Verbal Overview: 2008

Once upon a time, there was no place to see a Poetry Slam in New York City unless you were on the Lower East Side and you happened to end up at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe on East Third Street (now named "Rev. Pedro Pietri Way", after a Nuyorican Founding Poet). All other New York Slams originated here, which is one of the key reasons that this particular Slam was so influential. In fact, in 1989, when the Nuyorican held its first Slam, there were probably only a handful of places in the entire world where Poetry Slam existed at all. Things have really changed.

When Poetry Slam began at the Nuyorican, it was an inclusive form; a generous space for new ideas and poetic sounds to flourish and grow. A wide variety of artists came through in those early days - many who would no longer think of themselves as "Slam Poets" today and many who never considered themselves Slam Poets in the first place. Everything we now think of as Poetry Slam was yet to be discovered at that point, and these performers and writers were at the edge of the form. It was an exciting time to be around! I realised the significance of their important contributions as I have witnessed Poetry Slam become more "predictable" and formulaic over the years.

The audience potential at the Cafe also made this Poetry Slam unique. It gave poets an opportunity to have a large and colorful spectrum of appreciators...young, old, literary (or not) artistic, conservative, multicultural, radical, square, rich or hip - anyone might come through the doors on a Wednesday or Friday night. And there are no particular qualifications for being a Poetry Slam judge, so the wild democracy of it all made for an intense and unpredictable show.

From the time Bob Holman first brought Poetry Slam from Chicago to the Nuyorican, people and styles from all over the place have Slammed on our stage: Chicago style, Los Angeles style, London style...Australian style...people who have now gone on to Film, TV, Broadway, major publishing houses, universities and won all sorts of awards for their work. Because so many faces and names that have "gotten their start" here, this site will commemorate the players with photos and biographies. In many cases, these were submitted directly by the poet or taken from their official website with links noted so you can meet them all for yourself. You’ll also notice that the visual documentarians of the Nuyorican Poetry Slam are here as well...those wonderful photographers and videographers who created the visual records I have so cherished through the years. There’s a lot to say and a lot of people to shout out to. This is a large constellation of stars.

Trillions of words have been set off on Nuyorican’s "biggest little stage in the world" by now, but here’s a few more, just to set the record straight. I have posted my own thoughts, memories and even some academic-style points here, but mostly this story is told by honoring the people who were up on that stage each week, engaging and challenging the world, one poem at a time.

- Clare Ultimo

Love and Gratitude to

Los espíritos de los poetas que vinieron antes que nosotros.
Miguel Algarin, Founder of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, whose courageous commitment to the Word made it all happen in the first place.
Bob Holman, our first SlamMaster, who brought Poetry Slam to the Nuyorican and got the thing started.
Keith Roach, pivotal Nuyorican SlamMaster, who had the plan that built the house...
Lois Elaine Griffith and Carmen Pietri Diaz, mis hermanas poéticas, who believed in my vision for this project.
Sam Diaz for keeping it all together against the odds.
Rocky, devoted DJ and the musical heart of the Slam for many years.

And of course, to Julio, Pepe and all of the dedicated Cafe staff, past and present.