Although we often focus on New York City’s literary scene, countless events occur elsewhere. Newark, New Jersey is home to Brick City Speaks (BCS), a new series hosted on the second Monday of every month, one of many exciting readings that take place in that city. Like other Newark series, BCS creates a community for writers and linguaphiles. BCS also links the students and instructors of Rutgers University with the City of Newark. BCS takes place in Hell’s Kitchen Lounge, located on Lafayette Street, concurrent with Margarita Monday. Hell’s Kitchen is a popular bar in Newark and frequently hosts various events, including comedy and burlesque shows. It was an ideal choice for reading series co-founders, Ines Lopes and Marina Carreira.
Ines and Marina, poets from Rutgers-Newark MFA program, wanted to start a series close to home. Marina, who grew up in Newark, recently graduated from the MFA program and was eager to continue her own involvement with poetry to briefly escape an office job she did not find fulfilling. Her own poetry manuscript examines her relationship with Newark, her Portuguese background, and her grandmother. Marina explains, “I knew immediately that I wanted the series to be held [in Newark], not only because I love my hometown, but because it has always been a city of art and words. From Baraka to Ginsburg to Roth, and artists like Lee Lozano and Philip Stein…I feel like the artistic community in Newark has a heavy presence and is reshaping the way we consider our built environment…reimagining this landscape and creating an arts culture that’s slowly flourishing to rival NYC’s.”
The first hour begins at eight pm, featuring three or four headlining readers sharing poetry, fiction, or memoir. At the July 14th reading, four poets headlined. Anthony Cirilo, a Rutgers MFA candidate, read first. Anthony shared poems of melting gods and thunderous moth wings while a storm wreaked havoc outside—though it did not deter a crowd. Cassandra Krawitz, a current undergrad student at Ramapo College, recited poems about sunsets, scarves, and Game of Thrones. Next, Safia Jama, another RU MFA student and a Cave Canem Fellow, delivered lines of blues and thoughts on skin color (Follow her notebook in-progress: TheSafiaJamaExperience.Wordpress.com). The fourth reader, Mia X, is currently the host of People’s Open Mic—Newark’s longest running opening mic reading. She also writes and produces Blue Floozie Waterfalls, her one woman show. Mia X performed poems about Newark and the self, asking the audience how deep their blue is.
After nine, BCS shifts to an open mic, open to anyone. July’s open mic featured five readers, each sharing one poem. Rutgers alum, Sean Battle, who also performs at People’s Open Mic and Poetry in the Park, read first. Sean’s first poetry collection The Forest of Bricks will be out this December from Mylk ‘N’ Honee Publishing. Dana Jaye Cadman, another Rutgers alum, followed. She is the founder and editor of Selfies in Ink, works as a poetry editor for The Periodical, and co-curates Banquet: A Reading Series in Brooklyn. Dana’s undergraduate student, Cindy Goncalves, performed too. The last two readers were Mecca Asturias, involved in readings throughout Newark, and Victoria Russell, an assistant at Dodge Poetry Festival—the largest poetry festival in North America, which will be in Newark this October 23rd to 26th.
The open mic portion connects BCS to the community of Newark. Marina commented, “The only poets and writers I know intimately are from the Rutgers Newark MFA.” Thus, it makes sense that she began choosing her colleagues as headlining writers at first. However, by looking at the lineup from July, it is clear that she has been and continues to be enthusiastic about meeting new writers in Newark. Mia X and Cassandra read at May’s open mic and were then asked back to headline in July. Sean and Dana both headlined in previous months before reading in July’s open mic. Marina further commented, “I am aware of other local writers and spoken word artists in Newark and surrounding areas. I wanted to promote not only RU voices, but voices from the local community.” Jorge Sanchez, a resident poet of Newark, read at the first open mic, and Marina “was blown away by his work, [so they] kept in touch.”
Jorge is now co-curator and co-host of the series alongside Marina. “Because we work well together and love poetry, he seemed a great fit for BCS,” stated Marina. Jorge is the cofounder, along with artist Brendan Mahoney, of a DIY artspace called Apt. 16. Their mission is “to foster an environment where artists can experiment, produce work, engage in interdisciplinary discussion, and exhibit outside of the predominant commercial pressures of today’s artworld.” Apt. 16 held meet-and-greets with then mayoral candidates Shavar Jeffries and Ras Baraka as part of their Art and Politics series, and their most recent exhibition, “Yes, but less!” can be viewed at YesButLess.com.
BCS further promotes communities in Newark by encouraging undergraduate students. The series breaks barriers between “professional” writers and writing students through their open mic. In June, Dana Jaye Cadman performed her poems and one of her college students from Rutgers read after. Both women then read in July’s open mic, sharing poems of love and self.
Serena Lin, a guest host in July, brought her Intro to Creative Writing class the previous month. Eight of her fourteen college students read their work. July’s headliner, Cassandra, was enrolled in my poetry and writing courses last year and came out to my reading in May, signing up for the open mic. Each time she read, she displayed her talent for performance, and all of these students demonstrated how writers can learn from each other regardless of teacher/student status.
Often times, instructors distance themselves from the writing process in the classroom by not sharing their own work or their own rejections. However, through this series, many students are not only able to see their instructors perform, but also perform alongside of them. Moreover, as Serena stated, “As a creative writing instructor, it’s our job to foster engagement with writing…I can’t think of anything more participatory, challenging, or rewarding than being encouraged to read during an open mic, especially one located in your own backyard. Many of the students told me the following week that they felt that the experience was an electric charge when it came to their poetics.”
Be sure to check out BCS’s next reading on August 11 to become part of this electric community. English Kills Review contributor Vincent Toro, Michael VanCalbergh, Paula Neves, and Courtney Kelsch will be headlining. For more information on BCS or to sign up for an open mic, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow them on Twitter and Instagram @BrickCitySpeaks, and at BrickCitySpeaks.Wordpress.com