Brooklyn Lager at the Bowery Poetry Club

Outside the Bowery Poetry Club with Levi Asher, Judih Haggai and others, August 2003

Granted: ticket to America!
What’s an ex-pat to do when given such a gift?

Immediately, she plans to meet up with a poet or two.

Adventure 2:
Bowery Poetry Club: Brooklyn (the city), Levi (Brooklyn the man), Fire Cracker and the gang

Amazing (sun)day in NYC. Light easy on the face – city empty of strollers. We, an enthusiastic trio, including, Gad, jazz musician; Andrea, rehab counsellor and myself, an excited human being with some poems up her sleeve, were off for the Bowery Poetry Club.

The Bowery Poetry Club | 308 Bowery, New York, NY 10012 | Foot of First Street between Houston & Bleecker across the street from CBGB | F/V train to Second Ave | 6 train to Bleecker | 212-614-0505
“Serving the World Poetry”

We knew we were there when we saw a huddled figure in a black t-shirt chalking a few lines of Walt Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry across the sidewalk leading into the club. He introduced himself as Gary (Gary Mex Glazner), who was hosting the day’s Event.

The Event: Sunday, August 10 2003
1:00pm – 6:00pm
Brooklyn on the Bowery Poetry Party! $5
Open Brooklyn Reading from 1 to 2pm
Featured Brooklyn Poets 2 to 5pm
Brooklyn Poetry Slam (Best Brooklyn Poem Wins Famous Bridge)
from 5 to 6pm.
Sponsored by Brooklyn Lager.
Confirmed Brooklyn Poets thus far: Todd Colby, Cheryl Boyce Taylor, Poppy, Bob Heman, Bob Hershon, Regie Cabico, Daniel Nester

The Bowery Poetry Club is a small pleasant club, a few tables for coffee and such at the front and just past the bar there’s a sound room and the theater. The famous artwall is on the left and the small hall contains maybe 100 chairs with a low stage. Walt Whitman, in red artbulb radiance, glows from above blessing the stage.

Judih Weinstein Haggai at the Bowery Poetry Club August 2003

As we walked in, the place was in ready for the afternoon reading. I checked out the art and did some snooping around to calm myself. I was finally at a New York poetry club about to meet up with people I’d admired online for about four years.

At 1:00, exactly, Gary got on stage, foot geared to his collection of sound pedals and began his unique rendition of Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” He played the poem, he echoed the poem, and then he allowed the poem to introduce the First Annual Brooklyn Poetry Festival.

He officially introduced the Open Mic segment of the program, and Gene in jeans mounted the stage. She read her subway scene poem dedicated to a Chasid and proceeded to elucidate the longings of a 50 year-old woman. She smiled and was done.

There was a hiatus while people entered the hall. Two of those people moved the earth as they made their appearance: Levi and Firecracker had arrived. They announced that Ironhands had called to say that he was on his way, as well. Things were picking up. Firecracker entertained us with tales of their date the night before with Graham Seidman, and allowed me to photograph her.

Levi came back to the table after greeting various folks and then Gary announced Firecracker. She bopped into the spotlight, finding her stage feet, and began straight into:Down at the Motherfuckin Bourgeoisie

This, a hot poem, was versatile and could easily expand into voices, loud or choral. It could go anywhere, day or night, and I hope Firecracker takes it for a mean, far ride near a soundstage near you. She did it well – alive and confident, playing the refrain enthusiastically to a smiling audience. We all felt the energy.

Next, Levi rose to read, but Gary pulled a fast one by first introducing me as “someone he’d never met before” (Later on I realized that a few of us would be the recipients of this same laid back intro)

I had a range of poems I’d plan on reading – mostly short. I began with When Battle Cries Weep, a poem written during some of the heaviest shelling of the Intifada madness this past winter of 2003. My voice began a long trek from my belly on out towards the faces in the audience. Whitman over my right shoulder, for solidarity, I proceeded with:

a easy going rap about the cool people of the summer hot town of Tel Aviv: Peak of Hot Style; Screech Oud, written while listening to a song by Talvin Singh, playing the hot times of war with the powerful drone of the oud to quell the pain; and then Cry Sis, a poem calling out to brothers and sisters worldwide to cry together in a time of Crisis.

I mellowed into my favourite of recent times:Sit (f)ar Sitar. This poem requires dance, and I hope one day to animate it.

