Today was a great day in L.E.S., as the Nuyorican Poets Cafe held its 7th Annual Block Party, from 11 am to 5 pm, which featured a mind-blowing, funny-bone tickling, spirit-touching, and just about everything else kind of open mic, hosted by Advocate of Wordz.
Upon a fashionably late arrival at 1 pm, I saw the bouncy castle and open mic were underway. Advocate called True Turtle Empire to the stage to do a spoken word tribute to Nipsey Hussle. Next up, a young female poet named Chance. She apologized for being nervous, but even in her nervousness dropped a gem: “How people treat you is how they feel about you.”
One poet, Demiana Riz Kalla, who missed the first time she was called, returned to the stage after being summoned “all the way from the bouncy castle.” She performed a poem dedicated to her friend, Samantha Martinez, who was celebrating a birthday; in it she asked, “What is the word for a girl who wears a rainbow in her hair?” Samantha, the birthday girl, followed her friend with a poem entitled “Trap Door.” She prefaced it with a disclosure about struggling with mental illness and said this about her poem: “This is me expressing my new found hope for serenity.” In between each poet, Advocate would provide some comic relief like when he reminded the event photographer to get his good side because his exes check his Instagram account.
Pen Stroke had some technical difficulties at first, but once he made peace with the deejay he performed a song carried all the way from Mott Haven in the Bronx, which included the lyric “I need a new pair of angel wings.”
Jay the Poet, the only poet to bring her own hairdresser, finished her poem with this closing line, “Tell me everything and I’ll listen even if you feel like no one else will.”
She would return to do another poem, “Your Voice Only A Whisper,” that began “If I hurt you I’m sorry / I didn’t come into your life to fuck it up.” Jay was followed by a dope hip-hop artist, AtLas, who came all the way from Vegas to perform “No Peace” over the “Babylon” beat.
But before that, she warmed up with improv by calling on a complete stranger, Peter, to beat-box; in addition, she had the crowd hold up various items in the air that she randomly incorporated into her freestyle. Her written rhymes were on point too; in them she declared, “Until my people winning there’ll never be no peace.” She got called back to stage a second time and did the rap song “Giants,” a dedication to Hip-Hop’s greatest female MC’s, in which she spit, “I can never stop until the legends are my peers.”
K Hyph did a cookout-vibe type song in which he rapped, “I haven’t been the same since the 6th grade / Every generation it’s the same thing.” After Hyph, Peter (who had previously beat-boxed for AtLas, decided to go solo) opened up with “Dear Art School, why did I sink 4.5 years of my life into your institution?” Peter also asked Art School about its technique: How did you know how to corrupt an anime-loving kid?
Like Naruto is a blessing to kids who love anime, it was a blessing when Lady Ze, who the host said “just signed up for the open mic,” performed the rap-song “I’m Ready,” a remix cover of Chance The Rapper’s “Blessings.”
An O.G. poet, David Sanders, followed Ze with authentic Lower East Side Nuyorican-style poetry. Positivity followed, in lyric and dance, as Red Autumn performed “Got It From Here/Knock Em Out The Box.”
One of my favorite open mic perfomers was next (full disclosure: Chef Brooky purchased one of my books); he described himself as “a local yokel from the Bronx,” and he delivered a memorable song with the hook, “Don’t mess up my fung sway!”
[Feng shui (noun) – an ancient Chinese philosophy, which has one arrange or design their space and environment in ways that avoid unwanted blockages and produce a favorable energy flow.]
After some great open mic’ers warmed things up, a Nuyo legend featured on the open mic. Helena D. Lewis told the audience from the jump, “Imma do this one poem about all my business.” She proceeded to do a classic about the homeboy whose breathe was SO BAD, she “could smell it through his cheeks.” Helena didn’t want to hurt homeboy’s feelings by telling him needed “prescription Tic Tacs” because he purchased her CD, and through the poem she works through this ethical dilemma.
The poet Lyrically Written had a tough act to follow, but after performing her poem “Wake Up,” the host said “dope poem, dope glasses.”
Douglas G. Cala, who traveled all the way to the L.E.S. from Shaolin, did a powerful poem entitled “Hawk & Dove,” in which he spoke of conducting “a seance with goals of spiritual awakenings.”
Doug was followed by his Staten Island compatriot, M.A.D., the Many Attitudes of Dennis, who confided to all of E. 3rd Street that his mentor once told him, “Dennis, everything you write is about food and women.” MAD followed that up with a love poem about a woman depicted through fast food restaurants; it began, “Dairy QUEEN, can I be your Burger KING?”
The next poet, Ron, also felt bad–about not having a book to sell like some other poets, so he plugged a self-titled book written by the host, Advocate of Wordz.
In one of his poems, Ron asked himself, “Why do I give advice, but rarely accept my own?” In another poem, in the poetic form of a praise poem, Ron gave thanks to his wallet which allows him to buy lunch. I don’t know if Ron’s wallet is strong enough to buy power lunches too, but if it is he can go out to eat with the politician that followed him, John Blasco, District Leader of the 74th Assembly, Part A.
Does the “A” in Part A stand for “Anonymous”? The next poet, who is unknown (because she left before this journalist could get her name) traveled from Washington, D.C., and did an untitled poem in which she proclaimed “my heart is a volatile drum.”
Another poet followed, who also left before I could get his name, but I do know he’s the host and curator of The Poet’s Settlement. He performed a found poem, comprised solely of TV show titles.
[My unofficial copy editor, Morningstar, later informed me that this anonymous poet is actually Ricardo Hernández.]
The show must have entered the Anonymous Zone because another unknown name graced the stage, and she was the most important of all the unknowns–the lady giving the PSA for Smoothie Ice Cream: We have single cones for $2.
After the anon-phase of the show, a comedian named Mookie shared some funny deadpan jokes.
Although Mookie began by saying, “I’m going to share why I need to share,” I’m not going to share too much of his routine; here’s two of his funniest lines: 1) The reason why it’s called almond milk is because no one can say “nut juice” with a straight face. 2) “I don’t hate you, but I will unplug your life support to charge my phone.” Things got a little more serious with the next performer, Alexis, who lamented in her poem, “Good Hair,”
“They had you believe that your hair could be braided during lunch.” In her second poem, she said, “Beauty is a day…when I’m still standing.”
The next poet to stand on stage was a poet from the Bronx, Destiny, who cried out poetry entitled “The Women In My Life”; she said they taught her to take pain and make medicine to heal herself; the poem closed with the chant: the women in my life saved my life / the women in my life saved my life.
Destiny is part of a collective called Word Masters Poetry and hosts the Mi Casa Writers Corner open mic at Bronx Art Space. One of her collective colleagues, Jaime Knox, caught the people’s attention with not only a cool-ass fedora but also with the line, “Life is a nympho and I keep getting fucked.”
A dual-threat followed, Vero G, who sang Bachata and also rapped.
This set the stage for one of the most down-to-earth politicians, Carolina Rivera. Not only did she give a public shout-out to drinking Henny, but she let it be known that she was repping the LES hard and fighting to secure 3.5 million dollars for much needed renovations to “the building behind me,” the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
When the host of the show came back on, he reminded those of age that they could get an alcoholic drink inside–as long as they drank it inside. Back outside, another Word Master poet, Deguerra, came on.
She told the crowd, “I told myself I would never write about you,” but her hands disobeyed the order. Rebecca Perez was next with an elegy for Toys R Us. The level of talent on the open mic (close to 40 artists) was stupendous; this was exemplified by the singing of bymaddz–even with mid-performance technical difficulties, she rocked on.
She didn’t even have to ask the crowd to do anything like some other performers–the crowd clapped on their own.
Now you can’t have an open mic without BROOKLYN making an appearance: Tha Real came through wearing an “EAT. SLEEP. POETRY. REPEAT.” t-shirt.
He spit that B.K. spit realness, in his poems as well as his closing outro remark: “Remember, Jesus was a Black Man.” He hosts an erotic open mic and show at the Nuyo every first Saturday.
“Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!”
The host wasn’t yelling for someone to stop hurting him; he was yelling for the AfroLatinaX poet, Mercy.
She did a bilingual poem about the first time she went to Honduras with her mother.
Then, a lover of acronyms like myself, Lights Skin, did the poem “P.E.N. – Penetrating Everyone’s Nucleus.”
Sir Charles the Poet penetrated MY nucleus with the revelation of the true meaning behind the Haitian greetings, “Sak Pase?” and “N’ap boule!” The first one is asking, “What’s going on?” and the second is replying, “We’re burning!” The greetings are meant to invoke the harshness of life in Haiti. I was so blown away by this, I asked Sir Charles to write it down in my notebook.
Now when an open mic runs four-and-a-half hours, the journalist covering it is going to miss some of the show due to having to charge his phone.
While I was searching for an outlet, I heard Advocate crack a joke about the peacefulness and diplomacy of the Nuyorican’s neighborhood: “L.E.S. is Switzerland. We wanna fight–we go to Queens.” He also did a food-themed poem about food interfering with his relationship with his girlfriend: Me and Food got beef.
It was hard to hear over my phone crying for electricity, but I think I heard Alexis’ brother, Psycho Johnny, perform. A female voice barely reached my ears over the din of 10% LEFT, 9% LEFT, 8% LEFT… That female voice said, “I once had an accent as thick as my mother’s waist.”
The line was from her poem about an African in America, getting whitewashed. And I’m not sure, but there may have been a singer playing acoustic guitar.
[Instagram has confirmed that this formerly anonymous artist is Ameresoul, member of Word Masters Poetry.]
As my phone took its last gasp, I could hear Eric Crow Draven and his down home preacher intonation; I heard him say, “The easiest way out renders the hardest consequences.”
By the time I found an outlet that as able to bring my phone back to life, the rapper Lazarus was performing his single, “Swerve.”
The next performer, Val Johnson, also a rapper, made the crowd swerve to his catchy braggadocious tune, in which he boasts throughout the hook, “I’M HANDSOME.” I’ll leave it to the ladies in the crowd to agree or disagree.
All I know is there was one line Val said that I vehemently disagreed with; after he said it, about 15 minutes later I saw guys calling their significant others because no one could find Val. And what was the highly insensitive line Mr. Johnson said to the men in the audience? He said, “I’m probably with your girl watching porn.”
Unfortunately, the Nuyo’s permit expired at 5 pm and the open mic closed at 4:59 pm with several poets, who had signed up at the last minute, not getting a chance to perform. With the one remaining minute, the Nuyo staff, who did a remarkable job (especially the host, Advocate of Wordz), were called to the stage for a photo op. But before I could finish taking their picture, they all suddenly started breaking out.
I think the Smoothie lady may have shouted, LAST CALL ON THE $2 ICE CREAM CONES!