By Allison Yeh
Last Friday at 10 o’clock in the evening, I joined my Spanish class in line outside the Nuyorican Poet’s Café on East 3rd between Avenue B and Avenue C. We huddled outside in the cold speaking a mix of English and elementary Spanish. Our teacher, in a black fur coat and boots, whipped a takeout box of French fries from her purse. “No tuvo tiempo para comer, queraís, alguién?” She said as she circled the box under our noses to entice us. I took one since I didn’t have time to eat either.
Inside the café, we were squished into a small box-like space, every inch taken up by a person in a puffy winter coat. It was uncomfortable, yet strangely comforting, knowing so many people had come together to watch the power of words be delivered. Our class split up, weaving our way through bodies towards the tiny stage. I stood on my tip toes, ready for the performance to begin.
The event we were attending was a poetry slam. However, to start the evening, a more well-known poet, Carlos Andrés Gómez, author of Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood came on stage to warm up the crowd with two poems. Gomez’s stage presence and delivery gave me the same chills I get when I hear a singer on the the Voice belting their lungs out (in all the best ways). His second poem, “What’s Genocide” hushed the audience like a graveyard. Once he finished, the crowd hollered, applauded and rushed to get in line for an autographed book.
The poetry slam itself was also inspiring. Three contestants each spoke from their own diverse backgrounds. One spoke of her experience as a black woman in a small town in North Carolina. One young man spoke of his Jewish heritage and his abhorrence of Hebrew school. The last participant (and ultimate winner of the slam) was of Dominican descent and spoke about his working as a public school teacher in Manhattan. The three performers each shared three poems that even though ranged in content, could be connected through the potency of their verbal communication. The poems were not only lyrical, but also advocated for something beyond the brick walls of the space.
To close the night, Whitney Greenaway (an award winning slam poet) recited a poem about how to be a lady, inspired by Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl. Earlier in the night she also performed this.
While the event ended at 2am, probably the longest and latest Spanish class I have ever attended, I left with a new sense of community, a sense of power of words, and a want to look up more slam poetry on Youtube.
Allison is a Sophomore at Barnard and Lead Features Editor of Barnard Bite.