Dillon Brown said he created The BOP Open Mic Night to be a place for good vibes and for young artists to showcase their material. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

"We had a similar start,” Dillon Brown said, amused to compare his own initiation as a poet with that of Langston Hughes, a leading voice of the Harlem Renaissance and a frequent visitor to Long Island’s East End. Like the jazz poetry pioneer, Brown, who grew up in Brentwood and lives in Middle Island, unwittingly stumbled into the art form.

“When Hughes was in grammar school, they needed a class poet, and they picked him. That’s how he got started,” Brown said about a designation that the celebrated artist later attributed to a racial stereotype of Blacks as having rhythm.

For a different reason, Brown also found himself unexpectedly drafted into the pursuit. “Back in high school, I had stayed after for extra help, and the poetry club meeting next door was being photographed that day for the yearbook. They asked if I would join them for the picture, since they only had three students,” he recalled. It wasn’t long before he found himself delivering his poetry onstage in the school talent show. “The audience erupted,” he said. “I felt like a superstar.”

Today, Brown, 35, is a seasoned poet determined to foster local talent. He is the organizer and host of two monthly poetry showcases on Long Island — The BOP Open Mic Night (the acronym stands for Box Office Poets) at Bisou, an event space in Lindenhurst, and Soulful Sundays, staged at Island Soul Restaurant and Bar in the same village.

“You can go to New York City and find an open mic everywhere — and I did,” said Brown. “I wanted to bring that same vibe to the Island, to create a hub here.”

Brown launched Soulful Sundays in 2016. The live poetry event was featured monthly at Theater 294 in Farmingdale until the performance art and entertainment venue closed its doors three years later. “We began with seven people in the audience,” he recalled. “But at its peak, it sold out — with a crowd of 90-plus.”

Brown has clearly been on-trend. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the number of adult poetry readers increased by 76% between 2012 and 2017, while the percentage of younger adults doubled.

Joy Harjo, the poet laureate of the United States from 2019 to 2022, suggested in an interview that the recent surge of interest in the medium may indeed become a renaissance, as often follows periods of devastation like the COVID-19 pandemic. A shift has been signified by the immense public response to Amanda Gorman’s delivery of her rousing poem on healing and unity at President Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration; Lincoln Center naming Mahogany L. Browne as its first poet-in-residence in 2021; the fame of “Instapoet” Rupi Kaur beginning in 2013; the Grammys’ new best spoken word poetry album category; and even spoken-word poet Brandon Leake winning the popular “America’s Got Talent” television show in 2020.

While reading poetry has become a balm for many, spoken word has surely taken hold of its mainstream audience.

“For me, spoken word is about creating healing spaces,” said Jennifer Hairston-Davis, a psychotherapist and poet from West Babylon who hosts a monthly open mic night at Organic Corner Artisan Eatery and Juice Bar in Massapequa. In fact, Hairston-Davis said she began her event as a treatment modality, to complement the therapy sessions she provides for her clients.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy — or CBT — is about changing thought processes, which means changing the words. Words have power. Words can heal. In therapy, my clients tell their stories one-on-one. Maybe I can relate or maybe I can’t. But when someone tells their stories to an audience,” she explained, linking the disciplines, “it is more likely it will resonate with someone, that they won’t feel so isolated in their experience.”

As witnessed by last month’s standing-room-only event with more than 60 attendees, Hairston-Davis has clearly identified a need. “It caught on fire,” she said of the open mic night’s packed house. “For me, it’s not entertainment, but a way to create community that has been lost in the last few years.”

Hairston-Davis has made a point of not charging attendees (reservations can be made through Eventbrite) and has eliminated the competitive element commonly associated with poetry slams. There is also no featured theme or poet.

In keeping with the event’s inclusiveness, more than 20 writers from every walk — and many stages — of life took the stage to spill their truth with up to three poems. They spoke softly and loudly, steadily and dramatically, with or without a rhythmic beat.

Nassau County Poet Laureate and Long Beach resident Paula Curci showed up, delivering a requiem on the AIDS crisis that integrated passages from classic nursery rhymes.

