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A Hipster's Dilemma

JazzPoetry weds the beatnik arts.


Jazz or poetry? Poetry or jazz? What's a retro hipster to do when the choices are this overwhelming? JazzPoetry allows hep cats to have their espresso and drink it, too. Founded by local poet and musician Vince Robinson in 1998, the gathering takes place on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at Robin's Nest.

"Originally, I just wanted to provide a venue for open-mic poets to do their thing," Robinson explains. "It's evolved into an opportunity to showcase [established] poets. It's a place for poets and musicians to interact."

With pianist Robinson and his bass/drums/sax combo accompanying any reader who wants musical backing, the scene can sometimes become a disharmonious one. "You get varying levels of experience," he says. "Some people aren't comfortable with music. They get distracted by it. But we usually allow readers to dictate what the music is going to be. We will [focus] on the actual key they speak in, and based on the way they are reading and what they are reading about, we will try to complement what they're doing."

Robinson first participated in open mics in 1997, when there were only a few options available locally. In reaction, he formed 3rd Friday Soul Poetry at Another Level to give himself and other local spoken-word artists a venue at which to vent. Now, he says, there are poetry readings all over town -- East Side, West Side, downtown, and in the suburbs -- with more popping up every month. JazzPoetry's audience is made up of young hip-hop kids and older academic folks, with black and white readers mixing things up, Robinson notes. "We're trying to appeal to everyone. I'm attempting to reach out to everyone who is interested in poetry. It's such a universal language."

A typical JazzPoetry kicks off with Robinson delivering a couple of poems, followed by an open-mic session, and concludes with a reading from the night's featured poet (several artists who have had "national exposure" have graced the Robin's Nest stage, he says). Regulars include local slam leader Michael Salinger and "performance poet" Zion. Local educator and poet Mary Weems is the guest reader at the next installment, on Tuesday, January 15.

"I like to encourage people to write, no matter what they write about," Robinson says. "I think it's important to be able to express yourself about whatever it is that you find important enough to speak on.

"It's essential to cultivate the art, but it's also a part of the history of this city. People can look back at a certain era of Cleveland and relate to what was going on culturally and artistically. I'd like to be a part of the history of poetry in Cleveland, and that's part of the motivation for what I do."

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