More June Poetry:

Groups & Workshops

Furlong Getty

Power to the Poets

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This article by Diana Wolf was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 14, 2000. All rights reserved.

Poetry & the Unexpected

E-mail: DianaWolf@princetoninfo.com

Thursday night at the Urban Word Cafe and the tables

are gradually filling to capacity with a diverse audience rife with

expectation. It may feel like Chicago, but this is downtown Trenton.

And the audience is here to hear — urban words. This is the Urban

Word Poetry Slam, newly established beginning June 1, but masterminded

and hosted by the area’s best-known slammaster, Robert Salup.

"Close your eyes and listen."

This advice, given by a local slammer, gives a different perspective

of the poets competing at the Urban Word. Check your preconceived

notions and prejudices about poetry at the door. This is not your

"roses are red, violets are blue" garden variety poetry. This

opening-night evening offered subjects ranging from leprechauns to

urban youth angst to Mariah Carey. And these performances are no mere

"readings." They may tiptoe soft and calmly to your ears or

hit the listener in an explosion of raw energy and power.

Expect the unexpected: a grandfatherly figure reciting a poem about

a drug-addicted prostitute, or urban youth ranting and raging about

being too shy to approach women. Modest, unassuming men and women

are consumed by their art for a three minute performance, with the

slap winner sent of victorious with a cash prize.

This art form officially began as the National Poetry Slam Festival

in Chicago in 1985. It was created in the spirit of the traveling

bard: from the days when itinerant poets read or performed their art

before a crowd. Mimicking the sports match or bout, rules were devised

that are still in effect today, and can be seen firsthand at the annual

national festival, to be held this year in Providence, Rhode Island.

These rules can be and have been adapted by local slamming venues.

The Urban Word Poetry Slam owes its roots most immediately to the

long-lived but currently-defunct Great New Hope Poetry Slam, founded

in 1992 by married poets Philip and Judith Toy and supported by Karla’s

proprietor, Louis Zanais. The couple staged the first slam as a fundraiser

to travel to teach at a neuro-psychiatric hospital in embattled Romania.

By 1994, the hosting honors had fallen to poet Stan Heleva, one of

the original night’s competitors, who fine-tuned the slam rules and

raised the standards of performance. Like the National Slam, rules

such as a three-minute time limit, and no music or props to acommpany

the poet, but other rules were casually created, based on audience

response. In 1996, Salup inherited the slam and ran it with gusto

at the same time he spawned new slams and readings in Bordentown,

Princeton, and next at Grounds for Sculpture.

The monthly slams were a regular feature at Karla’s for an incredible

eight years, and also inspired a book, "Live at Karla’s."

Published in 1996 by Moving Adverb Press, and co-edited by Salup’s

wife Rosalind Salup, the anthology features 13 poets who regularly

performed (and won) at Karla’s Restaurant. Salup and Heleva are featured

in "Live at Karla’s" anthology, as well as Edwin Long III.

All three poets are contributing to the new slam venture at the Urban

Word.

Robert Salup, a draper in the family business by day, is the tireless

slammaster by nights. His parents run, Quaker Curtains, in Ewing,

as they have for over 50 years, and Salup produces window fashions

for the company.

Now 49, Salup’s poetic interest began in high school.

An English teacher at the Princeton Day School channeled his energy.

He read beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, and Lawrence

Ferlinghetti and admired their spirit and the unique way in which

they interpreted situations. He shared common ground with them in

his own writings, which were mostly political poetry.

He attended slams, but they were not regular organized events. There

were few weekly slams until he discovered the New Hope Slam at Karla’s

six years ago. Hosted at the time by Stan Heleva, it was Salup’s interest

in and admiration of Heleva’s work that initially drew him there.

He found the slam entertaining, "with a whole schtick that goes

with it," and began to attend regularly. Four years ago, Salup

took over the reins.

Salup says his wife, Rosalind, encourages him, and edits his poetry.

His parents are supportive, if not fully understanding of his work.

His father always reads the New Yorker and Salup often sees the magazine

open to a poem — "as if he’s trying to figure out what his

son is really up to."

