Let me preface this post by saying that there are two distinct sides to my poetic persona that don’t always see eye to eye because they are diametrically opposed.
The first is the traditional poet––the suffering, schooled in heartbreak and the hotspurs of political, religious, and economic type (this is also the part that’s well-read enough to traverse the freeways between Pindar and Poe up to the wine country of William Shakespeare and down Bukowski’s bleak and battered alleyways––and yes, even detour along the side streets of Billy Collins).
The second is what I’ve termed the post-postmodern poet––the neo-hipster, beatnik-tweetering-on-the-edge-of-emo variety who lives to ride the freshly paved roads of his poetic ancestors and to rock the microphone with a performance worthy of Def Poetry Jam (this is also the part that enjoys Lady Gaga and Louis Armstrong with equal zeal, and who believes that everything is poetry––from the sonnet composed in perfect iambs and a-b-a-b to the note scribbled between a Romeo and his Juliet during algebra class).
That said, on July 30th, after about a two-year hiatus from the microphone to get some publishing in, I attended a truly excellent event called JC Opens Up the Mic, held at The Warehouse Café and showcasing members of the seven major Jersey City groups who are bringing poetry back to the people.
On the one hand, it proved to be an exhilarating evening of featured poets and spoken word artists, and a great band to boot. On the other, as lively and fun as that night was, and as well-received my signature poem “Pale Imitation of a Rusty Old Night Club Performer” was during the open mic segment, I couldn’t help but notice that this was a very different scene from the one I was part of back in my heyday as a performance poet.
During the early 2000s, the NY/NJ open mic scene was a hornet’s nest bustling with activity. Every night there was a pad, coffee house or hookah bar waiting for poets to tear up the microphone. I even hosted my own series at a bar on Amsterdam called The Dead Poet, where all the after-hours avatars of verse could gather and spit their words to a roomful of fellow artists and aficionados hungering for the white light of new thought and fresh craft.
The Greenwich Village Bistro and Vintage Café in NYC, Rodeo Ristra Lounge in Hoboken, The Waterbug Hotel in my new hometown of Jersey City––these were just some of the venerated omphaloi that held some of the best readings that, in line with my traditional disposition, would be the apogee of the open mic scene.
I look back now and can fully appreciate the underground spirit of that former scene, which bathed my roots in muse-juice and helped to fully sprout my inner poet. Like how the Beats read their words in small cafés, or Frank O’Hara and the New York School at taverns and bars, the way my own crew of angst-engendered renegades and I had done at those lost soul venues that have since shut their doors to be reincarnated as Cluck U Chickens or laundromats.
Now the jazz may have fizzled out into the bass-thump of dance pop. The suffering behind each and every word written down or memorized (and in some cases even improvised––the horror, the horror!) may have been all but alleviated while we now sit comfortably together all smiles and snapping fingers, entertained as well as enlightened.
This is open mic poetry today, and it’s a huge, positive step forward (says my post-postmodern personality), reaching out to a wider audience of poets and poetry enthusiasts, and bringing the local community together, which is something that rarely happened back in the early 2000s because of the underground nature of the beast. And as a poster of mine once declared while I was promoting my 2005 chapbook Androids with Angel Faces, I am a “Man of Time” and will therefore travel ahead into what lies in the future of poetry and look forward to prospering in print as well as in front of open mic audiences across New York, Brooklyn, Jersey City and beyond.
But perhaps the one thing both my personas can agree on is that open mics should not take the summers off, especially after such a splendid night of verse and inspiration as JC Opens Up the Mic (thankfully, their 2010 Tour continues!) I mean, back in my day, poets couldn’t afford to take vacations.