There are some places I’m going to tell you to go to hear poetry in Newark, but never forget that they are just some of the spaces. Not all of them. Poetry is everywhere, will be everywhere, and has been everywhere, for some time in this city. And if I mention a few names, of places and people, understand that they are just a few out of many. Understand that these streets have heard so much, know so much, and echo with language soft and hard. Understand that the people you may pass by in these streets have known poets and moments now past, moments they remember and carry within themselves. Poetry.
Poetry is at People’s Open Mic, nurtured by Margie “Mia X” and others, one of the longest-running open mics in the city, now at Gallery Aferro after some nomadic years, along with the New Jeru (New Jerusalem) slam.
Poetry is at Evolution Open Mic with Sean Battle, now at Burger Walla on Halsey Street. Poetry is at Brick City Speaks at Hell's Kitchen over in the ironbound. Poetry is in other places and spaces I don’t even know about. Poetry thrives and is everywhere.
Poetry finds a way. Queer poetry in June. Hot poetry in winter, behind the steamy windows of the barbershop. Say poetry, some young person thinks they invented poetry yesterday, oh yes!
Say poetry roving across the blocks. Say poetry and an older person will tell you about their wild days, saying certain street names like incantations. Say poetry and beat-up notebooks come out. Say poetry and it isn’t just poetry it’s music too. Say poetry with its own rituals and codes.
Say poetry and know the cipher. Say poetry, here in this city poets work in community organizations, and in city government, and I meet more poets every day. Say poetry and maybe Jerry Gant will be walking by. Say poetry in memory of Halim Suliman. Say poetry for poets you won’t get to meet but you can read their works, say poetry for poets not yet born. Read those words, memorize those words and say them loud, say them quietly.
Say poetry, and it’s the upcoming 2016 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, the largest such gathering in North America, with poet Martin Farawell at work behind the scenes. Poets at the last festival included James Arthur, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Marilyn Nelson, Crystal Bacon, Ona Gritz, Yehoshua November, Donna Baier Stein, Cathy Park Hong, January Gill O'Neil, Jennifer Bartlett, Marie Howe , Sharon Olds, Jan Beatty, Tung-Hui Hu, Priscilla Orr, Sophie Cabot Black, Ishion Hutchinson Alice Oswald, Richard Blanco, Charles H. Johnson, Robert Pinsky, Eavan Boland, Saeed Jones, James Richardson, Dave Caserio, A. Van Jordan , Alberto Ríos, Billy Collins, Vasiliki Katsarou, Patrick Rosal, Brendan Constantine, Burt Kimmelman, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Barbara Crooker, Yusef Komunyakaa, Brenda Shaughnessy, David Daniel, Stephen Kuusisto, Daniel Simpson, Natalie Diaz, Alex Lemon, Tracy K. Smith, Catherine Doty, Rebecca Lindenberg, Gary Snyder, Mark Doty, Shara McCallum, Bridget Talone, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Gardner McFall, Brian Turner, Rita Dove, Rachel McKibbens, Dan Vera, Jehanne Dubro, Jamaal May, Gary J. Whitehead, Camille T. Dungy, Anis Mojgani, Rachel Wiley, Claudia Emerson, Aja Monet, C. Dale Young, R.G. Evans, Tomás Q. Morín, Kevin Young, Elyse Fenton, Khalil Murrell, Sander Zulauf, Kevin Goodan, and submissions are open NOW. Say poetry.
Say poetry, here in this city, poets work at the Rutgers University Masters in Creative Writing program, poets such as Rigoberto Gonzalez. Rachel Hadas, John Keene, and Brenda Shaughnessy.
Say poetry and someone might say Kimako’s Blues People, Amiri and Amina, and Ras Baraka. Say poetry and maybe someone will say The Fringe or the African Globe Theater. Say poetry and I can tell when you made the scene based on what you say. Say poetry tonight. Say poetry often.
Evonne M. Davis and Emma Wilcox are working artists and cofounders of a Newark alternative arts nonprofit. Begun in 2003, Gallery Aferro offers exhibitions featuring local, national, and international artists, a wide range of public events, a year-round studio residency program, educational offerings, group tours, a publication line, a gift shop, and public art initiatives.