding
anniversary April 2012.

History After Mark States:
The Saga Continues: Poetry Express, the Phoenix of Poetry Venues   by Jim Barnard
Since high school, I’d written poetry and short stories. I’d read them to family and
friends, then file them in a drawer somewhere. But read them in public? You’ve got to
be kidding. Then someone told my wife Anna about Poetry Nitro at Cafe´de la Paz, and
she convinced me to try it. Scared to death, I read my first poem in public, and people
applauded. I was hooked.
I went back the next week, and Mark announced that Poetry Nitro would be
moving to a sandwich shop on Solano. My first thought was, “Well, that sure didn’t last
long.” But I decided to give the new venue a shot. Hell, it was right down the street
from my home.
After my second week reading at the new venue (my fourth overall), Mark came up
to me after the reading. Now mind you, I’d never spoken to Mark personally, only through
my poetry. “Would you be my co-host?” I thought he meant only for the following week,
but even that was terrifying to me. I had met another poet, Nancy Wogan, the first time
I’d come to Poetry Nitro, and we had become friends as well as appreciating each other’s
poetry. The first thing that came into my mind was, “I’ll do it if Nancy could be a host
too.” Mark thought it over for a week and then agreed. Little did any of us know at that
moment that the three of us were destined to co-host Poetry Express together for the
next ten years.
Three months later, we were told the sandwich shop was going to close for
remodeling. Again, it looked like curtains for Poetry Express. As it was only supposed to
be closed for two or three months, I offered my home for a temporary venue. What we
lost in publicity, we gained in intimacy. Poems read, then a few moments to take them in
as we gazed into the fire. Then the next poet would read. We became a community of
Six months went by, and the sandwich shop was no closer to reopening. We
decided to look for another venue, and after one afternoon of searching for a new home,
Priya Indian Restaurant on San Pablo Ave. took us in. This was to be our location for the
next 10 years.
Then in 2011, host Mark States began to behave strangely. He had a fever all the
time that didn’t register on the thermometer. He could talk of nothing else but this
beautiful woman he’d met in North Carolina. He was head over heals in love. By early
2012, he’d married Kyha, and they were on their way to North Carolina.
Nancy and I chose two incredible poets, Jan Dederick and Odilia Galvan Rodriguez,
who often attended Poetry Express, to be our new co-hosts. Odilia hosted for about two
years, and Jan remains one of our hosts to this day.
Shortly after Mark left, there was a groundswell of support for seeking out a new
place. Indecisive, as poets often are, we postponed a decision. About six months later,
we asked Adam David Miller to be our feature poet one week. He brought Bruce Bagnell,
his friend and fellow poet, with him to co-feature. Bruce immediately hit it off with the
hosts, and offered to help. One of Bruce’s many skills was computer competence, and he
offered to survey our mailing list about a possible move. Moving was the clear
preference, so we evaluated a number of sites, and chose our current location, Himalayan
Flavors Restaurant on University Ave.
During the process, Bruce was invited to be one of our co-hosts, and we appreciate
his gentle energy, community knowledge, and computer skills added to the mix. He too
remains one of our valued hosts to this day.
Just when you think everything’s going well, shit happens. In Dec., 2015, our long
time, precious host, Nancy Wogan, had a pretty severe heart incident. No, you can’t
keep a good woman down, and she recovered very well, but didn’t feel up to the rigors of
regular hosting. You’ve heard of a “professor emeritus”? Well, Nancy is our “host
emeritus”. Her gutsy poetry, fine humor, and dedication to Poetry Express will be forever
To fill Nancy’s gigantic shoes, we chose wonderful poet and all-around sweet
person Liz Alford to host. Liz was much appreciated by all of us, but after a year she felt
that the host commitment was more than she could sustain.
Just as we began to consider our need for a new host, in walked JD DesBoine with
her down-to-earth humor, her hard work, and her sound advice (did I mention her
amazing poetry?)
After 15 years, Poetry Express remains vital partly because of its creative hosting
(have you ever gone to a poetry venue where the host passes out fresh basil from his
garden to all attendees?), partly because of new ideas (publication of an annual online
poetry journal of poems selected from the weekly readings), but mostly from the
incredible poets who share their poetry every week. To date, we’ve had about 650 poets
feature at Poetry Express, many from the Bay Area, but also from every continent the
world over. Well, okay, maybe not from Antartica. We’ve had poet laureates and 9-yearold
kids. But the biggest thrill I get as a host is when someone comes up during the open
mic and says something like, “I’ve been writing poetry for a long time, but tonight’s the
first time I ever read in public.”
Jim Barnard

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