VIDEO: 16th & Mission Provides Unlikely Stage for Poets, Performers

Every Thursday, rain or shine, dozens of San Franciscans gather at the corner of Mission and 16th streets after the sun sets to rap, sing and recite poetry by the light of scattered street lamps. Colored chalk or duct tape mark the borders of a makeshift stage on the cement. Audience members sit cross-legged on the ground or on nearby park benches — some drinking alcohol concealed by paper bags — and provide encouragement for every act.

The unlikely venue has attracted poets to this corner for nearly a decade. In fact, that’s what the event is called: the corner. At least, that’s what veteran poets like Charlie Getter call it. The group’s website is 16thmission.com and its Facebook page was once “16th and Mission Free Thursday Night Free Word Happenings.” Now, says Getter, it’s just “the corner.”

About 30 regular performers show up from week to week. New faces are welcome. Determining who performs next is a matter of who jumps into the circle. Commuters and the homeless stop by to listen. It’s a challenging place to perform, with the buses roaring past and the beeping of the crosswalks, the horns honking and the cell phone conversations of passers-by.

The corner is the breeding ground for the best poets in town, Getter says, yet everyone is cordial. Everyone is encouraging. That’s the reason people like 21-year-old Antigone Slovak prefer to perform here rather than any indoor poetry slam. While performers must deal with the rain and the cold weather and the occasional interference from a late-night drunkard, there’s less pressure, she says. No one judges; there’s only praise.

If you’re interested in attending the poetry performances on Thursday evenings, the free forum gets under way around 10 p.m. at the 16th and Mission BART station.

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