Now Salup has brought the slam across the river to Trenton. Featured

poets this Thursday, June 15, at 8 p.m. are Morrigan’s "Wandering

Uterus Tour" and Evelyn Gildriesvoyles. Upcoming weeks feature

poets Edwin Torres and Edwin Long III on Thursday, June 22. Bret Axel

and Cory-Ellen Nadel are featured on Thursday, June 29.

"I felt that Trenton really deserved this," says Salup, "because

there was nowhere for the energy to go." Not only is Trenton a

more central location for poets and listeners — with the train

station a few blocks away and various highways leading into the capital

— but the area is also enjoying an emerging arts movement. The

slam is yet another addition to a range of events that both establishes

and sustains a community of artists.

Salup still writes poetry, but slams infrequently. His style has changed

over the past five years; no longer the angry youth, he now reads

Charles Simic, James Tate, and Robert Pinsky. These days he gets most

invitations to host slams. He has the organization, the dedication,

and the connections to arrange a weekly event.

Salup describes a slam’s premise "to take your art seriously,

but the slam’s here to have fun."

The evening begins at 8:30 p.m. with two featured poets who read their

work. A maximum of 15 competing poets sign up during the evening,

and the slamming begins around 9 p.m. A cover charge of $5 is collected

from everyone, including slammers. The funds pay the evening’s featured

poets and minor expenses, with the majority going towards the winning

slammer. A persuasive poet can expect to win somewhere between $50

and $70 for their nine minutes of inspiration.

Salup takes it upon himself to "randomly" choose the judges

from among the attending audience. As in the Olympics, judges rate

the performances from 1 (worst) to 10 (perfect). The first round features

all the poets. Then the top four scorers advance to a second round,

and the last round culminates in a head-to-head competition between

the top two scorers. "You have to want to be humbled," says

Salup.

Upcoming featured poets hail from Chicago, Wilmington, New York, and

New Jersey. On the fourth week of the series, Thursday, June 22, the

program promises "Two Eds For The Price Of One: Edwin Torres and

Edwin Long III."

Edwin Torres is 40 years old, a native New Yorker whose day job is

as a graphic designer for an Internet firm. Despite both parents being

poets themselves, he was initially interested in art when he was younger.

He then discovered that many visual artists also wrote poetry, and

that’s when his interest began.

"I liked playing with the word part of my brain, not just the

visual part," he says. His poems often have a theme of duality

in them. He no longer slams, but he did 10 years ago when he got into

poetry. People often have a narrow definition of poetry, so he enjoyed

his opportunities "to go somewhere and break the rules." Torres

is published in several anthologies, books, journals, and a CD.

The second Ed is Edwin Long III, a 29-year-old Trenton native who

began writing poetry in his youth. His father wrote poetry when he

was alive, as did one of Long’s sisters. Despite poetry being accepted

in his household, he never shared his work until he discovered the

New Hope Slam five years ago. He found a nurturing poetic atmosphere

there, and had many mentors who helped guide him.

By reading aloud and listening to other poets, he found

his patterns and rhythms. "To me, it’s just about getting out

and reading. It’s about just doing it, getting it out," he says.

Then-poet Peter McLaughlin’s "rapsodies" were influenced by

one of Long’s poems. Long is currently an assistant manager designing

footwear devices in the Pedorthics industry, and has been published

in several journals and a book.

Roland Pott, co-owner and general manager of the Urban Word, is supportive

of poetry as part of the cafe’s art, music, and food venue’s multi-faceted

mission. "The urban word is a place that welcomes poetry and promotes

poetry and communication in general," says Pott. "You could

say that that is why word is part of our name."

"The live interaction between poets and the crowd is really exciting,"

he continutes. "It’s very different from reading the poem on the

page. It breaks down barriers between the words and the writer, because

when the writer is performing the words, it’s as if the poets become

their words embodied right there in front you."

This slam has met a demand because the cafe was almost full to capacity

the first night. "Poetry changes according to the times,"

says Pott, who sees oral performances like this making poetry more

accessible, more up front, in-your-face, and more social.

Social is an accurate way to describe the crowd that

attends this slam. While the table arrangement in Urban Word is a

bit formal for casual conversation, few people want to chat during

the poets’ mesmerizing performances. During the breaks, however, people

mingle and socialize, especially outside in "Smoker’s Alley"

(Urban Word is delightfully smoke-free within). Inside or out, people

greet old buddies, comment on readings, and discuss local or topical

events.