Destinee Jones, a gym trainer who moved from California to Lindenhurst a year ago, performed for the first time, finding community while crossing off an item on her bucket list.

Spoken-word master Dillon Brown mesmerized with an ode to the body, and Paul Kretz of Astoria, Queens, a relative open mic newbie, celebrated eight months of sobriety with a poem that required the rapt audience to repeat, on cue, the refrain “I don’t know.”

Jason Powell, a 26-year-old teacher’s assistant from Rockville Centre, also considers writing and performing spoken-word poems a form of therapy. While others have marched to protest the recent killings of Black men and women, Powell said, he turned to writing “The Grammar Police,” his comment on “how we talk about their deaths, how their names become hashtags.”

His recent participation in Poets Meet Musicians, a monthly open mic event at Lithology Brewing Co. in Farmingdale, not only provided Powell with an outlet for his artistry and emotions, but earned him the evening’s grand prize, as voted by the audience. “My ears perked up when l heard about the open mic opportunity on Long Island. I didn’t know it was a competition,” said Powell. “It is an intimate environment, very tight. I put myself out there, and they heard me and connected with what I was saying.”

“It’s a friendly competition — the winner might get a gift card or merch from the brewery,” said Jose Tutiven, founder of Colored Colors, a business that gives local creatives a platform and hosts the event. Poets, who have largely hailed from Long Island but have also come from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, are required to submit an application through the Colored Colors website to participate. Tickets cost $15, with a free-drink voucher if ordered online. “The charge supports the poets and musicians, who receive a small honorarium,” explained Tutiven, who lives in Bay Shore.

The true support, however, lies in Tutiven’s efforts to create community. “What’s beautiful about art is connecting with the artists,” he noted. “In this intimate setting, audiences can go right up to them after they perform.”

Artists can also find camaraderie among themselves. “Meeting other writers and speaking to them about their works was a phenomenal experience,” Isabelle Caplin, a junior at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor, said of her recent participation in All the World’s a Stage: Love Is a Verb, sponsored by The Church, an arts center in the historic seaport village.

The night’s curated roster featured eight performers, including rapper and spoken-word artist Amir Idris (R.Q.TEK) and author Bill Goldstein.

“A lot of what they shared was poetry, but we also wanted to keep it open and inclusive,” Talena Mascali, programming manager at The Church, said of the diverse offerings. The impetus for the event, Mascali said, came from a roundtable she attended at The Watermill Center, where those gathered discussed the need for an expanded public platform for writers on the East End.

Audience members were also invited to present original works honoring the “Love” theme. Four from the sold-out crowd of over 100 performed, including, according to Mascali, a woman whose rhythmic delivery echoed a heartbeat, and a devout Christian who examined his friendship with Jesus.

Similar to The Church, which invited students to participate in its open mic night, Brown has made a point of visiting schools to build a local spoken-word following. He has hosted poetry events at numerous Long Island college campuses, from Adelphi to Hofstra, and conducted workshops in more than 180 schools in districts from Central Islip to Long Beach.

For its School Day Performance program for Long Island students on April 28, the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is continuing its yearslong relationship with The Mayhem Poets. The hip, New York City-based, theater-trained trio, whose production has been colorfully described as “The Simpsons meets Malcolm X at a Notorious B.I.G. concert,” will also reprise its show for a general audience that evening.

“They come out swinging,” Kristen Poulakis, director of the East End venue’s Arts Academy, said of “My Name Is,” the group’s powerful spoken-word opener. “The kids relate to the idea of self-identity and are particularly inspired hearing the poets talk about themselves in their humorous way. They are like, ‘Oh my gosh, he just ripped on himself.’ ”

Across Long Island, performers are also benefiting from connecting to the audience, as Ahkyra Jackson, a 33-year-old poet from West Babylon, recently noted after her spoken-word debut at Island Soul. “I am a super shy, modest person,” said Jackson, who works as a neighborhood aide for Suffolk County’s Department of Human Services. “Sharing my raw, most personal thoughts and feelings with friends and family, I would worry they would say, ‘Why do you feel this way?’ With strangers, what I said resonated, and they agreed. I like the feedback.”

