EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 23, 2013

A moment at the mike

Merrimac Mic gives writers a place to share their work

By Jim Sullivan

---- — A Newburyport woman wants to give everyone five minutes, and she’s got the microphone to do it.

“People will say, ‘Oh, I’d love to come, but I’m not going to speak,’” said Isabell VanMerlin, the self-described founder and instigator of Merrimac Mic, a weekly open mike night held at Plum Island Coffee Roasters at Hilton’s Marina in Newburyport. “And usually they wind up speaking because it’s not invasive.”

Running every Thursday evening, Merrimac Mic gives anyone who wants a chance to be heard.

“Whatever is going on is well-received, and they like it,” VanMerlin said. “It’s poetry, spoken word, written word. Sometimes we have songwriters who will bring in a guitar or something and play a song. A lot of this stuff is very personal, deep, funny and very moving, too.”

VanMerlin has been teaching English as a second language, Spanish and creative writing with Newburyport Adult & Community Education since 2009. A former resident of Lynn, she moved to Newburyport a year ago and still frequents the Speak Up! open mike nights at Lynn’s Walnut Street Cafe.

“It became such an important part of my life,” Van Merlin said of Speak Up! “It’s a wonderful community. Everyone is welcome, and there is no critiquing or that sort of thing. It’s been a really great outlet for expressing myself and my writing, thoughts and the poetry that I do. And I know there are a ton of writers and just human beings on two legs in this part of the world, so there’s a lot of enthusiasm for it.”

VanMerlin knew she wanted to bring something like that to Newburyport, and Merrimac Mic was born in September.

“There’s a huge range of what people say and read and speak about. The bigger the range, the better,” she said. “I really love to encourage students of any age to come. Once they get here, it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah. This is cool. I’m going to do it.’ That’s the deal.”

Although Merrimac Mic has had to battle against some pretty stiff time-slot competition of late, what with the Red Sox World Series run, a good number of residents from nearby towns like Ipswich, Haverhill and Lynn have been making the trip.

Well-known Amesbury mystery writer Edith Maxwell read from her books and short stories on Halloween night.

“It was not literary critique,” said Maxwell, author of “A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die” under her own name and “Speaking of Murder” under the pseudonym Tace Baker. “The people there were not (saying), ‘Oh, I didn’t like your grammar in that one or you didn’t show the motivation, nothing like that. It’s just people who are interested in other people’s writing.”

Speak Up! favorite Linda Werbner spoke last Thursday, and writer Kato Mele will headline tonight. After the open mike takes a Thanksgiving hiatus, Swampscott Poet Laureate Lee Eric Freedman will appear on Dec. 5.

“The setting is really warm and welcoming,” Maxwell said of the coffee shop. “People get their coffee there or a latte or their hot chocolate and sit down. It’s a great venue.”

And while the featured speakers are always a highlight, VanMerlin said the point of Merrimac Mic is to get the newcomers to come forward.

“They don’t always come up and speak the night they show up,” VanMerlin said of the uninitiated. “But usually, if they are going to, they come back and they will bring something.”

If you go

What: Merrimac Mic

When: Every Thursday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. (except Thanksgiving). Featured speakers from 7:30 to 8.

Where: Plum Island Coffee Roasters, 54R Merrimac St., Newburyport

How much: Free

More information: 978-465-1444, 978-499-4399 or merrimacmic@gmail.com