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Vibing Again

It's late. I'm writing out of my space at Kickback Studios. I just finished hosting Poetic Vibe at The Fish Market. It was quite the night. I saw comrades in poetry who I haven't seen for a long time. Mary Panza, the featured poet for the night, said that I'm the hardest working woman in poetry. I really want to work less hard but it's hard to do that. I'm still trying to understand this new arts landscape we're in. The other day, I posted on Facebook asking poetry open mic hosts, slammassters and organizers how they were doing. The truth is some of us are not okay. Some of us lost a venue to the pandemic. Some of us moved to a different spot. Some of us never returned as hosts. Tonight, I said it's a sacrifice to do this work but we do it out of joy. When I first started hosting open mics, I really didn't know what I was doing. I just made observations and tried it.

My very first one was at Albany Center Gallery many years ago. I didn't know that many people in the Capital Region and didn't know much about how to spread the word. Maybe we had five or seven people that night including me and the featured poet. I didn't host anything for a long time after that night but I didn't give up. I realized I had to get to know my surroundings a bit more. I went to every open mic I could get to by bus in the Capital Region and just started sharing my poems locally. It was a grand time. I would travel to Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and down in NYC trying to make a name for myself featuring on stages but there's something so intimate about sharing at an open mic. I was a frequent flyer at the then Nitty Gritty Slam which became Cap City Slam. That was back when it was at Valentine's on Delaware Ave in Albany. It eventually ended up at a new home, The Low Beat on Central Ave. Both spots are gone now and so is the slam which had finally ended up at Albany Barn. I went to the Albany Social Justice Center for the long running Third Thursday open mic still hosted by Dan Wilcox. And there were others, at Professor Java's open mic and at The Linda where Urban Guerilla Theater would showcase a variety of talent including poetry. Almost all the time if I wanted to share poetry locally, I'd be in Albany but when I moved to Troy in 2011, I felt this push to try hosting again. By that time, people had a better idea of who I was and I felt a little more confident about building an audience. I even started making my own flyers on Publisher scouring Google for backgrounds and other elements for my makeshift marketing.

I started an open mic called Between the Lines at a sandwich spot called Francesca's. For folks who know Troy, it was where Nighthawks is now. When Francesca's closed, I went on the hunt for a new place but I was particular. I didn't want to rush into it. I wanted to feel something in a space before I pursued it as a new spot. I wasn't sure what exactly I wanted to feel but I knew I would know when I knew it. I walked down River St. one day and there was a place called Enchante Tea House. If you know me well, then you know I love tea, so naturally I wanted to go inside but it was closed. I went there almost every day for a week. I couldn't find the hours but I knew from peeking through the storefront windows, it was a place for me to explore. There was tea, artsy things and a little, cozy sitting area inside…all the makings of space I want to be in all the time and the perfect spot for an open mic. I ran Between the Lines there for two years until that space also closed down and I went back to not hosting for a while.

By the time I started Poetic Vibe, it was my fourth attempt at an open mic. I changed the name, format and the frequency from once a month to every week. And it was hard! But I was excited. My goal was to pack Troy Kitchen like the Nuyorican. I wanted every kind of person in the room. I wanted a safe space to meet and share. I wanted to feature poets from everywhere. I wanted to make Troy a place poets wanted to feature in and come back to. Everywhere I competed or featured, I looked for potential features. And back then there was no funding. I passed a bag around and asked for donations. At the end of the night if there wasn't enough money in the bag to pay the poet I booked, I'd head over to the ATM and pull from my own bank account. I almost never paid myself except for very rare occasions when there was a little extra. I was trying to do what seemed like the impossible. But it worked!

Now I cannot separate Monday from poetry in my mind. The poetry scene is a little different. There isn't a local poetry slam team in the Capital Region and there's no National Poetry Slam. I miss both. My open mic wasn't the only one that took a break or had to move. It took me a long time to figure out much of what I felt was grief and when I posted on Facebook, internally I felt that there are others feeling similarly. Sometimes I'm reaching back to this magical time…those early years when people could see the open mic happening from the windows to later when there were photo booths and a pair of swings, comfy couches and the bustling of food vendors and the bar. Before there was a dividing wall between the stage and the food court we'd hear a very loud number being called periodically in the middle of someone's poem! Do you remember that? If you know, you know. I have so many good memories but I think grief happens when we least expect it. Sometimes we don't even know it's happening but it comes when there is loss. For me, there were multiple things as an artist that didn't come back for me. It really dug into my income and I had to find new ways to make money as an artist. I work hard. But what is the alternative?

I'm still hosting Poetic Vibe. I'm not pulling from my bank account thanks to funding from NEA through the Arts Center of the Capital Region. I'm grateful to create space for other artists and community. I also miss things. My months used to be full of featuring on someone's stage, acting in someone's play, traveling to a poetry slam or teaching a poetry workshop. Now I'm lucky if that happens once a month. I'm tired. And I'm frustrated. But I still show up with a smile on my face as much as I can. Rebuilding is not easy work. I secretly thought to myself the other day, I'll go get myself a "regular" job for lack of a better word. And every time this thought creeps into my head, someone in real life tells me about the work I'm doing, my impact and what it means to them. It always grounds me in what I know to be true. No matter how many times I have to try again, this is what I am meant to do in this life.


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