Mascali, who was a first-time performer in The Church’s open mic event lineup, feels similarly. “To see the audience react, to be moved by your words,” she said, “it can be addictive.”


WHEN | WHERE Last Thursday of month, 7:30 p.m., Bisou, 132 N. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst
INFO $15-$20, linktr.ee/dbrownpoetry1


WHEN | WHERE Last Sunday of month, 7:30 p.m., Island Soul Restaurant and Bar, 105 Sunrise Hwy., Lindenhurst
INFO $15-$20, linktr.ee/dbrownpoetry1


WHEN | WHERE Third Thursday of month, 7 p.m., Organic Corner Artisan Eatery and Juice Bar, 37 Broadway, Massapequa
INFO Free, eventbrite.com

WHEN | WHERE Monthly (check website for dates), 7 p.m., Lithology Brewing Co., 211A Main St., Farmingdale
INFO $15, eventbrite.com


WHEN | WHERE April 28, 7:30 p.m., Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main St., Westhampton Beach
INFO $15, whbpac.org

All the World’s a Stage
WHEN | WHERE July date to be determined, The Church, 48 Madison St., Sag Harbor
INFO $10-$15, thechurchsagharbor.org

"We had a similar start,” Dillon Brown said, amused to compare his own initiation as a poet with that of Langston Hughes, a leading voice of the Harlem Renaissance and a frequent visitor to Long Island’s East End. Like the jazz poetry pioneer, Brown, who grew up in Brentwood and lives in Middle Island, unwittingly stumbled into the art form.

“When Hughes was in grammar school, they needed a class poet, and they picked him. That’s how he got started,” Brown said about a designation that the celebrated artist later attributed to a racial stereotype of Blacks as having rhythm.

Ahkyra Jackson of West Babylon at February's BOP Open Mic Night at Bisou in Lindenhurst. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

For a different reason, Brown also found himself unexpectedly drafted into the pursuit. “Back in high school, I had stayed after for extra help, and the poetry club meeting next door was being photographed that day for the yearbook. They asked if I would join them for the picture, since they only had three students,” he recalled. It wasn’t long before he found himself delivering his poetry onstage in the school talent show. “The audience erupted,” he said. “I felt like a superstar.”

Today, Brown, 35, is a seasoned poet determined to foster local talent. He is the organizer and host of two monthly poetry showcases on Long Island — The BOP Open Mic Night (the acronym stands for Box Office Poets) at Bisou, an event space in Lindenhurst, and Soulful Sundays, staged at Island Soul Restaurant and Bar in the same village.

Elee James of Laurelton, Queens, performs a poem during BOP night at Bisou in Lindenhurst. BOP stands for Box Office Poets. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

“You can go to New York City and find an open mic everywhere — and I did,” said Brown. “I wanted to bring that same vibe to the Island, to create a hub here.”

Brown launched Soulful Sundays in 2016. The live poetry event was featured monthly at Theater 294 in Farmingdale until the performance art and entertainment venue closed its doors three years later. “We began with seven people in the audience,” he recalled. “But at its peak, it sold out — with a crowd of 90-plus.”

The audience at The BOP Open Mic Night at Bisou in February; organizer Dillon Brown says his gatherings have a New York City vibe.  Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Brown has clearly been on-trend. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the number of adult poetry readers increased by 76% between 2012 and 2017, while the percentage of younger adults doubled.

CREATING COMMUNITY

Vanessa Cafiero, aka Vanessa Jude, of Massapequa performs at Organic Corner in Massapequa in March. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Joy Harjo, the poet laureate of the United States from 2019 to 2022, suggested in an interview that the recent surge of interest in the medium may indeed become a renaissance, as often follows periods of devastation like the COVID-19 pandemic. A shift has been signified by the immense public response to Amanda Gorman’s delivery of her rousing poem on healing and unity at President Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration; Lincoln Center naming Mahogany L. Browne as its first poet-in-residence in 2021; the fame of “Instapoet” Rupi Kaur beginning in 2013; the Grammys’ new best spoken word poetry album category; and even spoken-word poet Brandon Leake winning the popular “America’s Got Talent” television show in 2020.

While reading poetry has become a balm for many, spoken word has surely taken hold of its mainstream audience.

