United States of Mind

Posted March 12, 2009 in Arts & Culture

A poetry venue can be about more than just poetry. Just ask LionLike MindState emcee David M. Oliver (aka Judah 1), a nationally known poet who says, “I wanted an open mic but I wanted it different. I wanted a literacy program. I wanted to get into the prisons, to do writing workshops there to get the violence out, the anger out. People come to LionLike more for the community than for the poetry.”


The community begins with the LionLike crew—Judah 1, Adrienne Reed, Nathan Neighbour, DJ Mike Sincere, Treesje Powers, and Dana Love. Based in Chino, they are all in their mid-20s and, although they are a diverse group, this crew is universally restless, dynamic, and determined to break new ground, In turn, they rely on a larger community at their venue, Mosaic Inland in Chino. Mosaic Inland is part of a group of seven artist-oriented churches throughout California, but that doesn’t mean LionLike is a Christian venue—the mic is open to all and often features red-hot erotica or revolutionary politics. 


Although some poetry venues are run like exclusive cliques, LionLike walks community like they talk it. From the minute you enter their cavernous Crash Lounge, you are treated like an old friend. The seating is on couches and easy chairs. Milk and cookies and other goodies are served. Every poet receives rapt attention and respect. Treesje is known for seeking out those in the crowd who may be too nervous to get up and read and encouraging them to take the stage. DJ Mike Sincere delivers funky and often hilarious commentary from behind the turntables.


LionLike has just published a chapbook featuring many of its regular poets. There’s also a place for those whose forte is other than poetry—LionLike invites visual artists to come and create with the poets and they also provide opportunities for dancers and for filmmakers (including a just-issued LionLike performance DVD). To go beyond your usual run of the mill open mics, they have special shows such as Ladies’ Night (120 people at the first one, run entirely by women) and the January 17th Presidential Inauguration/Martin Luther King Birthday show which drew over 200 people. There’s an acoustic music show, a comedy bit, an interfaith forum, a first anniversary shindig in April, and a Mother’s Day celebration. And the crew is looking to bust the margins—LionLike is currently raising money to send youth and adult teams to the National Poetry Slam later this year in West Palm Beach, Florida, marking the first time the IE has been represented in the 19-year-history of nationals. There are also plans to debut a monthly satellite venue in Norwalk.


But the idea of community goes beyond this dizzying array of culture, as there are philanthropic interests at root here too. One dollar from the meager four dollar door charge goes to Inland Empire non-profits with places like The House of Ruth, Serve the IE, and The Neighborhood House the benefactors. Not shying away from anything, LionLike organizes toy drives, food giveaways, and community barbecues and has plans for an outreach event at a homeless tent city.


Yet there can be no doubt that the core of LionLike MindState is poetry. 


“Every time I hear a poet spit on our stage, I get a glimpse into the soul and story of another person journeying with me in this life,” says Nathan. Judah 1 adds, “Poetry changes lives. There are poets who will step into your situation and alter it, who will alter your mind, who will alter your spirit and will change your whole perception of life and worldview.”


Underneath everything is a philosophy. It begins with the premise that, contrary to popular reports, the Inland Empire has a thriving arts community and there’s little need to travel 30-plus miles to LA in that pursuit. As Nathan says, it’s “about living a life completely wide awake and striving to make the world around you better in the process.” 


Adrienne is more concise in her explanation the philosophy, describing it as “being consistent, conscious, and bold.”


The LionLike MindState web site (lionlikemindstate.com) proclaims, “We are the voices of a revolution.” This is more about universality, sharing passions and direct camaraderie, says Judah 1. 


“We’re not just a hip-hop venue,” he says. “We’re not a Black venue, we’re not a Caucasian venue, we’re not a Christian or a Muslim venue. Anybody can come, everybody’s respected. Our faces are all different, our thoughts are all different, our beliefs are all different, but yet we have this common bond called poetry. We use that and we just build it. I think that’s pretty revolutionary.”


LionLike MindState, first and third Wednesdays each month at Crash Lounge at Mosaic Inland, 5540 Schaefer Avenue, Chino, 9PM, $4. Contact lionlike@lionlikemindstate.com for more information


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