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A Night at Larry's
   
Laid-back POETRY EVENT
                             draws eclectic crowd

The Columbus Dispatch
Saturday April 19, 1997
By Matthew Marx

     Striding through the rustic pub, Mary Weems snaps her fingers and smiles. Her voice booms "I am Lucille," says Weems, decked in black leather pants, high heeled boots and an African vest. "There' blood on the soup spoon!"
     Already, the crowd at Larry's is in the palms of her hands. About 40 people have filled tables, booths, even a few stools at the bar, to hear Weems--an experienced performance artist--deliver this week's dramatic poetry readings.
     The only distraction is the occasional howl from a German shepherd underneath a table. Jukebox and television are off. Piano, pool table and arcade game sit unused.
     It's Poetry Night at Larry's. Goatees and black turtleneck sweaters are optional. Dogs welcome. 
     Since 1984, the tavern at 2040 N. High St. has served as an unlikely venue for weekly poetry readings. "It's unique. Rarely am I in a bar," said Weems, 42, the featured attraction on a recent evening. "Mainly these things are in coffeehouses, art museums and theaters.
    "Doing performance art in a bar is cool," Weems said. "After a couple drinks, people tend to open up." Devotees who prefer a more casual, laid-back environment for libraries or art houses organized the state-funded program. This loosely organized group of poets and performing artists received a $1,700 Ohio Arts Council grant for 1996-97, secretary-treasurer Laura Dearth said.
     Speakers generally are paid $50. Larry's allows the group to meet at 7 p.m. Mondays from October through mid-May.
     Stereotypical academics sit alongside the beer-and-peanuts set for two hours of original verse, classic selections and occasionally raunchy humor. The range of ages is wide, considering the campus area location.
     Weems brought her daughter Michelle, 14, with her from Cleveland. Michelle eats pretzels and doodles at a table while her mother recites 18 poems in about 40 minutes. Most deal with personal experiences and observations from her perspective as a black woman in the 1990s. One imagines God in an unemployment line. Another describes the brutal murder of a friend.
     Larry's isn't alone in hosting poetry readings. Moonspinners Cafe, 2659 N. High St., does, too. At Larry's, there are no drink minimums or cover charge. Poetry organizers do have a raffle, but the entry fee is strictly donor's choice.
     During the show, patrons are steered clear of noisy pinball machines, video games or pool tables. Scrabble is permitted at the bar.
     It's a great place to relax and socialize, says Brian McArthur, 26, who brings his 2-year-old German shepherd, Shino, fairly often. While Shino is on a leash, McArthur has seen dogs roam freely around the bar on poetry night. 
"There's even a water dish in the corner," he said.
     It was the site of McArthur's first date with his girlfriend, Dawn Detarando, 30. On this night, Detarando wins the weekly raffle. Her prize is a book of poems.
     Some folks spend the evening writing their own poems. Many are awaiting their turn to perform. After the feature, the evening is devoted to open microphone. Anyone who signs up beforehand can speak, but the limit is two poems within five minutes. "Sometimes we have to give people the hook," Dearth said. 
     Her husband, Colin Dearth, proposed to her during an open microphone session two years ago. "He changed into a red jacket and dropped to one knee," she said. "His ex-girlfriend was there. That made it so good." 

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