Bob Holman is the proprietor of the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City. He has been around the block so many times you’d say, He’s walking in circles – but, they’re all the Right Circles! Such as the St. Marks Poetry Project, the Nuyorican Poets Café, and the new applied poetics program, Study Abroad on the Bowery. Along with Bill Adler and Sekou Sundiata he founded Mouth Almighty/Mercury Records; with Josh Blum and Mark Pellington he created the PBS series, “The United States of Poetry.” He teaches at his alma mater, Columbia, which, he says, means “Now I am the guy I used to laugh at.”
A few years ago we asked teenage poet & open mic host Eman for her definitions of hiphop, rap, performance poetry, spoken word & poetry slam, and she began by talking about open mics. If you’re looking for the definitions of the New Poetry, Bob’s really the one to ask first. So... let’s ask him, and then check his poem, “Performance Poem,” written, so he says, because there’s no such thing!
OPEN MIC: BOB’S DEFINITION
Why is the art of poetry different from all other arts? Because every night at hundreds of poetry spots around the country there exists the phenomenon of the Open Mic, a meta-metaphor for freedom, a place where your art can be presented to the public at large (well, granted, the audience is usually other poets waiting their turn to get at the mic), without having to submit said work to an authorizing board, without having to present your resume, pay a registration fee (you may have to pay to get in, but once in it’s not a penny more to be poet of the moment when your name is called), no credentializing of any sort. Ye Olde Town Meeting has evolved into the Open Mic -– here you’ll hear every kind of poet, every genre of poetry. Here the words of the Declaration of Independence ring true: All humans are created equal –- so long as you don’t go over the time limit!
You can have an open mic anywhere –- one of the greatest was Emily Glen’s, held at her apartment, 77 Barrow Street in the Village, NYC. Poets in the bars is a natural habitat, others prefer coffee shops, but there are Open Mics in church basements, in laundromats, in high school cafeterias. Opens occur before slams, after slams, and sometimes are slams. You can have themes, you can have a single open with many of the poets invited. Many opens have a featured poet or poets –- sometimes they are guests from out of town or from a different scene, more often they are offered to poets who are regulars with talent. Mics are used because chips are implanted at birth which make audiences pay more attention to amplified voices. But no way are they required. It’s perfectly cool to have an open mic without a mic. If poets complain (poets always complain), you can make one out of cardboard, or create a Surrealist mic out of thick air.
Poets arrive at open mics like bears to honey. Swiftly doth a scene collect. You are the host because you love poetry, see service as part of the poet’s job description, and prefer to organize things rather than have someone else organize you. In the old days, hosts never read at their own readings, but these days people feel it’s ok -- just be brief. You’ll need to get the word out about these events that are about getting the word out. Flyers are good, postcards, put them up in bookstores and libraries and coffee shops. Take a picture of the Greatest Poet of All Time (you?) reading at the mic, or maybe by the waterfall just out of town.