Arts and CultureSan Francisco

FREE Poetry Chaos: 16th and Mission

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Every Thursday night on the southwest corner of 16th and Mission, a crowd begins to gather. A woman will kneel down and take out sidewalk chalk, patiently tracing a sprawling pastel circle on the concrete. At 9:30, the first poet will step into the chalk and let loose a yawp from the pulsating poetic heartbeat, howling at the San Francisco moon. For my money, it’s the most raw, free-spirited poetry reading in the city.

And by my money, I mean it’s FREE.

In 1914 Ezra Pound made up a new kind of art and called it Vorticism. He said, “The image is a radiant node or cluster; it is … a VORTEX, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing.” That makes about as much sense to me as eating a burrito with a fork and knife, but Pound apparently challenged a guy who argued with him about it to a duel. Using unsold copies of their own unsold books. So… I won’t argue.

I’ll just say that this poetry reading is like that. It’s a vortex that people, poems and images rush and thrust into and out of. It is a duel between poets with otherwise unheard poems. You will be surprised at least once, delighted at least twice, and wince at least thrice.

The last time I went, I heard an incredible poet read from his new book, singer-songwriters in rags crooning live harmonies, undiscovered free-style rappers, and plenty of locals reciting their originals and favorites. Along the way, several strung out homeless people elbowed in and took their turns channeling the rhythms of the night. Two hours and two brown bag beverages into it, I took my own turn and verbally wandered through a personal favorite, “In Watermelon Sugar…”

Go. Listen. Read. It’s FREE, and it’s San Francisco at its most raw and free-spirited.

FREE Poetry Reading
16th and Mission
9:30pm – Midnight


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Scott James - Paperback Pundit

Scott James - Paperback Pundit

Author of Sidewalk Ritual, self-publishing teacher, lover of coffee and IPA.


  1. BLAM
    July 16, 2012 at 10:03 am

    I remember randomly getting drawn into one of these as i was coming out of the Bart station one night. It is an example of one of my favorite aspects of this city as an impromptu coalescing of surprise, humor, and candor.

  2. Liya
    July 30, 2012 at 8:04 am

    I like when they freestyle! Poetry is pretty with music.