Strangers Are Poets Are Strangers: Notes on PoetNY Open Mic

Text by E. R. Pulgar, Photos by Heath Antonio

Editor’s Note: 8:30pm Monday, July 9th, E. R. Pulgar hosts PoetNY Open Mic The Monday Edition. RSVP here.

Tuesdays through Fridays, 308 Bowery hosts a cabaret called Duane Park. The space, accordingly, exudes sex and glamour: trompe de l’oeil walls with forest scenes populated by fauns, tables illuminated only by the opulent central chandelier and candles, rows of separate chairs lining the small stage to the left where a single microphone is wrapped in the soft glow of spotlight. Opposite stage: a large black-and-white banner emblazoned with the words “Bowery Poetry,” a flag meant to fly two days a week.

A glimpse of Bowery Poetry Club’s historic stage

It is Sunday night, and attendees for tonight’s PoetNY Open Mic will not know that this the venue is usually populated by scantily-clad dancers and well-heeled Wall Street types. It’s Sunday night, and Duane Park will be the Bowery Poetry Club until the sun rises on Tuesday.

Federico Garcia Lorca came to New York City and returned to Spain with visions of the skyscrapers and bodega carts. Every Sunday night, PoetNY Open Mic celebrates these glimmers of urbania and opens the stage to anyone trying to hash out their place in the hectic storm of this city. Save the corner table where host Mason Granger fixes his red baseball cap, every table’s candlelight flickers under the breath of conversation only a packed house emanates. The feature poet, Emily Eastman, sits front stage and passes her fingers through a buzz cut. The bartender, Francis Ines, cleans out a wine glass before popping a bottle.

A Poet stirs a Rum & Coke at the Bowery Poetry Bar

Looking through the crowd, one can spot nervous poets frantically typing away at their phones or scribbling in their journals, finding those last fault lines that will truly sing. Mason goes onstage. Conversation falls into silence, then applause. The first reader goes up.

You never know what to expect with an open mic. First time readers, voices quiet as they avoid the audiences’ stare. Exuberant voices of seasoned poets, talking with their hands as much as their mouths. A boy no older than sixteen in a grey hoodie says his name is a fortress. A girl in a blue blouse confidently proclaims her lover is wood and she now lives in a concrete place. A Jewish man with a jawline rants about global warming and brunch. An intense sports fan turns Michael Jordan’s first winning shot, the one that made him a star, into a loud proclamation of poesy. A former camp counselor toting a t-shirt first worn by Frank Ocean talks about his kids. Some readers stutter and before continuing, are bolstered forward by snaps and claps of encouragement. The room emanates warmth as cold rain falls outside.

Featured Poet Emily Eastman on Stage at Bowery Poetry

There is no conversation during the performances or brief intermissions where Mason introduces poet after poet, interspersing anecdotes about sports and the F Train. Laughter, then a return to rapt attention. New poets, all with varied stories and voices, spurts of poetry giving way to the feature. Eastman’s poetry deals in cigarettes and loving girls and loving boys and how it doesn’t matter who you love. She will slam from memory. She will be shy and tender in between her thunderous readings. She will say her chapbooks are $10, but she’s willing to negotiate. She will maintain everyone’s attention as much as the less established poets or the first time readers. She will say she loves the audience. She will say she loves St. Vincent. She will speak of her friend’s suicide and giving them several haircuts. She will dedicate the reading, and every love poem in it, to Pisces season.

“She will say her chapbooks are $10, but she’s willing to negotiate.”

The energy continues to pulse during the ten minute break. One would expect the room to thin, but after wine and banter with Francis the house remains packed. The point of an open mic, as Mason will proclaim when he closes the evening, is that a room full of strangers decided to come out and hear other strangers read poetry. One looks around the room and can’t describe it as anything but strange: no poet looks like a poet, no poet reads like a poet. A poet is a poet because they are themselves, and for those delicious hours in the night—before the sun sets on Monday night’s last poetry show and the dancers replace the poets for the week—we’re all ourselves, undefinable as reader or audience member under the dimming light of the chandelier. ❖𝛃

Looking in on Bowery Poetry from the Street

E.R. Pulgar is a Music Writer and Poet, and a former Bowery Poetry Intern.
Heath Antonio is Bowery Poetry’s Manager and Photographer.

PoetNY Open Mic takes place every Sunday and select Mondays from 8–11pm at Bowery Poetry, 308 Bowery, NY, NY 10012. Tickets available here: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2734821