As a rule, lyrical words with purpose flow from Casa Azul Thursday nights in Grand Coteau. It's been that way since late 2006.

Located on the main drag at the only stop light in town, the tiny blue wood frame building comes alive with poetry readings when most other shops are shuttered for the evening.

This evening at 7, Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective presents Zayne Turner and Jocelyn Young, who are slated to read from their works followed by an open mic.

The poetry readings began as a monthly affair, but now can be heard up to three or four times a month.

"They're sort of according to desire, but almost every Thursday," says Patrice Melnick, executive director of the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective. "Initially I started doing one a month, but there were more people asking to do it and so I started adding weeks so I have between two and four a month."

There are a lot of reasons why Melnick's Casa Azul hosts the readings, and one is the lack of a venue for such things. "There really are not a lot of venues that feature authors in this area that are also open to anyone," she says, including nationally known authors Darrell Bourque and Julie Kane, "and then sometimes we'll have high school students come give a reading."

Melnick says it's important to have such a venue and "that kind of opportunity for people who need and want to be heard and to express themselves creatively," she says. "And you need a platform to do that."

Of course there are places that offer open mics (where individuals can read or sing their work), "but you can't have an evening featuring a collection of your work," she says. "It's a way of people sharing their stories and their ideas and that helps build community. Words are important, that's part of our identity and how we express ourselves and it's part of our power, too. We have a power in the words that we write and that we share with each other."

An open mic follows selected authors where members of the audience can read a poem or share a story.

"It's kind of a democratic situation, anybody can participate of any age. They might be beginning writers, or maybe they have poems they have in their journals that they've never shared with anyone and it's an opportunity to do that," she says. "Our events are friendly and comfortable and people are always respectful of whoever happens to be reading."

Melnick says a group poem is also a part of the evening. A sheet of paper with an opening line that serves as a prompt is passed around the room and everyone adds a line to it. At the end of the evening, it is read aloud as a whole.

"And so it's our poem," she says. "It creates participation. So people are not necessarily passive, they're active in the evening of poetry."

Festival of Words' aim is to celebrate the written and spoken word and to "get people involved, even people who may not have a lot of expereince in writing, but to get them interested and excited about it," says Melnick. "So outreach is a lot of what we do."

And part of the outreach is the monthly series Grand Coteau Voices: The Good, The Bad and The Complicated.

"We have a native of Grand Coteau, usually an older person, who talks about their memories of growing up in Grand Coteau, or maybe what their parents did, or some struggles they overcame in their lives, or changes they've seen in the town," she says. "And then they're paired with an author of prose or poetry and in that way we've been able to bring in more townspeople than we had before because they're coming to see their aunts tell a story."

A poem based on the story will follow.

"That's been really delightful," says Melnick. "We'll end up with multi-generations in the room participating together and that's really nice. And they also get to hear from a poet they've never heard before."

Brief bios on tonight's poets:

Zayne Turner grew up in rural eastern Oregon and is the author of Memory of My Mouth, a chapbook forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. She was the founding executive director of Forward Arts, Inc., a youth arts non-profit based in Louisiana, which houses the WordPlay Teen Writing Project. Turneer received grants and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow. Her work has appeared in venues such as Ancora Imparo, Lettre Sauvage Press, and the High Desert Journal.

Jocelyn Young holds a degree in psychology from Southern University. Since then, she has been an active artist of both written and performance poetry. She is a member of the Baton Rouge Poetry Alliance and competed nationally with the 2010 Baton Rouge Slam Team which was featured in the 2010 Festival of Words.

Coming up at Casa Azul:

June 7 - Kim Vodicka and Ben Kopel (poetry) and open mic.
June 14 - Grand Coteau Voices: Joseph Brooks (true stories) and Constance Adler (prose). Plus an open mic.

June 21: Workin' Man and the Retirees (music), plus a jam/open mic.

For more information, call (337) 662-1032 or email here.

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