Category: Reviews

A New Slam Shakes Harlem


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.


I’ve noticed in my quest to determine what exactly it is that professional writers do that there is a growing call for writers to compose top five, ten, and fifteen lists. Never in my life did I believe that I would see this as a legitimized genre of writing. Top five lists? Professionally? I find myself alternately amused and consumed with fear by the very idea.

The top five list, as well as the top ten and fifteen lists and its myriad other manifestations, has long held a place in our culture. It is a short but effective means of communicating what items are important (as in, Top 25 Things Never To Do In Front of a Bear,) as well as which things are unimportant, (such as Top 5 Reasons To Watch The Jersey Shore And Immediately Gouge Your Eyes Out), as well as help our society develop in the coming age (Top 101 Reasons To Send Allaya All Of Your Money, and a stamped envelope).

Do I think that it is a full time endeavor, an art form for the dying breed of literary professionals? Eh, no.

Nevertheless, as a self-proclaimed intrepid explorer of the written word in all of its natural habitats, I will add my name to the list of professional writers boasting a list somewhere in their anthologies.

For someone, somewhere, is paying people to do this.

So here we are. Prepare to witness the making of history and the coming of worlds as I make the most minor level of commitment to this undertaking: the top five list.


Allaya’s Super Awesome Top Five List That Propels Her Into The Status And Commensurate Experience Of A Professional Writer

Top Five Words That I Can’t Live Without

1. Definitely. Part of Speech: adverb, interjection. Generally used to sprinkle another layer of sincerity and emphasis into a sentence, as in, “I definitely have no intention of walking to Ohio,” or, more commonly, “Anyone who expects me to walk to Ohio is definitely an idiot.”

2. Sarcasm. Part of Speech: noun, also see way of life. Not typically used as part of a sentence, however, employed frequently as an efficient and succinct means of communicating one’s innermost feelings to another person, particularly one with a demonstrated lack of mental competence. i.e.: “Good job walking into that wall there, buddy. Proud of you.”

3. Book. Part of Speech: noun, verb. A god-like, powerful, and usually inexpensive item with an ability to make you feel, say and do things completely disproportionate to its size, cost, or immediate relevance. May be used for entertainment, information, record-keeping, communication, fortune telling, and therapy.

4. Sister. Part of Speech: noun. A god-like, powerful, and usually inexpensive item with an ability to make you feel, say and do things completely disproportionate to its size, cost, or immediate relevance. Generally gives the best advice, hugs, and Christmas presents out of anyone that you will ever know. Treat well, and use as directed. Side effects may include arguing, missing clothes, twenty year grudges, feeling obligated to do things you’re not entirely sure you wanted to, death, and in rare cases, being tied to your peers with a jump rope.

5. Ineffable. Part of Speech: adjective. A word which generally means difficult or impossible to express, but which really means inherent cop-out of the English language to provide a word that accurately describes what you need it to, and complete absolution from your duty to locate and use such a word even if it does exist. See loophole. i.e.: “Although my book report is due today, I found the myriad feelings and ideas that emerged from such close scrutiny to be completely ineffable, so I simply wrote that word five hundred times. Upon seeing this, my teacher’s fury was ineffable, so she chose to express that by giving me an eff.”

So Tuesday night, I went to the movies to take advantage of my free Optimum tickets, and I saw “Black Swan,” starring Natalie Portman. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie, Black Swan tells the story of Nina Sayers, an extremely talented, yet tightly wound ballet dancer with an overprotective, overbearing mother. The film is absolutely wonderful, and I highly recommend seeing it. I was so impressed by the acting, and the parallel stories of Nina and the Swan of Tchaikovsky’s classically beautiful ballet are a perfect marriage, conveying one seamless tale. The movie incorporates several different themes and makes use of strong visual imagery and a creative, yet moving score to fully enthrall the viewer, and it’s well-executed, though somewhat abrupt ending, leaves you staring at the screen, hoping for another flash into the cinematic landscape of Nina’s world. Although I can generally find a reason to pick apart any film, Black Swan was impeccable. It is a perfect example of what a well told, well-crafted story should look like. I am very careful not to give anything away here; just know that you should run, not walk, to check out this film. There is definitely something in the film for everyone, whether it is the brilliantly choreographed dances, the overall visual appeal of the film, Natalie Portman’s fantastic and visceral performance, or a particularly hot onscreen kiss. Either way, prepare to be talking about this one for weeks.

Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself at the official site.

Anyway, I’m off to the DMV. Share the list (but not without telling me first), enjoy the movie, and happy trails: