Musings of a Derelict Poet
by Damian Rucci
I grab the mic with my hand and look out into the crowd. There are about fifty poetry fans bunched up together, some in the hallway, stuffed back in the doorway. and up against the counter at Dinos. They have been shoveling Italian food into their mouths all night and chasing it down with red wine and tonight the red wine flowed heavily so it has become a rowdy room. If there’s one thing I love more than a poetry reading, it is a poetry reading in a rowdy room. Bars, concerts, the streets of New York City— bring it on!
“Yeah, yeah, slam poem, slam poem!” A drunkard says from the crowd, his wine spilling over his hands onto the floor.
He had been doing this shit all night.
“Rowdy one today,” I say into the mic. “You’re lucky this isn’t Poetry in the Port or I’d fucking drop kick you. I think poetry and moshing go together” The crowd laughs and the drunk guy joins them toasting his glass high in the air.
“Now let’s make this a dignified reading. I’m going to read some real serious poetry. Need the audience to be real cool,’ I say and they half believe me. Even the drunk fuck. He calms himself down and sits back in the seat.
“Okay, this poem is called Tale of the Phantom Shitter” and the entire room loses their minds.
We walk outside after the reading- sweaty, invigorated, and full of smiles as the rowdy room spills out into the Asbury Park streets. Cord, the poet who hosted the reading, walks out and gives everyone a hug. He’s literally the nicest guy on the planet and is always all-smiles. A dozen or so of the audience surround us and ask for our social media, gives us hugs, and hits us with the token “I normally don’t like poetry but that was fucking awesome!” Once they disappear it is just us poets again—like it is at the end of every night and we can’t play cool anymore. We cheer out, clasp each others hands, and bellow out into the Asbury streets.
Charles Joseph, the founder of Indigent Press, can’t stop grinning at the turn-out. For some reason, tonight, he chose to dress like fucking Heisenberg from Breaking Bad. He rocks it though. We’re all there! Chelsea Palermo, the first one to put on a real long lasting open mic in the Bayshore, Gregory Schwartz the token madman of Asbury Park whose poetry is a fire flashback to the Beat days, Rebecca, the girl with blue hair, who squeezes my hand and kisses the crook of my neck. Maggie “Danger” Brown muses in the street, ecstatic with her feature and then there’s Tara Tomaino a new comer on the scene and Justin Scott, who we call Hash Gordon and who has pledged to be my groupie or something.
Four years ago I met Cord at an open mic that Chelsea hosted in Matawan. We both dug each other’s work and vowed that one day we would put on our own readings and make a real scene that expressed poetry and epitomized the true post-Whitman vibe.
Nothing happened after that. An open mic here or there. Up north in Jersey City they had a slam scene and down south in Toms River they had some heat kicking in the Revolutionary Lounge that Chris Rockwell was running but in between there was zilch. Loser Slam in Red Bank was a monthly thing for those who were into slam but we weren’t really. We weren’t trying to compete, we weren’t trying to write super political non-gender binary poems, we were trying to capture the zeitgeist of our times. Fuck the classroom, we weren’t trying to get studied or obsessed over. We were trying to appeal to the guys and girls at the bar after work nursing on their second drink to kill the existential criss that subdues us all—man, we were trying to take the realness that New Jersey is known for and put it into words.
Somehow we did it.
I’m not sure if it was my reading series in Keyport, Poetry in the Port or Cord’s Words on Main in Asbury or if it was the founding of Indigent Press or if it was the internet or just everything put together but somehow everything just kicked into gear. People started to come out in droves and actually watch what we were doing. They were blown away by our energy, our passion, our rebellion to the literary machine and our resilience in the face of all the people we pissed off. AND THERE WERE TONS and still are tons. The old guard doesn’t like that we use social media like savages, we do open mics every night and do features non-stop, that B. Diehl books us readings in Easton, PA. It scares them. But we can’t stop now.
For the first time in ages, the Bayshore of New Jersey is getting some actual attention. People actually have something to do besides sitting at the bay and doing heroin. They are watching a group of souls actually strive to do something and rejecting the stigma that the area is known to cast. Yeah, Ginsberg came from Newark and Springsteen made his name on the Jersey Shore but since then nothing has really flourished except for the reality shows that desecrated our image. We have a true artistic voice. A true color to our poetry that the rest of this country needs to see.
Every single night more people come out to the readings, some are poets and others are just everyday folk looking for something to do. Our roster of working poets continues to grow as we work hard to promote each other and teach the younger crowd craft. Charles Bivona, an old veteran of the NJ scene back in the 90s took the stage for the first time in twenty years the other night and almost brought the roof crumbling in with his poetry. The night after, a construction worker read some of his love poems on the open mic in Asbury.
This started off as just a way for us to find venues for us to read our poems but it has turned into a huge family of eclectic madness that supports each other better than any real family I have ever known.
We can’t to stop until the dirty name that the word poetry has gained is burned away.
We can’t stop because for the first time in our lives we are actually doing something worth it.
We can’t stop because there are people who are inspired by us and who say they need our art.
We are the Nj Poetry Scene and we’re not going anywhere.