Around 8:15pm at night on the first and third Thursday of the month, the poets smoke their cigarettes outside of Espresso Joes on West Front Street in Keyport. The features have just finished their sets and now they stretch their legs and bullshit in the breeze from the bay. Inside, the other poets sign their names on the open mic list and barrage the barista Ross with orders of coffees.
There are a lot of us now.
Nine months ago we put on a poetry reading with nine people on the bill at a coffee shop in the town over. I had frequented an open mic there a couple years before that died out but that night I was expecting eight people to come out. Instead forty people crammed into the little coffee shop crowding all of the chairs, sitting on the floor, and hollering over the chatter of coffee beans grinding. We read in front of the cash register and left the show excited and confused. There was already a loose poetry scene in New Jersey. Some pockets on the Jersey Shore in Toms River and some big activity in the North with a couple mics and slams scattered through the middle. The same folks came out to these things week in and week out. They would have fun for two hours and go home forgetting about the night before.
Something was different. The people who came out to this one weren’t the clean-cut Button Poetry crowd that gathered around most of the mics. They were raw. Crude. Real cats that were tired of the state that poetry had fallen into. Tired of the boring droning of older academics about their flowers blooming in the gardens of houses with white fences. Tired of the copycat point grubbing anthems of the poetry slams where every poet tackled the same issues with more and more dramatic hand gestures and teary eyed inflections. Tired of virtue signaling and the censoring of the new wave social justice death traps that some of the last of the New Jersey coffee shops had fallen into.
We found a new home at Espresso Joes a mile down the road right in the middle of Keyport, a bay town that I had live in my entire life. I had tried to get a poetry night going for sometime but the old owners didn’t want to hear it. Eventually we were given a night to try and do something and it worked. We started with a handful of people and now we fill the place every other Thursday. We’ve watched amazing poets perform, we’ve seen someone strip on the mic, we’ve seen people break into madness and shred themselves for us. Something magical has started here.
It’s 8:20pm now and the break is winding down. Scott Gregory, our own local madman is ranting about the disco cover band across the street, Cord Moreski is talking to other poets about putting them onto his own show in Asbury Park, Charles Joseph and Brandon Diehl talk behind cigarettes squinting in the setting sun. Moly and Jon are looking over their poems preparing for the open mic. Rich chews on the end of a wooden pipe playing with his beard as he debates Tom Gullstrand on the last features’ newest poem. Danny Brown scribbles into his journal tapping his feet to the beat of the disco drums.
I put my arm around Rebecca, kiss her forehead and we smile at the scene that has started to boom in Keyport. It’s 8:25pm and we all go back inside.
Damian Rucci is a spoken word poet hailing from the Northern New Jersey area. Past events led him into the world of spoken poetry, as if by a chance with faith, and hasn't looked back since. Take a glimpse into his world through social media and look into his events (and certainly try to go to said events).