Feature: Providence’s Thriving Poetry Scene

April is National Poetry Month, and there’s never been a better time to write and perform your words around the city


When asked to describe the Providence poetry scene, outgoing poet laureate Tina Cane, who has held her post for seven years, says, “Which one?”

“There are several small scenes,” she continues. “There’s the more academic arts program scene. There’s the AS220 youth poet slam scene. There are working poets doing their thing. There are bookstores and libraries that host poetry readings. There are venues hosting poetry throughout the state and they all have different audiences and different styles of delivering poetry.”

Jodie Vinson, program director at LitArts RI, the literary hub for local writers formerly known as What Cheer Writers Club, echoes this sentiment. “Local artists can get siloed in groups,” she says. “They find their niche and stay in it. Part of what we want to do is elevate local events, whether we’re hosting them or not, so that people can connect and find their community, and ultimately, their audience.” 

Both women agree that the literary art form is thriving in Providence. Cane says, “For its size, Rhode Island has been home to a large number of great poets.” And one of Cane’s missions throughout her tenure as poet laureate was finding them. “What I’ve come to realize is that there are more young people interested in poetry than you’d imagine. It isn’t necessarily slam poetry” – a lively style of spoken word performed for an audience – “but it’s kids writing poetry in their bedrooms. And that’s often how people grow up to be poets.”

In an attempt to encourage those young wordsmiths to let their work see the light of day, Cane started a youth ambassador program, which is particularly important to her because she’s spent much of her career teaching poetry in schools. Every year, she chooses two youth ambassadors to help spread the written art form across the state through school visits, workshops, and public readings. On March 1, she held a celebration at The State House Library announcing Wheeler School students Seoyon Kim, a junior, as the Youth Poetry Ambassador and Jacquelyn Song, a senior, as the Deputy Youth Poetry Ambassador. “I’m trying to create opportunities and pathways for youth poets,” she says.

In addition to getting involved in staged public readings, both ambassadors will work with other local poets in Cane’s Poetry in Motion RI program, which she brought to the state six years ago, inspired by a similar program in New York. “Every month, I choose lines of poetry and combine them with beautifully designed custom graphics,” she explains. “These public displays appear on the digital screens on RIPTA buses, and it’s another very accessible way to disseminate poetry throughout the state.”     

LitArts RI is also doing its part to disseminate various forms of writing through a new collaboration with its neighbor Riffraff Bookstore and Bar, which recently changed ownership, with Ottavia De Luca and Lucas Mann now carrying on the shop’s local legacy. Their first co-hosted event took place in January and according to Vinson, the event was standing-room only. “People were peering through the bookshelves to see the poets on stage,” Vinson says. The second iteration was just as popular. “In February, we let people start signing up for reader slots at 6pm and they were filled by 6:05,” she says.

Vinson owes the event’s popularity, in part, to the desire among poets to share their work and be among community. “I think all creative endeavors can be lonely and in the literary market, it can be hard to find a listening audience. The more local venues we can provide, the stronger the community around that genre will be,” she says, and explains that the open mic is open to anyone, no matter their level of experience. “Try it out,” Vinson encourages. “It’s a safe environment and you’re going to feel supported.”

Eight years ago, Lori Kirkland found a supportive environment at RI. She experienced her first open mic night and was inspired to create her own. “I wanted to be exposed to people who appreciate words,” Kirkland says. She started Pawtucket Poetry in January 2020, quickly pivoted to pandemic-demanded virtual open mics, and then returned to in-person events when restrictions were lifted. Her group still meets every Tuesday night.

“We don’t have a big crowd,” she says. “It’s just friends getting together and sharing poetry.” Like Cane and Vinson, Kirkland recognizes how broad the poetry scene is in and around Providence. “I always thought of poetry as such a secret thing, but poetry exists in all spaces. It doesn’t have to be in a space like mine. There’s a space for everybody, and each one has a different purpose.”

Kirkland describes her venue as small and intimate – a place to test out new material among a supportive group of fellow poets. “People come here to share what they don’t want to share on stage. Or they share to prepare for a larger stage,” Kirkland says. “Poets understand poetry. That’s the beauty of the group. And if they show up and want to do poetry, I’m here for it.”

At Pawtucket Poetry, there are no time limits, no rules, and, most importantly, no judgment. “Whoever feels inspired to read can,” she says, emphasizing that non-poets are welcome to sit and listen. “But what I’ve learned is that most people who come to listen usually have something on their phone that they’re working on.”

Cane is inspired by open mic venues like Kirkland’s. “There’s a bit of everything in Providence and it’s right under the surface,” she says. “There are all these little threads running through the city and if you pull one, it can lead to something surprising.”


LitArts RI

Whether you’re just beginning your creative writing journey or are a seasoned wordsmith, LitArts RI, which celebrated its fifth year anniversary in late 2023, is a coworking space and resource for creators of the written, spoken, and illustrated word. Learn how you can become a member or sign up for workshops and events to connect with the community by visiting online at LitArtsRI.org, or stop by their Valley neighborhood hub at 400 Harris Avenue, Unit E.


Open Mic Events

Listen to others or share your own verses at recurring poetry events happening nearby. Check online for updates before visiting and guidelines for signing up to read.

Pawtucket Poetry
Tuesdays, 285 Columbus Avenue, Pawtucket, PawtucketPoetry.com

Pawtucket Poetry Swap Meet
Second and fourth Wednesdays, 1075 S Broadway, East Providence, Facebook: SWAP Meet

Providence Poetry Slam
First and third Thursdays, 115 Empire Street, ProvSlam.org

RiffRaff Open Mic Night
Monthly, 60 Valley Street, RiffraffPVD.com

Tell Your Truth
Monthly events at rotating venues, TellYourTruthRI.com


Take and Leave Poems

If the elocutionary arts aren’t for you, there’s other ways to share poems in Providence, including the Art & Poe-tree cabinet found on Hope Street – a shareable art exhibit encouraging passersby to write a poem or sketch a piece of micro-art to leave behind and pick up words that speak to them. You never know what you might find – or be inspired to jot down! @artandpoetree



No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here