Most certainly time to bring out the flavour of the Black Forest, I brought a piece from the wonderful poet, Panta Rhei called Long Gone. This is a soft poem of nature, longing and separation. Actually, firecracker liked two other panta gems: the wanderer and wandering, but they remained far away on the table with her, while I, onstage, was shuffling through pages til I realized where they were! Long Gone, then, steadily with me in my heart since the moment I’d read it, was most lovingly offered to the audience.

I finished off with two other poems: one, a request from my son, Rahm: Chomped Words Broiled and Discarded – a surreal picnic piece and another that Levi liked: New york City in August – 3: Ain’t No Time to Stop. This, a short haiku, was written while wandering through Washington Square Park with Graham Seidman and Gad, who recalled the days when the park was a center for backgammon, chess and comraderie though we saw none the day we were there.

I stepped down, and Levi, fully ready (!) was on! Levi, with the greatest ease, took over the spotlight and promised us a TV poem to remember. The TV poem innovation, Levi’s baby, is a genre that links generations with reverence and empathy. This Brooklyn day saw Levi, with a finely honed eye probe the nooks and crannies of “The Honeymooners” lore and legend. He read Garbage Can Symphony with thoughtful and lively introspection, as TV viewer merged with the personae we’ve come to call our own. Well done and well received – Levi took the audience wandering through Brooklyn nostalgia.

Levi, off to bring well-deserved samples of Brooklyn Lager, came back with the news that another Litkicker, Pelerine, had been quietly catching our words from the Bar. Hence, I met the woman of the flawless ivory skin, who continued to watch the proceedings, with the cool objectivity of a journalist, enjoying the scene together with her nephew Joe.

Back on stage, Gary introduced Cheryl Boyce Taylor. Cheryl, mother of Levi’s favorite hip hop artist (Phfife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest)came on stage to offer two poems, soon to be published in her new book. With her first tones, I understood fully why Levi was so excited to appear on the same bill as Ms. Boyce Taylor.

She poeted, playing words as all words would wish to be played, launching words through music and tone – blending nuances to take us along with her to the spaces of her private geography. She became the steel bands, the citizenry, the life of her creations.

Ordinary Joe came on next. The name was born when he had to sign up for a slam and grabbed the first low-profile name that popped into his head. He won that slam, and we found out why. No pages, no notes, nothing to stop the connection between him and audience. Joe told the tale of how a mentor eased him into slamming.

This one-man theater of multi-voiced drama hooked us all onto his experience.

Who dared follow a poet like the Joe? Our litkickin Ironhands. Tony came on stage improvising a title to woo Brooklyn Lager (which is a truly delicious golden homebrew that demands wooing). Hence the audience was treated to: MMMm, Brooklyn Lager or Rain in Brooklyn, and as an encore, New York City in August.

Gallantly snatching up his lager, Tony jumped offstage to enjoy his accolades.

What could three litkickers do to repay him? It was obvious: Corso’s Bomb had to be read.

Recovering, we sipped some Brooklyn lager while enjoying poets including Bob Hershorn, Bob Heman, Poppy, and Daniel Nestor (who waxed stupendous with his celebration of Queen) Regie didn’t sing as Poppy had done on stage, nor did he use sound effects as Gary had done, but he used his wonderful imagination to take us there. His Ode to Nina Simone convinced me that I, too, could be saved if she were only to sing to me at my lowest point. Regie had been there and led us out with a hand smoothing Nina’s hair and our own neediness. Regie was magic.

This article, though not short, barely begins to brush the details of the afternoon at the Bowery Poetry Club.

Yet, as I sit in the midst of a Beer Sheva cafe, with people of all heights, nationalities strolling by; as I watch Ethiopians, Moroccans, Bedouin, Arabs, Russians and the Black Hebrews of Dimona; as a man with a peg leg hunches by, I recall the quiet joy of a rapt audience listening to vocalists in the most intimate sharing of a common language. Now, here, not one word of English is uttered, yet the New York City Bowery hums in my mind.

What is my opinion of that afternoon? Only one thing can be said: I want, I need more!

Care to see more pictures? Click here

To catch Adventure 1, click onto Ticket to America! Adventure 1: 2nd Avenue Deli with Graham Seidman.

Gary Mex Glezner's open mic at the Bowery Poetry Club
Levi, Caryn and Judih at the Bowery Poetry Club, August 2003
Hanging out at the Bowery Poetry Club

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!