With 'Nymphomystiac,' Mystic Leoine puts poetry — and personal history — on stage

In her work, the writer, performer and organizer seeks to create a 'beautiful, judgment-free zone' for herself and others. She performs her first one-woman poetry show at the Fisch Haus this weekend.

With 'Nymphomystiac,' Mystic Leoine puts poetry — and personal history — on stage
Mystic Leoine reads from her binder at the poetry show she organized at the Donut Whole earlier this month. Courtesy photo by Ernest James McDonald Jr.

Mystic Leione tells me, between sips of her iced honey latte, that this year she is feeling "limitless."

It’s a well-chosen word that applies not only to Leoine herself, but also to her blossoming program of poetry readings in the Wichita area. This weekend, for the first time, she’ll step out on stage solo in "Nymphomystiac" at the Fisch Haus.

I first met Leione at one of her shows (a term she prefers to "readings") at Monikahouse, where she'd invited me to read. Standing next to the coffee bar, surrounded by skeletons, bat wings and lace, we connected over our religious upbringings, tumultuous educational histories, and literary vocations. The easy conversation attests to Leoine's greatest strength: community building.

“I believe art is best shared within communities,” Leoine said. “I write for me, but also for everybody else that doesn't have a voice.”

For Leoine, poetry is a community-building tool, and one of many. It was her love of music, and her middle school language arts teacher's claim that a song was just “poetry set to music,” that ignited Leoine’s writing flame.

While studying at WSU in 2018, Leoine hesitantly attended her first open mic event. Nervous, she signed up to read third, but ended up reading first as the other attendees had signed their names below hers. Despite her fear, Leoine felt empowered by the act of reading and by the audience's response.

“Something definitely changed that night,” Leoine said. “I started writing almost every day.”

And she couldn't get enough of reading. Yet Leoine found the Wichita poetry scene to be small and insular — so, with her characteristic limitlessness, she broke it wide open.

“I wasn't going to jump through hoops to make my art known when I could just do it myself,” Leoine said. “And providing a beautiful, judgment-free space to share was just as important to me as getting my own work out.”

"With “Nymphomystiac,” I am shining a light into my life," says Mystic Leoine. She will perform the staged poetry show at the Fisch Haus this Saturday and Sunday. Courtesy photo by Amari Cooper.

What followed was a regular series of shows featuring a combination of headliners with a mic open to anyone and everyone. Starting with Monikahouse and then the Donut Whole, Leoine's shows have even included a Halloween-themed multimedia event at Candela at the Lux that featured local bands and vendors. Initially, her shows were attended by the same in-crowd of readers as previous events. Over time, I witnessed these events grow, with more audience members, many of whom, by the end of the show, mustered the courage to get up and read something they'd written. More people than not, I learned from Leoine's shows, have secretly attempted poetry in their notes app.

That's the power of the "beautiful, judgment-free zone" Leoine envisioned: we learn more about each other and ourselves in the process.

Over a year after she organized her first show, Leoine's dedication will culminate in her first one-woman show “Nymphomystiac,” which she will perform at the Fisch Haus April 27-28.

Inspired by the genre of one-person shows, "Nymphomystiac" deviates from Leione's usual approach. Her binder is the stuff of legend in a world where most read from phones, but this time, it won't make an appearance.

"In the Fisch Haus venue, there is a stage and it will just be me and a stool," Leoine said. "I have incorporated various movements into the show that I don't normally do, and my goal is to slow down my natural cadence of reading."

"Nymphomystiac" consists of a 14-poem cycle, refracting her own experience with sexual assault through the social events that were happening around the same time: the 2016 presidential election, and later the #MeToo movement.

“With 'Nymphomystiac,' I am shining a light into my life, where I used sex as self harm, was influenced by societal events, and finally accepted that what happened to me was not my fault,” Leione said. “[It's] a way to touch the hearts of other victims, who may have been in a similar spot as me. This project lets them know that they too, are not alone. It is okay. We are free.”

Her one-woman show is hardly the end of the road, however. Leoine craves greater interdisciplinary collaboration within the Wichita art scene, and is exploring opportunities to incorporate music, dance, and visual art into her events. Leoine wants to take poetry off the page, and make it into a destination.

“I want to say the quiet parts out loud.”

The Details

“Nymphomystiac and Other Poems of Transformation”
Two performances: 7-9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, and 2-4:30 p.m. Sunday, April 28, at the Fisch Haus, 524 S. Commerce St. in Wichita
Cost: $10 suggested donation at the door
Learn more.

Other opportunities to see (and read) poetry in Wichita

Open Mic Night at Celebrations Event Center
Typically 7-10 p.m. on the fourth Friday of every month at Celebrations Event Center, 3202 W. 13th St. N. in Wichita
This month, the usual fourth Friday event has been rescheduled to Friday, May 3.
Doors open at 6 p.m., and a sign-up sheet is at the door.
Cost: $5
Note for attendees: This is a sober venue and event.
Learn more.

WSU Creative Writing MFA Graduate Reading
2-3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the Ulrich Museum of Art in McKnight Art Center on the Wichita State campus, 1845 Fairmount St.
A reception will take place at 2 p.m., followed by a reading at 2:30.
Cost: Free.
Learn more.

Open Mic and Poetry Night at the Andover Public Library
6-8 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month at the Andover Public Library, 1511 E. Central Ave. in Andover, Kansas
The 6 p.m. hour is reserved for younger participants. Adult performers start at 7 p.m.
Cost: Free
Learn more.

Other poetry organizers in Wichita include Ponder This and Spoken Word productions. Follow their Facebook pages for news about upcoming events.

Jeromiah Taylor is a writer from Wichita, Kansas. His work appears or is forthcoming in the Chicago Review of Books, The Millions, the Los Angeles Review, The New Territory, Chautauqua Journal, U.S Catholic Magazine and elsewhere. He is the editorial assistant at the National Catholic Reporter and a contributing reviewer at Northwest Review.

Do you know of other poetry events in the Wichita area? Please drop us a line: emily@shoutwichita.com.

Corrections: The Halloween-themed show Leoine organized took place at Candela at the Lux, not Odd Fellow Hall.

This month, the fourth Friday open mic night at Celebrations Event Center was postponed to next Friday, May 3. We made these corrections on Friday, April 26.

We made these corrections on Friday, April 26.

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