A Poetic Wednesday Night at Dooley’s Tavern

Tucked behind Haygood is a fairly well kept secret: Dooley’s Tavern.

Every other Wednesday from seven to nine in the evening, Oxford’s resident poetry club Free Thought hosts their Open Mic Night in this dimly lit, eclectic, and laid-back space. The walls are covered in black paint, overlaid with white words and phrases written by students past, going back as far as the late eighties.

Upon walking in, the entrance is busy with a coffee and tea bar run by students (accepting donations). Farther back are booths and couches, a pool table, and of course, a stage for recitations. However, Dooley’s Tavern is not limited only to students interesting in performing their poetry.

Last Wednesday night, amidst soft alternative music playing from the speakers, a group of students occupied one corner for a study group while a few others played a tame game of pool. If someone braves the stage to recite a poem–or really, anything they feel inspired to share–it’s an organic effort. Nothing is forced, students mingle as they please; grabbing coffee, sitting down to get a bit of work done, or just stopping by to say hi to a friend.

Around eight o’clock, the quiet tavern starts to become a little busier. Students settle themselves on the couches in the center, chatting and catching up. Christmas lights are lit along the back wall, and a sign up sheet is set out for anyone wanting to read some poetry.

Jordan Harper goes first, reading a traditional African American folk tale ‘Br’er Rabbit Earns a Dollar a Minute’. He’s met with warm applause–and snaps!–before the next person takes the stage.

Megan Lagerquist reads her aptly feminist poem ‘Crazy’, and participating poets are then reminded that submissions to the Phoenix Literary Magazine are due soon (the theme for the next issue is securities and insecurities).

Sometimes there’s lulls between recitations, but the tavern remains alive with laughter, the chugging of the coffee machine, and low conversations despite the brief absences of poetry. The stage is even used for announcements: for example, anyone looking for a safe space to do some creative work should head over to the Rathskeller on Tuesdays from seven to nine at night to relax, listen to music, and maybe make some art.

As it nears nine o’clock, less poets are volunteering to recite, and the tavern seems to be winding down. Yet students still linger, taking advantage of this unique time and place. Dooley’s Tavern is a bit of an escape, and as it’s painted on the wall: “Students may come, students may go, but Dooley goes on forever.”

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