The poets of San Antonio are out in full force nearly every night of the week, decorating the community with declarations of their souls’ explorations that build bridges and break down barriers. But they’re not just running the gamut at open mics and slams in the city to redefine the peanut gallery and the perception of poetry. They’re wielding their talent across the nation – and they’re just getting started.
Below are a few places some of San Antonio’s poets gather to share their craft throughout the week.
In the midnight moon of The Korova Tuesday night, members of the Puro Slam San Antonio team as well as community members revel and react to the recent readings. The team had just returned from Decatur, Ga. where they placed 10th among more than 80 teams from across the country in the National Poetry Slam competition. Their fearless leader, Jason Gossard, laughed and reminded them “ten minutes to the next round.”
No one actually calls Gossard by his birth name, an audience member exclaimed. Instead, he prefers “Shaggy” and is the Slam Master for Puro Slam San Antonio, a tradition that has been going strong since 1999.
Gossard, like the craft he represents, is unforgiving and unabashed in creating an environment for the purest form of expression.
“It’s always in a bar, and it’s always late at night,” Gossard said. “You have to earn the right to be heard. You can take it as an insult to poetry or you can get better and make the hecklers shut up.”
Puro Slam at Korova, which meets every Tuesday from 9:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., is a competitive model of poetry that lines up hearts against souls, no props or pageantry, just the power of the voice. Competitors accumulate points awarded by an jury comprised of their peers, both for a chance to win the $20 door prize and to represent San Antonio on the national stage.
“(The Korova) is the only venue in SA that has the certification to recruit people to go to competitions,” Gossard said. “Qualifying starts in September and goes through March. Nationals just happened in August, so we start over again next month.”
Diamond Mason and Tomas “Rayner Shyne” Castillo-Roque both took the mic Tuesday evening, fresh off their journey to Nationals in Georgia.
“Amazing, absolutely fantastic,” Castillo-Roque said of the experience. “This time around there were a lot of new faces at Nationals which, to me, is really exciting.”
The poetry scene is alive and well in San Antonio, Mason said, and unveils itself beautifully with a little effort.
“You just have to look for it, there’s a whole bunch of stuff in SA,” Mason said. “It’s very prominent and it’s been around for the last 15-20 years.”
Every poetry spot has a ringleader, a more respected elder so to speak, but that individual doesn’t need a gray beard to contemplatively caress, he just needs passion. “Blah Blah Blah Poetry Spot is a platform, an invented space for anybody,” said twenty-something Rooster Martinez, co-creator of the space. “It’s the chance for people to listen to community members talking to them, see what they’re thinking.”
The pizza joint hosts all degrees and verbal whimsies of the poetry pantheon every first and third Wednesday from 8-10 p.m. It acts as a training ground for high school and collegiate poets, as well as a spot that gives anyone permission to speak their mind.
“A lot of people said it wouldn’t work, it’s just a poetry open mic,” Martinez said, reflecting on the beginnings as Blah gets ready to celebrate its fifth birthday in February. “We do a lot and we’re gonna keep on doing more.”
All poets are products of the hands and hearts that gave them a place to be heard.
“This is someone giving you that opportunity, an open door and a stage and a mic,” Martinez said. “If they find a home here, I gotta keep the roof on, keep the lights on. People rely on this space we invented.”
P.w.A (Poetry without Apology) at The Tavern
For those who decry the portion of San Antonio outside of Loop 410 as devoid of culture, Jamaal Alejandro and the faithful poets of this open mic held Mondays from 8-10 p.m. may have a few words to the contrary to offer.
“This was one of the first venues (where) we were able to do (poetry slams) consistently on the Northside,” Alejandro said. “It’s all about promoting positive change in people’s lives.”
The Tavern looks like your average almost-suburban bar, with a polished yet weathered ambiance, a few pool tables, and a completely unassuming and overly gregarious bartender on duty. Nonetheless, Alejandro has managed to bring new life to the bar on Monday evenings, with such reputable names as the aforementioned Martinez, 2015 SA Poetry Slam Champion Darrell Pittman, and Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson, Second Verse emcee and leader of jazz and poetry at Carmens de la Calle.
“I 100% love to invoke emotional responses from my audience, whether it’s tears, laughter, motivation, or joy, just bringing emotion out of people,” Alejandro said of the rhythm to his rhyme. “It’s awesome to have the opportunity to introduce the Northside to this culture, introduce something different.”
Kinyo Poetry at One Drop Reggae Shop and Juice Bar
While it is easy to argue that there is a not a focused “poetry district” in San Antonio, the beauty of it being spread out is that it offers individuals on almost every side of town an opportunity to get involved. Certainly the newest spot, located outside of Loop 410 on Broadway Street, One Drop Reggae Shop gives a new and multi-dimensional approach to the traditional open mic every Wednesday from 9-11 p.m.
Kinyo has been a musician and writer since high school, but only recently made his way into San Antonio’s poetry circuit. It was his insatiable appetite and desire to serve the greater populace that inspired him to get into slam poetry.
“I felt like a lot of the open mics got these extremely extroverted environments, not as quiet to absorb the poetry,” Kinyo said. “The idea behind Kinyo Poetry was to find poets I like and put it into a context.”
With the spirits of the Rastafarian pantheon adorning the walls instead of literati or rock gods, and fresh pressed juices being served instead of liquid courage, the environment Kinyo has chosen certainly lends itself to a more contemplative and discussion-based poetic expression.
“Poems are truth and guide people deeper into the aware, lucid consciousness,” Kinyo said. “Perhaps more than any other art form, you can put it side by side with provocative issues and dive into people’s minds.”
Each week, Kinyo invites an array of poets who participate in a round table of sorts, gives the stage to local musicians who share their craft, and also hosts a house band and a hip-hop duo that backs up hometown favorite Greg G.
“We curate amazingly deep and conscious poetry (that’s) based around current events,” Latidan said. “We back that up with entertainment, and for audiences that haven’t heard poetry, its a fun kind of commentary.”
The wildest and best-attended open mic held second Fridays from 9 p.m.-12 a.m., the esteemed Second Verse is hosted by Vocab, Glo, and Kinton Armmer. The list fills up quicker than the seats, as the hostesses bring the best of San Antonio, as well as visiting poets and musicians from around the country, to their stage.
If you’re following the ghosts of Kerouac’s spirits, they will most likely lead you to Carmens De La Calle. And on this night, you’ll be mystified. Also hosted by Vocab, this open mic, which is held every last Thursday from 8-11 p.m., harmonizes the soul-improvisations of jazz music with the verbal explorations of the poetry scene. For more information, check out the event page and contact Vocab to get on the bill.
Jazz Poets of San Antonio at The Movement Gallery
If your spirits aren’t satiated, your thirst not yet slaked from the jazz and poetry partnership once a month, get on over to the Movement Gallery, located at the Southwest Worker’s Union on 1412 E Commerce, every Tuesday at 7PM for some of the realest cats who straight up may have heard the Beats in action as young romantics in the late 50s and 60s. Eduardo Garza dons his trademark fedora as he lays the dream beat down, and alongside a trio or quartet, welcomes any and all hip enough to explore their voice amidst the two and four.
Barrio Barista Open Mic at Barrio Barista
This is the only open mic that’s held in a coffee shop. Every second and fourth Wednesday from 8-10 p.m., you can lay back with an Horchata Latte or Barbacoa Grilled Cheese as Victoria Garcia Zapata Klein hosts the evening for the SA Puro Slam team and many others to share their spirits on the stage.
Featured Photo: Anthony “The Poet” Flores performs at Puro Slam at The Korova. Photo courtesy of Adam Tutor.