Students packed into the Laughing Planet on Feb. 7 for the return of live poetry nights, hosted by Brushfire Literature and Arts Journal. Enough spectators piled in that some had to watch from the stairwell.
Twenty-nine poets volunteered to read their work aloud, as well as a few members of the literary journal’s staff.
Phoebe Coogle, Brushfire’s editor-in-chief, exclaimed her excitement for the event.
“The turnout was great,” Coogle said. “For like half the night, we had standing room only — which was amazing.”
With its seventy-fifth edition on the presses, Brushfire is doing this year what it’s done in an almost unbroken stretch since 1950: publish the work of artists and writers, both students and not, in print volumes distributed across campus.
That’s 73 years and 75 editions, a discrepancy originating from extra editions published in the mid-70s. The journal has chosen to celebrate the latter anniversary with an increased page count.
“It was at 64 pages for the last 10 years or so,” Coogle said. “And we scrounged around, got some funds together, and now we’re at 76. It was like, ‘I want us to be at 75!’ That was great, we’re able to feature more artists and writers that way.”
Coogle, however, looks to other horizons, too. Brushfire is first and foremost a publication, but she hopes to bring its community out into the real world, and make it a presence.
“Brushfire has the unfortunate reputation of being a publication that just sits there and judges people’s work […] there is that level of disconnect between the publication and the people who submit to it,” Coogle said. “Having these kinds of live events really does foster a sense of community. And not only from the arts colleges, but we had several people come out from different colleges here at UNR. I think that also helps kind of build this sense of arts not just for, like, the ivory towers, as it were.”
At poetry nights, spectators are encouraged not just to show support as each new poet takes the mic, but to respond with enthusiasm as the poem is being read. Snaps and hums of approval are always welcome.
“Clap people up, clap ’em down, show as much love as possible,” Coogle encouraged in her opening slate as emcee. “We want to annoy everyone downstairs.”
An eclectic and electric selection of poets then stepped up to the microphone, each greeted with a loud ritual before their name was read: “where they at, where they at, where they at!”
Experienced poets from the arts community outside the university contributed their expertise; as did a number of fresh faces from campus. One Laughing Planet patron happened to be there that night who’d never written or watched poetry, but dashed off a poem on a piece of paper and signed up to read it on a whim.
Dionne Stanfill, president of the Associated Students of Nevada, also made a showing with a tender and tidily-rhyming poem in homage to the Silver State.
Despite the excitement that greeted this particular poetry series’ debut, though, it’s actually not quite a new addition to campus.
Another spoken word poetry club, Wolf Speaks, previously hosted readings at the Laughing Planet. After the founders graduated in 2022, the club lost steam, and the university was left without a recurring forum for poetry — until Jaime Gonzalez Aguirre, senator for the Reynolds School of Journalism, who also read at the mic on Feb. 7, brought the opportunity to Brushfire’s attention.
Aguirre was a member of Wolf Speaks, Coogle explained.
“So Jaime was really interested in having poetry nights come back to UNR,” Coogle said. “He actually approached us at the beginning of last semester: would Brushfire be interested in taking over or hosting, and I was like, hell yeah! We’re always trying to bolster student media presence.”
Thanks to an existing relationship with the restaurant and a lively Reno poetry scene’s example to follow, the readings materialized within a semester’s hard work.
“It was kind of an all-hands-on-deck situation for me and my team at Brushfire,” Coogle said. “We hadn’t really done anything like this before, at least as long as I’ve been with the publication, so there’s a bit of a learning curve, but luckily we reached out to different folks like at the Spoken Views Poetry Collective, and they just kind of guided us in the right direction.”
Forthcoming poetry nights through the rest of the semester will be on the first Tuesday of every month. The next to come will be at 7 p.m, on March 7, again at the Laughing Planet.
Poets of all stripes are welcome to share — even and especially if they’re nervous.
“People are wanting you to share your art,” Coogle said. “There’s a lot of encouragement in the crowd, so even if you make a mistake, [or] you want to restart, it’s not the end-all, be-all. People are going to clap you through it; you’re going to be cheered either way.”
Peregrine Hart can be reached via email at email@example.com or via Twitter @pintofperegrine.