It has been a big year for local slam poetry and open mic organization Hear Here. This summer, a team of poets went to the international Brave New Voices youth poetry competition in Atlanta, Georgia, marking Colorado Springs' first visit. While they didn't make the top four, Susan Peiffer, the group's curator and programming director, says they did a splendid job.
Since, the nine young poets have been featured at myriad local arts events, from CoPPER's Artini to the Business & Arts Lunch and more. Now, Hear Here is onto another big first: taking part in Indy Give! Already familiar with the program, Peiffer and founder Luke Cissell took the dive at the start of the year and applied. Right now, they're gunning for $7,500-plus to help fund their ongoing programs and to expand their outreach work.
"A lot of organizations don't have funding or budgets to invite us in," Cissell says, noting that workshopping and teaching are essential to Hear Here's mission.
"Our mission is to listen, write and share, and if we can get people to listen, we can go from there." Peiffer says. That's still at the heart of what she, Cissell and company do, four years after starting Hear Here.
"We love hearing new stories," Cissell says. "[We love] bringing out new voices, [and] helping to heal those who go unheard." To that end, Hear Here is constantly hosting open mic nights: an all-ages night and potluck on the first Saturday, a night for 18-and-younger readers on the second Saturday and an all-ages night with a competitive slam on the third Thursday. Each includes a free hour-long workshop beforehand. The all-ages events tend to draw around 70 people, sometimes more, with about half the crowd being new members and more than a third being youths.
More on the youth side, Hear Here also conducts school programs at Coronado and Mitchell high schools, which pull as many as 160 young people out of class to learn from a visiting poet.
"I guess what we've recognized over the last few years is something we [already] thought we knew... that we're really needed," Peiffer says.
Devin Walker can certainly vouch for that. She's currently a senior at Mitchell, and she's been a member of Hear Here since early 2014.
"I had just gotten out of a group home, and I was looking for an outlet to put some of my frustration into," she says. "I wasn't really able to process a lot of the traumatic events I was going through, and poetry helped me find my voice." That's something she sees in many of the people who join Hear Here, especially the youths, who she says often feel like they don't have a voice at home or at school. Since, she's been doing everything she can to contribute.
After her trip to Atlanta as part of the alternate team, Walker was singled out as a leader, and Peiffer recently hired her on as youth intern. Currently, she organizes and emcees the youth open mic event.
Long-term, Hear Here plans to start an interschool poetry slam, an event Walker will likely help run. Hear Here also wants to connect at-risk youth with elders in care facilities, giving both the tools to express what they've learned and experienced.
"The idea is to get the kids sitting on grandma's lap again, listening to them tell stories," Cissell says.The 2015 Give! Campaign features 88 area nonprofits. To learn more, volunteer or donate, visit indygive.com before midnight on Dec. 31.