PRINT Summer 1991


the Poets' Slam

BACK WHEN TRISTAN TZARA picked words from a hat, back when Allen Ginsberg created beatnikery with the Howl heard round the world, life still prospered on the book-reading plane, and verse could shake things up. Today, in the age of hype and image, only the hype-and-image hymn that is rap can make any waves. Otherwise, poetry leads with certainty to the state of no-fame no-money, making it possible for it to seem like the last incorruptible art. Making it the logical focus for the last trace of any bohemian energy in Manhattan, from the long-established Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, to the open mike at ABC No Rio, to the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe, the only current incarnation of the true artists’ club.1

At the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe poetry is po, competition a slam—as in “slammin’ po bands.” It’s literature as action/adventure. So, while the café features what one would expect from such

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