Jennifer Hairston-Davis, a therapist and poet, is host at Organic Corner. She began the events hoping it would help her clients. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

“For me, spoken word is about creating healing spaces,” said Jennifer Hairston-Davis, a psychotherapist and poet from West Babylon who hosts a monthly open mic night at Organic Corner Artisan Eatery and Juice Bar in Massapequa. In fact, Hairston-Davis said she began her event as a treatment modality, to complement the therapy sessions she provides for her clients.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy — or CBT — is about changing thought processes, which means changing the words. Words have power. Words can heal. In therapy, my clients tell their stories one-on-one. Maybe I can relate or maybe I can’t. But when someone tells their stories to an audience,” she explained, linking the disciplines, “it is more likely it will resonate with someone, that they won’t feel so isolated in their experience.”

Paul Kretz, aka Spoken P, of Astoria, Queens, performs at...

Paul Kretz, aka Spoken P, of Astoria, Queens, performs at Organic Corner Artisan Eatery and Juice Bar in Massapequa. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

As witnessed by last month’s standing-room-only event with more than 60 attendees, Hairston-Davis has clearly identified a need. “It caught on fire,” she said of the open mic night’s packed house. “For me, it’s not entertainment, but a way to create community that has been lost in the last few years.”

Hairston-Davis has made a point of not charging attendees (reservations can be made through Eventbrite) and has eliminated the competitive element commonly associated with poetry slams. There is also no featured theme or poet.

PERFORMANCE THERAPY

Dani Fallon performing at the Poets Meet Musicians event by Colored Colors at Lithology Brewing Co. in Farmingdale. Credit: Felipe R. Catano

In keeping with the event’s inclusiveness, more than 20 writers from every walk — and many stages — of life took the stage to spill their truth with up to three poems. They spoke softly and loudly, steadily and dramatically, with or without a rhythmic beat.

Nassau County Poet Laureate and Long Beach resident Paula Curci showed up, delivering a requiem on the AIDS crisis that integrated passages from classic nursery rhymes.

Destinee Jones, a gym trainer who moved from California to Lindenhurst a year ago, performed for the first time, finding community while crossing off an item on her bucket list.

Spoken-word master Dillon Brown mesmerized with an ode to the body, and Paul Kretz of Astoria, Queens, a relative open mic newbie, celebrated eight months of sobriety with a poem that required the rapt audience to repeat, on cue, the refrain “I don’t know.”

Poet Jason Powell at the Poets Meet Musicians event at Lithology in January. Credit: Felipe R. Catano

Jason Powell, a 26-year-old teacher’s assistant from Rockville Centre, also considers writing and performing spoken-word poems a form of therapy. While others have marched to protest the recent killings of Black men and women, Powell said, he turned to writing “The Grammar Police,” his comment on “how we talk about their deaths, how their names become hashtags.”

His recent participation in Poets Meet Musicians, a monthly open mic event at Lithology Brewing Co. in Farmingdale, not only provided Powell with an outlet for his artistry and emotions, but earned him the evening’s grand prize, as voted by the audience. “My ears perked up when l heard about the open mic opportunity on Long Island. I didn’t know it was a competition,” said Powell. “It is an intimate environment, very tight. I put myself out there, and they heard me and connected with what I was saying.”

Denise Johns, left, Emma Desulme and Jessica Payes at the...

Denise Johns, left, Emma Desulme and Jessica Payes at the Poets Meet Musicians event at Lithology Brewing Co. Credit: Felipe R. Catano

“It’s a friendly competition — the winner might get a gift card or merch from the brewery,” said Jose Tutiven, founder of Colored Colors, a business that gives local creatives a platform and hosts the event. Poets, who have largely hailed from Long Island but have also come from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, are required to submit an application through the Colored Colors website to participate. Tickets cost $15, with a free-drink voucher if ordered online. “The charge supports the poets and musicians, who receive a small honorarium,” explained Tutiven, who lives in Bay Shore.

The true support, however, lies in Tutiven’s efforts to create community. “What’s beautiful about art is connecting with the artists,” he noted. “In this intimate setting, audiences can go right up to them after they perform.”

