Courtesy of Nuyorican Poets Cafe
In the heart of an ever-gentrifying New York City neighborhood, the Nuyorican Poets Café was once called “the most integrated place on the planet” by none other than Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Today it remains a wildly diverse venue still influenced by its mostly Puerto Rican founders who claimed it as a site of artistry and resistance in 1973.
Poet and founder Miguel Algarín and his artist friends just wanted a place to get together to create. By the 1990s, the Café was the epicenter of Slam Poetry in the country.
With its focus on spoken word, and slam poetry in particular (though it also hosts hip-hop, rap, and Latin jazz artists), the Café embodies the belief that anyone can take the stage and interpret one of the most accessible art forms. “The philosophy and purpose of the Nuyorican Poets Café has always been to reveal poetry as a living art,” Algarín wrote in the anthology Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café.
That feeling remains.
On a recent Open Mic night, for example, audiences were treated to a raunchy stand-up set about girls with big body parts by a tall Haitian man, a convulsive spit session by a wiry New Zealander, a rap performance about coffee and water that elicited plenty of hollering, and a moving socially conscious piece called “Don’t Do That” that felt like a woke listicle come alive thanks to its thumping beats. “Let’s all do the best to not elect a reptile,” the performer intoned, “and don’t do any drugs made in the 80s.” It even called out the rampant homophobia that often greets provocative rap performers: “Don’t say no homo; we’re all gay as f*ck.”
The crowds at the Café, through their loud clapping, peppery snaps, sarcastic hollers, and delighted screams during performances, creates one of the most welcoming spots in all of New York City. In the words of poet Portia Bartley, who was featured in a recent Poetry Slam night and who was a regular before moving to Los Angeles, the Café “speaks to the marginalized, to anyone who’s usually not granted a safe space to express themselves and speak on their experiences.”
Courtesy of Nuyorican Cafe