TARZANA — The birth of a literary scene can be as simple as two poets getting together for a cappuccino, looking around and saying, "Hmm. . . . Why not here?"
This was more or less how Mimo's Patio Cafe--a Tarzana eatery serving Middle Eastern food, pasta and coffee--was tapped by writers Dutch Parker and Carla Henry as the site for poetry evenings under the stars.
As its name implies, Mimo's offers an almost unheard-of amenity for a San Fernando Valley poetry venue--a comfortable outdoor setting. Opening out from its steamy little spice-scented restaurant is a shaded courtyard with tables and potted plants, piped music and candlelight. There, on four Tuesday evenings since April, a succession of poets has taken the mike before gatherings of fellow poets, friends and dining strangers--many of whom elect to stay for the show.
Given its upscale neighborhood and white-tablecloth sophistication, Mimo's attracts a more mature crowd than the usual coffee-bar culture club. Despite competition from Ventura Boulevard traffic, its alfresco evenings are intimate and even chummy, especially since many of the poets know each other, either from Mimo's or from other venues. West Hills poet Carla Henry, the event's organizer and emcee, sets the tone with her folksy introductions of featured readers and her encouragement of others to share their work once the regular program is over.
For those who stumble unexpectedly on literature midway through their lamb kebab, a night at Mimo's can be transporting. One recent listener, Bonnie Katz of Tarzana, called it "a treat. I needed to hear poetry tonight. It was amazing--to just come across it out of nowhere."
As Henry ruefully concedes, once winter comes, open-air readings may go underground for a few months. Until then, on selected Tuesdays, Mimo's will continue to serve poetry free--even for those who don't order the paella.
On Tuesday evening, the literary lineup will features 11 poets who have all appeared previously at Mimo's.
The first, series co-founder Parker, a Tarzana playwright, comedy writer and author of two books of poetry, uses verse to explore life in L. A., love and romantic miscommunication.
Following him will be Virginia Butherus, a West Hills short story writer and poet who draws on such diverse sources as Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and small everyday incidents to meditate on death, madness and fleeting youth.
Among the more flamboyant of Mimo's readers is Elmer Fluck, a West Los Angeles writer preoccupied with the senselessness of war and domestic violence, the tyranny of ideologues and the pain of artistic alienation.
On a quieter note, well-known Chatsworth poet and reader Margie Davidson has been widely published in Southern California literary reviews and is on the editorial board of two reviews: Red Dancefloor and Verve. Her work explores the power of emotion, location and passing time.
Also on the editorial board of Red Dancefloor and Verve is Virginia B. Anderson of Granada Hills, winner of a 1992 writing prize sponsored by the National League of American Pen Women. Her poetic territory ranges from exploration of mental and emotional states to modern culture to imaginative evocations of women from literature and mythology.
Henry--co-author of "Souper Skinny Soups," to be published this month by Pelican Publishing--emcees poetry readings at the Storyteller in Canoga Park as well as at Mimo's. She writes about love, deception and the desperate struggle of a single parent.
In the work of the next reader, Agoura Hills poet and fiction writer Kenneth Aubens (who publishes under the name Kenneth Ellsworth), nature and humanity come into conflict as people long for the past and worry about the present.
Calabasas writer Chuck Wadell describes his poetic territory as "divorce, illness, death, sex, anger, alienation."
Scott Sonders of Sherman Oaks teaches creative writing for Everywoman's Village. His most recent book of poems is "Litany" (Caravan Press, 1989); his thematic interests include the origins of personal identity, the nature of romantic connection and the value of poetry in an MTV culture.
Completing the bill are husband-and-wife writers Ron and Diane Reichick of Simi Valley, both widely published and often featured at poetry readings throughout Los Angeles. Ron is editor and publisher of Verve, for which Diane has served on the editorial board. In distinctive tones and styles, both write on the emotional and physical clutter of domestic life, the alienation and connection of love, and the remembrance of things past.
Where and When Location: Mimo's Patio Cafe, 18672 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. Featured Reading: 8 p.m. Tuesday, followed by open reading. Price: Free. Call: (818) 996-8070.