It is a love of the art for which people will travel up to an hour

to attend, and there is a core group of regulars who follow slams

to either read or to listen, as varied as the poetry itself. The crowd

is generally composed of educated 30 to 40-somethings. You can find

teachers mingling with students, waiters sitting next to copy editors,

and bankers drinking with business analysts and postal workers. Among

these poets and supporters of the arts, everyone is welcome to sit

at your table.

Says Salup: "What I’m just trying to do regionally is help channel

some of the art that’s out there that’s not seen, that’s not heard."

At the slam’s inaugural evening, the well-deserved winner was Kirk

Nugent, already a chamption of New York’s Nyorican Cafe competitive

slams. He hit his listeners hard with the galvanizing closing line,

"I am my own goddamn hero." As he stomped off the stage with

his thundering, raging pride, the silent audience struggled the breathe,

as if they had been the one speaking. Nugent’s truth, his challenge,

crashed into everyone. The audience paused — Should they cheer,

or should they bow down? And then they exploded in applause.

Satisfied with his production, Robert Salup looks forward to taking

slams to the next level. "I hope someday to see poetry become

an Olympic event," he says, without irony.

— Diana Wolf

Poetry Slam, The Urban Word, 449 South Broad, Trenton,

609-989-7777. www.urbanword.com. Robert Salup hosts every Thursday

in June. Featured poets are Morrigan’s "Wandering Uterus Tour"

and Evelyn Gildriesvoyles. $5 cover. Thursday, June 15, 8 p.m.

Upcoming slams feature poets Edwin Torres and Edwin Long III,

Thursday, June 22, 8 p.m. Bret Axel and Cory-Ellen Nadel are

featured, Thursday, June 29, 8 p.m.

Top Of Page
More June Poetry:

Poetry in the Park, Grounds for Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds

Road, Hamilton, 609-689-1089. Featured reading in the outdoor arbor

by poets Cecelia B. Hodges and Christopher Marchetti, with music by

Marc Daubert, founding member of Phish. Also meets Saturday, July

22, Saturday, August 19, with an end-of-season slam on Saturday, September

9. Saturday, June 17, 1 p.m.

Wedding of Words, H&H Lounge, 530 West Ingham Avenue,

Ewing, 609-882-6047. Every Wednesday through June 21. $5 cover. See

story page 33.

Top Of Page
Groups & Workshops

Delaware Valley Poets, Barnes & Noble, MarketFair,

609-897-9250. Three poets are featured, followed by an open read,

on the second Monday of every month.

Delaware Valley Poets’ Workshop is first and third Thursday

of each month at Lawrence Public Library on Darrah Lane, in Lawrenceville,

at 7:30 p.m. Workshop is open to all; bring 20 copies of the poem

you are going to read.

Poets’ Society, Borders Books, Nassau Park, 609-514-0040.

Robert Salup hosts a reading and discussion group third Tuesday of

each month. Tuesday, June 20, 8 p.m.

Plainsboro Literary Group, Plainsboro Public Library,

609-275-2897. Open reading last Monday of every month. No registration

is needed; newcomers and listeners are always welcome from 6:30 to

8:30 p.m.

Cafe Improv, Princeton Arts Council, 102 Witherspoon Street,

609-924-8777. A night of music, poetry, prose, and comedy, all for

$1, on the fourth Saturday of each month, beginning at 9 p.m.

Lyrical Riot, Urban Word Cafe, 449 South Broad,

Trenton, 609-989-7777. Spoken word event with Demetrius tha Poet and

Barbara Horne.

U.S. 1 Poets’ Cooperative, Box 127, Kingston 08528, 609-921-1489.

This poetry group meets every Tuesday at 8 p.m. at various locations

around Princeton, and newcomers are always welcome.

