Poets and poetry lovers,
Random Acts of Coffee in Sedona is closing.
Last night, the owner, Jessica Johnson, told me that she could no longer afford to keep their doors open. The last night of the venue will be Sunday, July 3.
Any poet who will be in Sedona on July 3 should help say goodbye to this venue. If you want to read, even a single poem, call the coffeehouse between 3 p.m. and midnight at 928-282-7072. They have done more for keeping art, not just poetry, alive in Arizona more than any other venue in the state, without question. If you cannot attend, call or email Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Josh Robbins at email@example.com and tell them how amazing their venue is.
Poets and poetry lovers, the staff, Jessica Johnson, Allie Johnson, Josh Robbins, P.J. Robbins, Corky Ke'ola'okalani, Katie Smith, and the other various volunteers have never been paid in the nearly 2 years that the venue has been open. They worked on tips alone.
To say that this venue was important is an understatement. In a city that prides itself of being a community of artists, this is a tragedy.
Random Acts of Coffee is a venue unlike any other I have encountered. As a performance poet, I have traveled across the country and the venues that keep a community alive are those that focus not on profit margins, but on people. A true artist venue is not one that worries about profit or marketing or product, but one that builds a community.
We became poets because we know that the human condition is one of being desperately alone - we write to rage in futility against that loneliness. We know that when we die, we are celebrated only by how we touched the people we loved. That love comes from the communities we build.
Poets and poetry lovers, this venue did that. It fostered a community wherein 14-year-old kids could escape the world; where 70-year-olds could remember what it means to be young. Where those in between could learn from their elders and teach their youngers. At this venue, children and youth felt equal to the elderly. Boys learned from men how to live. Girls learned from women how to be strong. It was a venue wherein every artist, customer and wayfarer was an equal in a democracy of the love of art. Here, if you were an artist or an art lover, you were welcome with open arms, an amazing staff and great coffee.
Poets and poetry lovers, if we call ourselves representatives of art, of the people, this is the venue we would build. We want a place where people are judged not on their pocketbooks, status, backgrounds, ethnicities, orientations, genders, but on what they create to serve their community and what they value: people and relationships.
Random Acts of Coffee was the first venue I visited in Sedona and where I spent much of my spare time. It hosted musicians from Grammy Award-winner Stanley Jordan to professional musicians like Oslo, to bands of 16-year-old kids who just wanted to play music. I woke up some mornings to coffee there, and often stayed late to help close the venue. I washed dishes some nights when the needed a hand, took out trash, sometimes ran they register, and even made a few drinks. I never asked for payment or a cut of the tips because I was doing a service for the venue that served my community. The staff named a drink for me, a Topher, and I was flattered when I saw it printed on their menus. That's how I much I meant to this venue, but they meant so much more to me.
I have kept a database of the Random Acts of Poetry Monday night open mic. Poets who have featured and read include Mike McGee, San Jose, Calif.; Sonya Renee, Washington D.C.; Corrina Bain and Mallory Hanora Kazmerek, Providence, R.I.; Oveous Maximus, N.Y.C.; Adam Rubenstein, Adam Stone, and Jack McCarthy, Boston; David Tabor, Mesa, Ariz.; Derrick Brown, Long Beach, Calif.; and from NORAZ: Robin Anderson, Christopher Lane, Dan Seaman, Logan Phillips, Josh Robbins, Jessica Johnson, Allie Johnson, Corky Ke'ola'okalani, Adelle Brewer, Adrienne Harris, Brian Mosher, Becca Allen, Jesse Dyllan Grace, Sharkie Marado, Greg Nix, Al Moyer, David Ward, Atrina Brill, Meghan Jones, John Raymond Kofonow, Aaron Johnson, Portlin Cochise, Christopher Carbon, Rochelle Brener, Gary Every, Jenné, Rebekah Crisp, Jarrod Masseud Karimi, Erin Anne McMahon, Eric Larson, Lindsay C. Chamberlain, Annalisa Gravel, Cass J. Hodges, Elliot Hodges, Erik John Karf, Danielle Miller, David Rogers Luben, Gary Ehlemberger, Jade Reyes, Jason Thompson, Julia Snyder, Nico, Katie Smith, Kim Delacy-Bennett, Kimmy Wilgus, Kira Bonner, Lilly Reid, Lina Hsueh, Lloyd Alquist, Rhett Pepe, Robert F. Remington, Ron Sanders, Ryan "Guts" Guide, Delbert Jack Hildebrandt IV, Vito Licavoli, Waylon Brown, Tony Carito, "The Shane" Coronado, Jesse Johns, John Q. Richards, Jordan Sherrill, Carl Weiss, Lucille Gray, R. Scott, Steve Wong, Amanda Marden, Raychel Huber, Carol St. John, Tony Burfield, Christine Wagner, J.R. Robusto, Chris Dahl, Ann Buoy, Kyle Castillo and Cooper Reid.
In all, 569 different poets have read at the Random Acts of Poetry Monday night open mic since I started it in April 2003. To list them all would be ridiculous. Some were seasoned slam poets, others are professional spoken artists, but most are high school, junior high, and even elementary school students from schools in the Verde Valley. These are people who now have at least a respect for our art form, if not a love of it, because they were given a venue wherein they had complete freedom of speech.
When I started writing a column on Underground Art in Sedona for Sedona Red Rock News, I was tempted to call it "Random Acts Weekly," not because I wanted the venue to get free ads, but because if my features did underground art, it was at Random Acts.
This venue not only gave artists a home, it gave the youth a safe place to be. Without it, Sedona's youth have no sanctuary.
To be frank, with Random Acts, youth were safe. Rather than get drunk, doing drugs, having unprotected sex, committing vandalism or other juvenile crimes, youth could experience art, music and poetry, share stories and hang out with a venue and staff that offered them security.
Poets and poetry lovers, as the venue closes, I, as an official member of the City of Sedona Child and Youth Commission, am afraid for the youth of my community. They have lost the one venue in this city that protected their interests without judging their character. Where will my youth, my community, go? There is no other venue in this city that caters to youth, to artists without question, and to area residents equally.
One of the saddest things I have been told in the last year was when Jessica Johnson said she dreaded telling me most that they were closing, because of how much I have cared for this place. I have never felt so honored.
Poets and poetry lovers, if you are true to your commitment to community, go to Random Acts from now until July 3, buy coffee, tell the staff that they will be missed, and tip till it hurts. Then tip more. Thank them for building a community. Go to the farewell bash on July 3 and read your poetry if they ask you to. If you know someone with a spare $100,000 or a spare $20,000 tell him or her to invest.
If nothing else, let all of Arizona hear an echo of the venue going out with a bang.
no longer should we be allowed to speak to another poet unless we have answered the questions,
'what, where, who have you helped today?'” – Christopher Lane.
Poets, at the end of the day, we just spit empty words. We just hope they help someone, anyone.
Random Acts of Coffee did help … everyone who was ever moved by the art within its walls.
Christopher Fox Graham
Spoken Word Poet
NORAZ Poets™ Advisory Board Treasurer
City of Sedona Child and Youth Commissioner
P.O. Box 1130
Sedona, AZ 86339