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Word of Mouth

Noho bookstore invites aspiring scribes to share their love of verse.


On a lackluster stretch of Lankershim Boulevard, where the neighborhood coffeehouse seems adrift in a sea of vacant lots and buildings for lease, poets gather nightly to get the word out.

Since the Iguana Cafe closed almost two years ago, Sam's Book City in North Hollywood has inherited the soapbox and open mike, becoming one of the area's bastions of the spoken word.

By day, the 4-year-old store's 50,000 volumes of new and used books tempt those who need a written-word fix.

But almost every night, Sam's lures poets and spoken-word artists, more aspiring than published, who stop by to share verses of love and loss with appreciative ears.

On Mondays, owner Craig Klapman clears out the middle of the room, making space for "Zanti Misfits Reading," a two-hour presentation hosted by James "Boomer" Maverick.

Part open-mike night, part talk-show parody, the show's pace is set by Maverick, who gathers a weekly panel of local poets to discuss self-esteem, sincerity and other artistic preoccupations.

In between "commercial breaks," Maverick invites poets from the audience to approach the mike to read. Sometimes, someone critically acclaimed and well known in local poetry circles, such as Ellyn Maybe, will make her way past the seated crowd of about 30 and read her latest work.

"Poetry is going to last because I think that what remains of a culture are those things left by the artists," said Maybe, once a regular at Iguana Cafe. "It's important that this place is treasured because there are few places poets can gather."

Another regular feature at Sam's, the bimonthly "In Other Words: A Night of Poetic Influence," provides locals with a forum to discuss favorite works by others.

Klapman, who bought the bookstore when he decided a career in acting wasn't going to happen, began holding open readings two years ago at the suggestion of local poet Rafael F.J. Alvarado, who came into the store with his dog Lorca.

Once a month, Alvarado and Lorca the Poetry Dog lead "La Luz Interna," one of the few Spanish literature discussion groups in the area. Other regular events include "Gospels of Utopia," during which musicians and others play the store's restored piano; Doug Knott's Monday night poetry workshop, and Prose Combat, a monthly reading featuring top Los Angeles area writers.

"At the grass-roots level, more people are doing this," said Klapman. "Poetry has become a form of expression on a small scale, while also a way of connecting with other human beings."


Sam's Book City, 5245 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, hosts readings, book signings, workshops, open-mike nights and musical events. Free. (818) 985-6911.

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