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White Plains Library Cultivates Slam Poetry Scene

Discourse on sexual orientation, America’s involvement in Iraq, and the angst of growing up escalated into visible drama at the White Plains Library on Wednesday night.

It was nothing new for regular attendees of the library’s monthly “1st Wednesday” performance poetry series.

The “1st Wednesday” series was started by the nationally touring slam poet Eric “ZORAK” Alan about five years ago. The monthly event begins with a noncompetitive open mic, continues with performances by notable poets, and concludes with a slam poetry contest.

Slammaster Alan, 47, strives to keep the “1st Wednesday” scene as inviting to new performers as possible. He asks the evening’s judges to announce why their “ridiculously unfit to judge poetry” before the contest begins. He cues in performance scorings by counting to three using lists of things like actresses named Rachel. And mostly, he smiles.

“It’s all about community because people share deeply personal stuff and that’s priceless,” said Alan, who has lived in White Plains for 41 years. “I was so shy that I was told by a boss that they would pay for me to take an acting class ... The acting teacher helped me find a voice through poetry, and now I’m here with the goal to make more poets.”

Josh Miller, 20, was among five slam poetry performers and seven open mic poets to answer Alan’s call to perform this Wednesday night.

“I’ve done performance before and I’ve always written, so this is a way I can combine the two,” said Miller, before his third “1st Wednesday” performance. “It’s not even a competition. They always reinforce that by being sarcastic when introducing the judges.”

Miller, a Mercy College Student from Yorktown, said that most of his writing has shifted towards performance-style pieces since he began doing slam poetry this February.

“I’m always scribbling things down at work,” said Miller, a waiter at Nicky's Restaurant and Pizzeria , “I tried to not write for a day, and I couldn’t. I wrote what I’m performing tonight.”

Other performers like José Ramos, 30, come to engage in a political debate with “social commentary poetry.”

“One of the main reasons I come is to give a message about the current condition of our country,” said Ramos, a Pleasentville resident. “The wars in the Middle East are unnecessary and ineffective. I had family that went to Iraq and Afghanistan. Thank God they didn’t die or get mutilated, but still, they had psychological damage.”

This week, Ramos, who does office work for a medical company, shared a poem expressing his concern with corporations’ growing political power.

The “1st Wednesday” crew has sent teams to the National Poetry Slam competition twice. A third team will be selected to go to this year’s championship slam in Boston this August.

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