The city of Omaha has a vibrant poetry scene, and it shows in the Naked Words open mic series. Naked Words is a monthly open mic hosted by area poet and travel writer Heidi Hermanson, who invites her guests to express themselves in whichever way they like. Poetry is the main format, but Hermanson encourages any sort of creative outlet. Currently on hiatus, it is set to return sometime this Spring.
Justin Baker: Spring is right around the corner, and for Omaha that means Naked Words will be blooming right along with the flowers. Naked Words is an open mic hosted by Omaha poet and travel writer Heidi Hermanson. It has been on hiatus since November 2012, but is expected to sprout again this Spring.
Baker: Naked Words is a monthly open mic that is free and open to the public. Hermanson said she doesn’t like to restrict it to poetry because she feels that it is limiting. She just wants people to feel free to express themselves in whatever way they want.
Baker: Naked Words has been described by Millard poet Ian Barker like this:
Ian Barker: “Naked Words is where you will find a spirit which cried out at cruelties painted in sharp words; where gorgon monsters roamed amongst Welsh bards who leaned in shadow against stone monoliths; a spirit which tripped from Romany tongues and cloaked story-tellers who told stories of Danish kings and birds born from the ashes of its ancestors. All this….and it’s in the center of Omaha. Begin here – because it’s where all poets should be born. This is what poetry should be.”
Baker: On Hermanson’s website–prairiesongs.com—it states that it is usually held at Soul Desires, a bookstore in Omaha’s Old Market, but Hermanson said it has been known to be held in a variety of places.
Heidi Hermanson: “Last summer we also moved it all over Omaha. I had it one month on the Pedestrian Bridge, we had at it in the Joslyn Sculpture Garden. Just all kinds of fun places, indoors and out, just to move it around and mix it up a little bit.”
Baker: Hermanson’s series started back in 2006 at the now-defunct Reading Grounds. The Reading Grounds was a café slash bookstore, and was to be the location of a poetry slam hosted by another local poet. When he could not make it to the slam, Hermanson graciously stepped in.
Hermanson: “Dan Leaman wanted to have a slam at the Reading Grounds, and as fate would have it, there was a big blizzard that day and he could not come down from Lincoln. And so at that time I decided to go ahead and start up the open mic myself.”
Baker: And the rest was history. Naked Words took off from that first event to become a monthly ritual of sorts. Hermanson said it has been described as a warm and welcoming open mic, with a laid-back and casual atmosphere where people are encouraged to be themselves. This creative freedom has attracted people of all kinds.
Hermanson: “I had a 14 year old girl come and read all her stuff, and I had an 87 year old published author–published two books–come in and read her stuff.”
Baker: As a travelling poet, Hermanson said she likes to invite other travelling poets. One such instance was in 2007, when Naked Words was held at the Benson Grind. Hermanson got a hold of a group of poets that were passing through town and talked them into adding Omaha to their journey.
Hermanson: “At that time, the Solomon Sparrow Electric Whale Revival, with Mike McGee, and Buddy Wakefield, Andrea Gibson, and some others just happened to be coming from Denver on their way to Chicago and I convinced them to stop in and spend the evening with us, and that was great.”
Baker: That evening proved to be Hermanson’s favorite of all the Naked Words sessions so far. With only three days to get the word out about it, she was pleasantly surprised when the day had come and there was a bigger crowd than she expected.
Hermanson: “We basically, into a venue that should’ve held 35 people, we packed about 75 people. So the performers were just stoked, we were all stoked. It was wall-to-wall people, and it was just great fun. It just shows what could happen and you don’t even know it’s going to happen.”
Baker: Naked Words seems to be a therapeutic and cathartic sort of event. When asked how she decided on the title, Hermanson had this to say:
Hermanson: “I like to say that clothing is optional at Naked Words, but I’m usually kidding around like that. To me, to reveal anything about yourself, like poetry or like something that you’ve written, is baring your soul. And that’s what we’re talking about with Naked Words, it’s just the bare truth of what you’re bearing.”
Baker: With the UNO School of Communication, this has been Justin Baker.