One of my favorite things to do in any city is find their local poet-friendly open mic. Just about every town has venues for musicians, and some of these welcome (or at least tolerate) poets on their stages. Dedicated poetry open mics are a rarer beast, and truth is, much of my work fits only awkwardly at a slam and or spoken word event.

I go anyway and I read and I listen and it always takes me an hour or more after to come down.

Recently, I took a mental health day midweek and drove to Savannah, timing it so I could join in what they call Tongue Open Mouth and Music Show at the Sentient Bean down in the creative district south of Forsyth Park.

Based on the host’s intro, both crowd and performers numbered higher than usual—at least 70 people in the room and a sign-up list that overflowed its margins.

In my experience, the night ranked higher than any other in terms of variety, with a lower-than-average cringe score (let’s be honest, some amateur performances are kinda painful).

Best of all, the people there came to listen and for the most part, they stayed until the mic and cord were wrapped up and stowed away again. You ask me, this is the no-shit hallmark of artistic community.

Sure, the heavy curtain between us and the whoosh of the milk steamer certainly helped. So did what the host called “clap practice” at the beginning—his way of reminding us how much a performer needs to know when the audience likes something they hear. Both a controlled room and a host with solid footing on the bridge between audience and stage can help create the culture for a good open mic. But it’s more than that.

The best open mics are made by the people who go to them. They take all kinds. They encourage the nervous ones. They hoot for the strong ones. They grab you on the way back to your chair and let you know if something connected. Sometimes they even offer up a friendly suggestion for improvement.

This is why I will always encourage poets to come out to any of my favorite open mics, or to find one in your own area.

So what if you don’t win the night. (Hell, not all nights can be won.) You’ll definitely know you were heard.