LOVE IS THE THEME

Bill Goldstein at All the World's a Stage: Love Is a Verb at The Church Sag Harbor in February. Credit: Courtesy of The Church

Artists can also find camaraderie among themselves. “Meeting other writers and speaking to them about their works was a phenomenal experience,” Isabelle Caplin, a junior at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor, said of her recent participation in All the World’s a Stage: Love Is a Verb, sponsored by The Church, an arts center in the historic seaport village.

The night’s curated roster featured eight performers, including rapper and spoken-word artist Amir Idris (R.Q.TEK) and author Bill Goldstein.

“A lot of what they shared was poetry, but we also wanted to keep it open and inclusive,” Talena Mascali, programming manager at The Church, said of the diverse offerings. The impetus for the event, Mascali said, came from a roundtable she attended at The Watermill Center, where those gathered discussed the need for an expanded public platform for writers on the East End.

The Church's roster featured eight performers, including rapper and spoken-word artist Amir Idris (R.Q.TEK). Credit: The Church

Audience members were also invited to present original works honoring the “Love” theme. Four from the sold-out crowd of over 100 performed, including, according to Mascali, a woman whose rhythmic delivery echoed a heartbeat, and a devout Christian who examined his friendship with Jesus.

TALKING TO SCHOOLS

Similar to The Church, which invited students to participate in its open mic night, Brown has made a point of visiting schools to build a local spoken-word following. He has hosted poetry events at numerous Long Island college campuses, from Adelphi to Hofstra, and conducted workshops in more than 180 schools in districts from Central Islip to Long Beach.

For its School Day Performance program for Long Island students on April 28, the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is continuing its yearslong relationship with The Mayhem Poets. The hip, New York City-based, theater-trained trio, whose production has been colorfully described as “The Simpsons meets Malcolm X at a Notorious B.I.G. concert,” will also reprise its show for a general audience that evening.

“They come out swinging,” Kristen Poulakis, director of the East End venue’s Arts Academy, said of “My Name Is,” the group’s powerful spoken-word opener. “The kids relate to the idea of self-identity and are particularly inspired hearing the poets talk about themselves in their humorous way. They are like, ‘Oh my gosh, he just ripped on himself.’ ”

Across Long Island, performers are also benefiting from connecting to the audience, as Ahkyra Jackson, a 33-year-old poet from West Babylon, recently noted after her spoken-word debut at Island Soul. “I am a super shy, modest person,” said Jackson, who works as a neighborhood aide for Suffolk County’s Department of Human Services. “Sharing my raw, most personal thoughts and feelings with friends and family, I would worry they would say, ‘Why do you feel this way?’ With strangers, what I said resonated, and they agreed. I like the feedback.”

Mascali, who was a first-time performer in The Church’s open mic event lineup, feels similarly. “To see the audience react, to be moved by your words,” she said, “it can be addictive.”

FIND THE SCENE

The audience at Organic Corner in Massapequa. 

The audience at Organic Corner in Massapequa.  Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The BOP Open Mic Night 


WHEN | WHERE Last Thursday of month, 7:30 p.m., Bisou, 132 N. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst
INFO $15-$20, linktr.ee/dbrownpoetry1

Soulful Sundays 


WHEN | WHERE Last Sunday of month, 7:30 p.m., Island Soul Restaurant and Bar, 105 Sunrise Hwy., Lindenhurst
INFO $15-$20, linktr.ee/dbrownpoetry1

Poetry open mic 


WHEN | WHERE Third Thursday of month, 7 p.m., Organic Corner Artisan Eatery and Juice Bar, 37 Broadway, Massapequa
INFO Free, eventbrite.com

Poets Meet Musicians
 

WHEN | WHERE Monthly (check website for dates), 7 p.m., Lithology Brewing Co., 211A Main St., Farmingdale
INFO $15, eventbrite.com

The Mayhem Poets’ Slam Poetry


WHEN | WHERE April 28, 7:30 p.m., Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main St., Westhampton Beach
INFO $15, whbpac.org

All the World’s a Stage
WHEN | WHERE July date to be determined, The Church, 48 Madison St., Sag Harbor
INFO $10-$15, thechurchsagharbor.org

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