Saturday, April 14, 2007

Diversity Series

Poetry Slam Host Bids Adieu
By Benjamin Peryer

It has been called an institution for underground artists by critics, an utterly brilliant diamond in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, but for Nathan Pierce of the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in the East Village, it was home.

Pierce, the host of the Friday Night Poetry Slams at the Nuyorican, is better known at the café as Nathan P. With his cool personality reminiscent of Shaft and an inspiring impersonation of Prince, Pierce has energizing Poetry Slam audiences since Fall 2000.

This coming month will be last for Pierce at the Nuyorican. “It’s time to move on, not forgetting the past, but continuing on to a newly creative future.”

Pierce came across the poetry scene in New York by accident in 1999 when a friend dragged him to a poetry slam. Pierce remembers his reluctance towards poetry saying, “daffodils, and bunny rabbits, I haven’t done poetry since eighth grade.”

Pierce recalls his reaction to the slam as being a life changing moment. “I’m sitting there, listening to this phenomenal art thinking, poetry? This can be poetry?”

The night following Pierce’s first slam he began to start writing the first of would become an impressive installment of poems called “It’s Madness.”

As the poems began to build up, Pierce wanted to learn more about the poetry scene in New York. This is when he told about the Nuyorican Poet’s Café.

What began in the living room of founder Miguel Algarin in 1973 with the mission of bringing New York work into the public eye soon became a sought out form of communication for many young artists in the city. Poetry was a vital sign of a new underground culture in New York and needed to be heard live.

By 1980, the Nuyorican opened in its current home of Thirst Street and Avenue C. The café’s mission of creating a multi-cultural venue for new artists has only strengthened in time. Slam performers at the café have moved onto film, literature and theatre projects, including 1987 Slam Champion Sarah Jones who won a Tony for her one-woman show “Bridge and Tunnel” in 2006.Pierce first entered the café in 2000 after hearing about it through a mutual friend. What he found was a stage he would stand upon every Friday night for seven years.

For Pierce, poetry became a part of who he was while hosting the slams at the café. “It’s such an easy art form to do, yet it has so much power over people.” It has created a certain atmosphere. “There is electricity in the air, like it was a rock concert.” And you can ask a stranger for a seat without being met with stuck up attitudes. Pierce recognizes poetry as an art form that has the power to bring people together.

New York has been a creative feeding ground for young underground artists. Pierce’s well-known poem “It’s Madness” looks at social issues ranging from politics to poverty. The hook of the poem reads “it’s madness, yo, sheer madness.” It looks at the way someone would beg in the street for sixteen hours, but not take a job for eight hours.

“This is madness, I thought, and I wanted to know if anyone else was seeing these types of things.” For him, New York was a fuel for that.

This subject matter comes from Pierce’s daytime job, social services. Pierce works as welfare reform working with programs that put people back in jobs. “This has always extended into my poetry,” he says.

His last night will be a bittersweet one for Pierce and the audience that has come to adore him. His relationship will not end with the café or with poetry, but for Pierce, it is time to continue with his work.

His message with his poetry: “Change yourself, you can change the world.”

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