Top Of Page
Furlong Getty

I came back as a Buick

Slicked back chrome covered

1951 Brylcreem jet black

With yellowing white

Leather interior and a big

Steering wheel —

She came back

As a Corvair

Early 60’s — everything in the rear

Yellow as the sun

Dual exhaust — No rust — Good paint

Low mileage

I found her getting brakes in the left service bay of

The Furlong Getty —

Her name was Volition — I called

Her "Pull My Daisy"

— Robert Salup

Excerpt from "Furlong Getty," published in Live

at Karla’s: An Anthology of Popular Performance Poetry , Moving

Adverb Press, 1996.

Top Of Page
Power to the Poets

A Wedding of Words" is a spoken word and poetry

series new to the area, happening on Wednesday evenings at H&H Lounge,

530 Ingham Avenue, in Ewing. The inaugural four-week series began

April 19; the second is currently running through June 21.

The series, masterminded by Sandra Kimbrough of the Kimbrough Company,

a marketing firm with offices in Ewing and New York City, opens with

two or more featured poets, followed by an open mike. Host for the

current four-week series is self-proclaimed hipster poet Christopher

Johnson, aka Transit Thought. Kimbrough and Johnson were invited by

the H&H Lounge to bring a different kind of entertainment to the Ewing

nightspot.

Each evening is loosely defined by a theme taken from the traditional

and familiar components of a wedding, with a lively twist:

"Something

Old," "Something New," "Something Borrowed," and

"Something Blue-Light."

"Something Old" and "Something New" are self

explanatory.

Here, age 30 serves as the dividing line between "seasoned"

poets and the new, up-and-coming voices. But "Something

Borrowed,"

which takes place this Wednesday, June 14, is unusual in the way it

features poets performing favorite works written by others.

Shakespeare

is a perennial favorite, but this reading will also feature powerful

poems by African-American luminaries such as Langston Hughes, Nikki

Giovanni, and Don L. Lee. And here, as with the slam, the skill of

an effective delivery is part of the challenge.

One of the pleasure of working in poetry, says Kimbrough, is

introducing

young writers, most of whom are intimately familiar with rap and

hip-hop,

to the roots of their very art form.

"Kids today love rap but many don’t know it’s poetry," she

says. "Rap is poetry, but often they think it just dropped onto

the planet and landed in their laps. Many of the same rhythms and

use of vernacular and slang and phraseology are devices that much

earlier poets had also employed. I’m trying to help youngsters bridge

the gap."

The final evening in the "Wedding of Words" series,

"Something

Blue-light," coming up on Wednesday, June 21, features poets

performing

passionate, romantic and provocative poetry. Kimbrough uses the idea

of "blue-light" to conjure the erotic and the sensual. This

is the no-holds-barred evening of new poems by area poets.

A graduate of Princeton Day School, Kimbrough grew up in Ewing. While

still in high school she competed for the New Jersey State Poetry

recitation competition for three years, winning first prize 1980.

In high school, she began writing her own poetry, and also got an

effective introduction to the spoken word arts as she commuted to

an internship at the Negro Ensemble Theater in New York.

After earning her degree at Thomas Edison College in

1991, Kimbrough began working in film production. She has traveled

widely and lived in Italy and Japan. She started the Kimbrough Company

in 1996, marketing and communications company that specializes in

public relations marketing and special events.

"I’m trying to cultivate audiences and introduce people to a new

form of entertainment," says Kimbrough. "It’s so critical

that young people be exposed to poetry, that is one of the keys to

what separates a youngster’s concept of what is available to

them."

"We’re setting our series in a part of town not currently

considered

an artistic area. If you’re going to have an artistic renaissance

in the area, you can’t center it only downtown. It’s got to be

peppered

throughout the city."

Kimbrough is currently working on a project with Granville Charter

School students that she calls "If Memory Serves Me… Black

Historic

Poetry by Heart." The project both introduces the students to

the rich literary history of black poetry and re-introduces

memorization

— a pleasure that can last a lifetime — into the curriculum.

"We want them to add that to their arsenal of verbal power —

even if it’s the ability to call someone a jerk in 50,000 ways,"

she says.

— Nicole Plett

Wedding of Words, H&H Lounge, 530 West Ingham

Avenue,

Ewing, 609-882-6047. $5 cover. "Something Borrowed,"

Wednesday,

June 14, 8 p.m. "Something Blue-light," Wednesday, June

21, 8 p.m.


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