iPoet: It’s Losers Take All

Homer field advantage: National poetry slam finalist and LOSER SLAM co-curator NICOLE HOMER hosts a special workshop and performance poetry program during the final iPoet event of 2011 on June 11.  

Every Thursday night, tucked away in a corner of the oldest, most venerated, crazy beautiful coffeehouse on the entire New Jersey Shore, a revolution comes equipped with rules of etiquette. In the city that gave the world Mailer, Parker and Poet Laureate Pinsky, the future sometimes speaks with a floorboard creak or an attic draft — and in this arena of competition, it’s the “Loser” that walks away victorious.

To put it another way, “we heart irony.”

A year-round institution that’s likely done more than anything to keep the Long Branch Lit-light lit in a fast-changing tech/ media/ communication landscape, the thing called LoserSlam has embedded itself into the quirky crannies of The Inkwell like a restless poltergeist — a poetrygeist, if you will. On the afternoon of Saturday, June 11, LoserSlam co-founder Nicole Homer invades the Long Branch Free Public Library with the full faith and fury of her performance poetry cooperative, as guest artist and host of the fourth and final iPoet event in 2011.

Kicking off at noon with a special workshop session inside the library building at 328 Broadway, this expanded edition of the local poets’ showcase coincides with the recent introduction of a new Teen Poetry Workshop feature, incorporated as a pre-show feature on those Inkwell Thursdays — a feature that Nicole characterizes as having attracted the participation of some promising young writers, although that doesn’t necessarily translate to a roomful of brave young public speakers.

Whether you’re a published poet or are just beginning to find your voice, you’re invited to bring examples of your writing to the workshop portion of the program, scheduled to run from 12 to 1:30pm inside the library’s Community Room. Registration is open to all ages, and topics touch upon all aspects of the creative process — from composing an effective poem, to delivering a compelling spoken word performance.

Following a break for conversation and some of those authentic Long Branch “Tomato Pies,” (hey, when in Rome…) the iPoet program resumes at 2pm with an opportunity for workshop participants to share their words in performance. While the afternoon is not a competitive “slam” per se, it’s a helpful forum for anyone who’s curious as to whether their own compositional kung fu stands up in the often convoluted transition from printed word to projected idea.

A published author (represented in such major anthologies as Not a Muse: The Inner Lives of Women and His Rib: Poems, Stories & Essays by HER) and an educator who’s competed nationally as a finalist in such major competitions as the Individual World Poetry Slam and Women of the World Poetry Slam, the Freehold-based Homer will be conducting the workshop as well as serving as emcee for the performance. We have every reason to expect that she’ll be energizing the audience with her own spoken wordworks, a good example of which can be seen here.

We also have it on good authority, if not with signed affidavit, that Nicole will do her best to persuade her fellow “night people” in the LoserSlam combine to venture out blinking into the noonday sun and join in the fun. It’s a core group that comprises 2010 Grand Slam Champion Thomas Tre G. Gilbert, as well as Jersey City Slam host Ben “Broken English” Figueroa, co-Slammaster Connor Dooley, and stylin’ singer/songwriter Xenia Sky — although she could be excused for attending her own CD release party on that date at The Bitter End.

The LoserSlam braintrust has racked up serious mileage beyond the borders of Jersey, scoring big in such serious meet/competes as the National Poetry Slam (NPS) — and to hang around the Inkwell for any of those Thursday throwdowns is to step into a serious scene that, while it can often be laced with a wicked humor, comes with its own strictly observed protocols. So, woe betide the aspiring Loser (as a helpful damper to runaway egos, contestants strive toward the lowest possible score of ZERO) who goes over their allotted time by 11 seconds, who doesn’t stick around to hear the other poets, or who stiffs the ever-supportive ‘kwell krew.

Those who bitch about the often relentless me-me-me nature of the modern poetry slam should note that tournament-level spoken word slammers — and the Losers have proven their mettle on the most demanding of playing fields — can back up any amount of artist-ego bluster with the crowd-command skills of the most road-tested standup comic or superstar trial attorney. In short, these ain’t your grandpappy’s poets (Dickinson wouldn’t last two minutes, and Rimbaud would be banned for life when he tried to skulk out on his tab) — and so confident in fact are the  LoserSlammers, they’re lobbying the NPS to consider the Long Branch/ Asbury Park area for the coveted host community slot in two years.

All we know is that Nicole Homer, like her iPoet predecessor Rock Wilk, is the kind of post-millennial poet that you’d gladly have battling on your behalf as you crouch down behind the nearest overturned cafe table. At the very least, you’d want very much for her to lead your Debate Team, as you hang back in figurative Right Field and pray that nobody hits one to you. To make things abundantly clear, the workshop and the performance program are in the best of hands — and to observe the evolution of her own, increasingly assured spoken word delivery is to be assured that this is one still-young teacher who has some real wisdom to impart.

The Long Branch Library’s Kate Angelo is the go-to if you’re going to take part in iPoet’s June 11 workshop and performance. (Photo by Carl Hoffman)

Of course, at the heart of the June 11 event (sponsored by a public/private/volunteer partnership under the aegis of the Long Branch Arts Council) is a chance to see and hear the work of some talented and creative young writers, from area grade schools and colleges — and there’s still time for poets of all ages (particularly those from grades 6 through college level) to get on board. To obtain a sign-up form or find out more about iPoet, contact Kate Angelo, director of Outreach and Adult Programming at Long Branch Free Public Library, at kangelo@lmxac.org.

The Loser Slam founders (who’ve declared that “poetry should be available to everyone” — and that “when presented in an engaging and lively fashion, everyone is at heart a lover of words”) will continue their new series of 7:30p, teen poet workshops on the third Thursday of each month (next one’s scheduled for June 16 at the Inkwell) — and on the evening of Friday, July 3,  they’ll be starring in a special Evening with Loser Slam at that nimble nickelodeon in downtown Asbury, The ShowRoom.