Martha Cinader Mims
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A poet who performs with Jazz musicians.
Born in New York City in 1962, I spent my early childhood in Montclaire, New Jersey with
my parents and growing family. My mother, Johanna, immigrated to America from Holland
when she married my father, Arthur, a Jewish business executive originally from the
Bronx. My brother John was killed in a car accident when he was six and I was three. That
was the worst thing that ever happened to our family. When I was seven, my family of
seven moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we lived for the next seven years,
returning to the East Coast to live in New York City in 1975, when I was thirteen years old.
Attending the Spence School for girls by day, I graduated with honors when I was 17. I
alternately sold clothes and served cookies during that time for spending money. By night
and mostly without permission, I attended jazz concerts in the East and West Village. I
learned about and heard many of the jazz legends, most of whom have since passed away.
Hearing live music at the heights of achievement, and observing the mostly forsaken
circumstances under which these geniuses lived out their lives, was the beginning of a
life-long fascination with music, culture and society, and each of our places in it. I began
writing poetry and keeping journals, which I now wish I still had. I threw them all away
once, in a fit of self-hatred.
After an un-inspired summer semester at New York University, I left school and home, and
began to attend what I called The School of Life. This involved moving down to East 3rd
Street, and in with the alto player who would be my partner for the next eight years. I
worked as a professional model for a little while, and went to Barry Harris' Master Class on
Monday nights at the Jazz Cultural Center. I fiddled around on the piano and the flute and
sang some songs, but never felt as comfortable as when I had a pen in my hand and
words just flowed onto the paper. My first publication credit is an interview I did of my
partner and took around to the publisher of The East Villager. We bought one way tickets
to Amsterdam, Holland in 1984, and travelled around Europe for the next six years,
following a sort of jazz circuit from Amsterdam to Valencia, to Paris, where our daughter
Crystal was born. By the time we landed in Munich it finally became evident to me that
these were not ideal circumstances for parenting or nurturing my own talents. I returned
to the East Village with Crystal in 1990.
Soon after my return I started a little event called Sunday Afternoon Stories that I hosted
at a little french restaurant in Soho called La Poeme. After awhile that became an open
mic, with more poets showing up than storytellers. A train ride to the WBAI Radio Station
with the intention of promoting my event on the air, turned into a ten year stint as a
volunteer producer and on-air host. While there I wrote and produced several live radio
dramas, and also interviewed many interesting authors and musicians. Even though I was
mostly broke I got the chance to attend many cultural events as a reporter, which
broadened my education in many ways. I also did some work for Steve Cannon at A
Gathering of the Tribes, where I wrote some grants and was the associate editor for a
couple issues of the magazine by the same name. My open mic series eventually became
Listen & Be Heard Open Mic, a weekly event that moved from the University of the Streets
to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and helped me to hone my skills over the next five years.
I wrote a collection of biographical stories entitled Dreamscape, Real Dreams Really Make
a Difference, that was published by Tenth Avenue Editions. I was invited to perform them
at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland. That marked the beginning of my
collaboration with Sabine Worthmann, which formed the basis for the group I called Po'azz
Yo'azz. We performed at arts festivals in the US, UK and Europe and recorded a CD
together. Remixes from my cd have also been released as dance music. The one I still hear
about from fans today is Living It! I also started out as a web publisher with
PlanetAUTHORity.com, and learned web production on my seat at my day job with Grey
Advertising in their new Web department. Some of my poetry and stories are published by
Writers and Readers, in a volume entitled When the Body Calls. After workshopping
about 53 episodes of Mission of Love during the open mic, I reworked it as a two act
tele-video play in iambic pentameter, and produced it at Club Vinyl. That's when I became
pregnant with Ben, an event which motivated me to leave New York City and move to
Soon after moving to Vallejo I started up Listen & Be Heard Open Mic again, at Rafael's, as
a way to meet new people. I did in fact meet my future husband there, Tony Mims, a poet
also. He inspired me to start Listen & Be Heard Weekly, a print newspaper we published
together for three years. We went from 100 copies to 6,000, and distributed around Solano
County and the Bay Area. That publication continues today, in its fifth year, with a more
worldly focus at listenandbeheard.net. You will find my weekly Letter from the Editor
there, and some of my latest poetry. My husband and I also opened Listen & Be Heard
Poetry Cafe together in downtown Vallejo where we were the hub for culture, live music
and poetry for three years. We have two more sons together, John and Lewis.
Life has indeed schooled me. I have never stopped studying or quit my quest for
knowledge, and continue to write daily. I still love the spoken word as much as the written
word and love to improvise as much as to get every word and syllable just right.