Velvet Revolution gives voice to SF State poets

The Poetry Center on the fifth floor on the Humanities Building transforms Monday nights from a quiet sanctuary of thoughts into an animated community of friends and aspiring writers called “The Velvet Revolution Reading Series.”

Since 2004, poets and writers, students and professors, have met on Monday nights to read their work and enjoy the work of colleagues. However, the series “is a bit insular,” according to Jenny Alton, one of the show’s three curators.

“We want to see people not only from our creative writing department but people from other majors and degrees,” Alton said.

The series, which kicked off Aug. 31, highlights the works of writers on an array of topics from drugs, abuse and sex to contemporary politics.

This year’s VelRo soiree opened with last year’s curators Loria Mendoza, Kar Johnson, Austin Messick and Kacy Cunningham, who returned as featured writers. They kicked off the series with a slew of poetic and fiction works.

Graduate student, Loria Mendoza, left, reads a poem during the Velvet Revolution Reading Series, Velro, at the poetry center in the Humanities Building at SF State Monday, Aug. 31. (Qing Huang / Xpress)

Graduate student, Loria Mendoza, left, reads a poem during the Velvet Revolution Reading Series, Velro, at the poetry center in the Humanities Building at SF State Monday, Aug. 31. (Qing Huang / Xpress)

According to Alton, the series usually features two to three writers per evening, each of whom are allotted 15 minutes. Alton added that there are five-minute open-mic sections interspersed, during which anyone can jump up and contribute.

The gathering brings together many talented writers from SF State and the community, Alton said. Even so, writers like Austin Messick never thought his writing would turn into anything but a hobby.

“I started writing when I was 11 or 12,” Messick said. “I didn’t think I could do it seriously until I was 19 or 20.”

Messick has been published in various publications and was honored during the Spring 2015 semester with the Mark Linenthal Award for his poem, “Kiev.”

Curator Dirk Petersen described writer Kacy Cunningham, who is in her final year in the Master of Fine Arts program at SF State, “as a non-fiction writer masquerading as a fiction writer.” Cunningham told a visceral story about finding love and hate abroad.

“I knew he hated me for bringing him to San Francisco, and I think I hated him too for letting his love turn to hate,” Cunningham said. “I think pain gives already good art a new electricity.”

People from throughout the community also came to support the show. Steven Gray, a poet who has lived in San Francisco since the 1970s and attended SF State, said the poetry scene is still “very active.”

Evan Morris, an open mic participant, shared that sentiment.

“The scene is really taking off, especially at (SF State),” Morris said. “There’s a lot of great performers that consistently come through.”

Austin Messick, left, a graduate student of poetry, reads a poem to the audiences during the first poetry reading event of the semester held by Velro (Velvet Revolution Reading Series) at the poetry center at Humanities Building at SF State Monday, Aug. 31. (Xpress/Qing Huang)

Austin Messick, left, a graduate student of poetry, reads a poem to the audiences during the first poetry reading event of the semester held by Velro (Velvet Revolution Reading Series) at the poetry center at Humanities Building at SF State Monday, Aug. 31. (Qing Huang / Xpress)

Authors showcased comedy and tragedy as they stepped up to the microphone, with the help of a supportive crowd. Johnson jazzed the attendees with an alter ego East Coast accent for their introduction to the crowd.

“Anybody on a date tonight?” Johnson joked. “Everyone bring dates! Literature is going to die if you don’t make it sexy.”

Johnson, a second-year participant, said they see the importance of creating a community.

“I think working creatively with your friends or a larger community is incredibly important,” Johnson said.

The series is organized by the department’s students. They provide complimentary food and wine out of pocket, so donations are always appreciated.

“I just love words,” Morris said. Though he graduated last year, Morris said he can’t stay away. “This community so tight; I just keep staying around,” he said.

“The Velvet Revolution Reading Series” is held every Monday night —except holidays— from 5-7 p.m. in Humanities 512.

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