After escaping an abusive relationship and relocating back to Ogden, Janica Johnstun was in desperate need of a creative outlet. She wanted a space where she could share her writing and give others the chance to work through traumatic experiences as well. Johnstun found solace in poetry. “I honestly feel like it saved my life,” she said.
In September of 2015, Johnstun contacted The Lighthouse Lounge owners Sue Wilkerson and Tommy Clark and asked if she could hold a weekly spoken word poetry event. They asked her when she wanted to begin, and PoetFlow was born.
Working with the Lighthouse Lounge was “seamless and amazing,” Johnstun said, and with support from local artists, the event has grown.
Held every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Historic 25th Street bar, amateur and professional poets are encouraged to present their work.
“There are no rules. It’s just come and share any type of writing that benefits others,” said Johnstun. “Poetry gave me the courage to leave my relationship, and I’ve found a new family and a new community through PoetFlow.”
PoetFlow provides artists with a safe space to present their work, which has contributed to the event’s expansion.
“Other poetry exhibitions don’t focus on the flow part,” Wilkerson said. “They’re more competitive.”
After noticing a “hole in the community that wasn’t filled,” Wilkerson and Clark decided to provide an environment that would serve as a refuge for all varieties of artists. They want their bar to be “friendly, fun and safe,” a spot where emotions and feelings could be expressed without criticism.
For Weber State student Rees Sweeten, PoetFlow is a “healing place … It’s almost like a support group. Anyone can come to read or listen to prose,” he said.
Sweeten turned to poetry about six months ago as he searched for a healthy way to express his emotions. “It’s been my therapy,” he explained.
Growing up, Sweeten experienced harsh poverty. He dropped out of high school and began working at Wal-Mart but was laid-off from his job. He applied for college the following day.
Originally an athletic therapy major, Sweeten knew that he wanted to help people. His interests then switched to psychology before ultimately settling on creative writing.
“I was taking psychology mostly for myself to work through personal problems. Poetry replaced that,” he said. Poetry to Sweeten is a “healthier way to cope instead of dealing with all of the ruminating thoughts circling in your head.”
Sweeten describes poetry as cathartic and empowering. “It’s a genre that helps you develop intimate connections with people,” he said. “There’s also a spiritual connection. You’re channeling from somewhere else.”
As a featured poet at PoetFlow in January, Sweeten is grateful for the “safe place to let out emotions that you can’t otherwise really express.”
As far as his future goals for poetry, he isn’t over-thinking it. “I’m focusing on getting the most out of what I have right now,” he said.