Checked out the Beat poetry slam at The Nuyorican Poets Cafe over on the Lower East Side during Beat Week. “We’re excited to be here in a proper poet’s cafe, celebrating a proper poet,” said host Mahogany Browne. The Nuyorican was cofounded by Miguel Algarin, who knew Jack Kerouac back in the day. Browne encouraged the audience to snap as she read a quote from On the Road “like the Beat poets” did “because they were too high to clap.” Of Kerouac’s famous novel, she said, “It’s a dude book. [The characters] get to travel all over the world and fall in love. I’d be too scared [to go on the road].” Hm… sounds familiar.
Browne, a poet in her own right, said the contestants would be “burning some poems on this motherf*cking mic.” She explained that slam is “the Olympics of poetry.” The poets were competing for a chance to win $50 and the soundtrack to the film adaptation of On the Road. The judges were told to rank each poet from 1 to 10, with decimals and exclamation points encouraged. The poets each had a unique style. Some poets appeared to be seasoned professionals, who had memorized their words, and others seemed like brave young artists. Even the quieter, dreamier poems were powerful. I love the way the photographs I took show the energy of the poetry.
There was also a Jack Kerouac trivia contest. I abstained from reading at the event and wasn’t planning on competing in the trivia contest, but when everyone was stumped, I couldn’t help but blurt out the answer. A teenaged girl in the audience wanted to win so desperately that she practically fell out of her chair trying to ask me for trivia answers. Instead of helping her cheat, I just gave her the winning copy of the On the Road novel. I’ve never seen anyone want to read a book that badly, and it was my little way of encouraging people to read Kerouac.
Afterwards I talked to one of the poets, a guy who’d been on the road himself. He was a truck driver and had also spent time studying painting in Syria. I liked how each poet had their own story to tell.