Category: Media


A New Slam Shakes Harlem

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No, not the revenge of the God-awful Harlem Shake.

On February 9th, my husband and I were invited to attend a poetry slam being hosted at Lenox Coffee, in Harlem. I was a bit nervous, at first, since poetry slams conjured up images in my mind of androgynous, black-clad poets, all sporting berets and French cigarettes, muttering a few cryptic lines before spurning our finger snaps and sauntering off-stage.

Or something like that.

Lenox Coffee, however, from its decor to its artists, was anything but pretentious. In fact, it was obvious when I stepped through the door that for many people, this was a home away from home. The producer of the event, Kianna, was playing barista as well, and offered to make me a hot chocolate that would blow my mind (it did). I saw people of all ages, races, and backgrounds sipping their reds and blacks, chattering happily as they waited for the show to start.

The first artist wasn’t the emaciated, black-dressed effete I had expected, but a normal person. Imagine that. Rocking the New York staple ski cap (you know we all have one), he delivered an insightful message about what it was like to be of mixed race in America.

It was not hard to fall in love with the evening’s lineup. Varying in intensity, race, age, gender and notoriety, everyone brought a story to life for a completely enthralled audience. We were exposed to the meaning and misperception of race and schooled by a “white boy” who was an extremely clever lyricist. We were taught the meaning of love by a young schoolteacher and skied the speedy slope of the alliterative and alphabetical avalanche of words worked by a cutie called Cupcake. And a young woman, who felt moved to sing a beautiful original song, confessed later to the room that she was not a singer. (We didn’t believe her).

I felt like I was witness to history in the making— one of those places that we’d say later, “Oh, every great poet got their start at Lenox.”

Perhaps my favorite thing about the evening was that it proved every stereotype—especially mine about pretentious poetry slams—completely wrong. The division between the audience, the artists and the staff were completely blurred. Several people, including the other barista on staff, were moved to write and perform spontaneous works, and the sign-up list stayed open all night. We all even got a chance to join in by singing Happy Birthday to our photographer, Damany Campbell.

Lenox Coffee hosts this unbelievable event on the first Sunday of every month, at 60 West 129th Street in Harlem. Details about slams, other events and mind-blowing hot chocolate (so not kidding about that, awesome) can be found here.

One last word of advice—get there early. It’s standing room only by the time they get started, and the mix of Harlem’s freshest talent will definitely knock you off your feet.

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Photos courtesy of Kanji Photography.

If this doesn’t make you smile, nothing will.  This has never failed to make me happy.