Poetry readings are a decidedly mixed bag: They can be interminable snooze-fests, or, like Wednesday night's show by the folks from Poetic People Power, exciting, engaging, and inspirational. In the show, seven New York area poets took on the topic of the ongoing gentrification of New York and how the increasing rent and destruction of community space is making it impossible for artists to live here anymore.
The seven poets -- Shetal Shah, Pamela Sneed, Justin Woo, Scottt Raven, Tara Bracco (who also produced and hosted), Andy Emeritz, Vaimoana Niumeitolo were all highly competent and energetic, reading poems commissioned especially for the show.
Shetal Shah sang/read a wonderfully evocative poem about how when she was young New York City used to hum. She loved the grit and grime, and wandered through the city deliriously, her heart about to explode. But now that they've scrubbed the sidewalk down to sterility, she goes out looking for just a little bit of that authenticity. She seeks out the places that still hold the magic, little corners forgotten by Starbucks. (Please excuse the paraphrase of Shah's poem. I was taking notes in the dark. The real thing is great, I assure you.)
Pamela Sneed declares that "Brooklyn is the New Rwanda," and tells us that when she gets mad about people of color being displaced from their longtime neighborhoods, she's often told that she shouldn't take it personally, that it's just about money, or business, or whatever. But, she replies, when people like her, lesbians and people of color, are always on the receiving end, somehow it doesn't seem so arbitrary. How can she help but take it personally?!
Andy Emiritz, of Field Theory fame, provided a welcome musical interlude. Finally, Vaimoana Niumeitolo read a very funny poem about "crois-nuts," those mutant treats which are, or should become, some sort of symbol of the banality and vapidity of the people who are taking over New York. Have a regular doughnut at the Doughnut Pub on 14th St. in Chelsea, a neighborhood institution, before it goes the way of so many other great places before it.
The readings of the various poets were informed by a sense of urgency because, in addition to the pressures that all creative people face in their struggle to stay true to their own individual visions in a rapidly transforming city, their group, Poetic People Power, which has been presenting political poetry for 12 years, recently lost its funding and was only able to put on this year's show due to a fortuitous, last minute donation from a private source. Even worse, the venue, Theatre 80 on St. Mark's Place, a family business that's been in the building since 1963, may soon be in imminent danger. Both recent mayors -- Bloomberg and Di Blasio--raised the building's property taxes, which climbed in recent years from $50,000 to $130,000 a year. Needless to say, if places like this go, then so does the theatre scene.
Far from simply bemoaning the situation, Poetic People's Power does indeed seek solutions to the problems it poses. In response to a show about the water crisis in a previous year, producer Tara Bracco co-founded the Project Solution, which funds infrastructure projects in 11 developing countries. Bracco also put in a plug for Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, and I'd like to second that: It's a great website documenting the ongoing decimation of old New York. Hopefully Jeremiah won't be covering the demise of Theatre 80 anytime soon. Hopefully, too, Poetic People Power will be around for another show next year -- perhaps about the triumph of art and the human spirit over the obscene greed of capitalism! As Andy Emeritz (once again, in my blind-as-a-bat paraphrase) says: The stream of art will not be stopped. Diversity of novel thought bubbles up from below, always making rivers, flowing from the New York underground.