Open Mic Night at Book Culture

Kerry Henderson of Book Culture, one of the organizers of Open Mic Night

National Poetry Month was inaugurated in 1996 by the American Academy of Poets.  Book Culture’s Open Mic on April 19th showcased 19 poets, many from Columbia University and a few more established poets, such as George Spencer and Moira T, Smith.  One of the readers was an editor of Columbia New Poetry and another works for the Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism.

Andy Nicole Bowers, "Learned languages of stone."

I was the second person to read. This is fortunate because I had less time to feel nervous.  I plugged Beyond Belief, Cami Ostman and Susan Tive’s anthology in which I have a story, Swan Sister.  My first poem, Full Moon, which I wrote about my brother when I was 18, is related to this story.  The other poem, which I wrote more recently when I cried on my computer and the mouse got stuck, is not. 

Moira T. Smith, "Why do all men want to be whipped and belittled?"

The funniest poet of the night was Moira Smith.  Dressed in bright red and yellow, she spun through pages of truisms, such as, Every man’s wish is to be guided and corrected by the right woman.

Then she started shuffling through her sheaf of papers.

“I’m looking for the one,” she said.

“Aren’t we all?” said someone in the audience.

George Spencer, reading from Unpious Pilgrim

And maybe we were all looking for the one, except perhaps for poet George Spencer who held hands with his partner, Anoek, also a poet.  George Spencer’s poem moved me tremendously, although I didn’t really understand it. 

“It’s a sestina,” he said.  “I can read this here because you’re all from Columbia and you know what a sestina is.”

“I don’t,” I said. 

Becca of Columbia New Poetry, "My body is a dusky polyp."

As I learned later, a sestina is a 39-line poetic form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by a three-line stanza. lists 34 different forms of poetry, the most popular of which were pantoums and prose poems at this reading.  I learned that found poems are like word collages of things seen and heard. I put together some bits and pieces I remembered from the reading to make a found poem of sorts, all words written by the poets at the event.

Catherine demonstrating her brother with a rack of lamb

Hands that trace the blue path of her nerves

With dark arithmetic

Pink rose petals put in my mouth

My voice is maroon,

He had a squid tattoo on his left shoulder

A million atoms of dark blue

Illuminated flowers

The womanly showcase as expected as breath,

Like solving an equation.

"Something is stable. I waver and the ferry does not."

With ereaders dominating the market, bookstores like Book Culture are becoming fewer.  This event provided something one can’t find when shopping for books online: a sense of community and living words.

Chipped Cup Open Mic

Photograph by The Chipped CupOn Thursday November 15th, the Chipped Cup held its first open mic evening.  If I’d known the scope of neighborhood talent ready to jump in front of a mic, I might have hesitated before offering my short prose reading.

The first performer was an 11-year-old girl called Sirena. She played guitar and sang one of her own compositions about the beauty of her neighborhood in Harlem. Sirena has a soulful soprano voice that made me think a little of Kate Bush. Unsurprisingly, Adele’s songwriter is interested in Sirena.  Her music brought tears to my eyes, reminding me of the purity of the human spirit. 

It also reminded me that I would have to follow this act with my story about men with facial hair. As I walked toward the mic, I wondered if I could just walk right past it and out the door.  But I’ve embarrassed myself often enough to know that it’s usually over in a few minutes.  And then the memory stays with me for the rest of my life.

But the Chipped Cup audience listened attentively to my story, even when I fumbled with a mic in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other.  A few people even told me they liked it afterwards.  

Sitting next to me was Mark Blackman, director of Welcome to Harlem the Movie.

“That was good,” he said.  With perfect timing, he followed this by saying, “This is the most patient audience ever.” Or maybe he said "best crowd."

There followed musicians, poets, another reader of prose, and several stand up comedians.  Patricia, one of the barristas who is also an MFA student at CCNY, read a poem, like a piece of music, to great applause. 

I felt privileged to be able to view such a lot of talent, for free and just down the road from where I live.

Joe Boover, singing "Low Budget Fairytale"

Singer-songwriter, Joe Boover, performed two humorous and touching songs.  Mark Blackman, accompanied by barrista Kerrianne on guitar, did some comedy and sang a song called, “Columbia f@#$ed a dog.”  Mark clearly doesn’t like the way Columbia is moving into the neighborhood. The room was cracking up with laughter. 

“This is the high point of the evening,” my friend said, after loudly interrupting Mark several times. "Sometimes we need to laugh."

The interruptions didn’t disturb Mark and I began to understand how he really loves Harlem, and how I’d better finish my review of his movie.

The first Chipped Cup Open Mic was organized by baristas Kerianne and Mary Jane.  Open Mic’s will be held every third Thursday of the month at 7pm.  All are welcome.