Beat Poetry Competition at the Nuyorican

17 Dec


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.


One Response to “Beat Poetry Competition at the Nuyorican”

  1. DuePoint December 26, 2012 at 3:41 am #

    I always wanted to go to the Nuyorican cafe.

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