On the first Tuesday of each month, throngs of poetry fans fill the side room of Equal Grounds Coffee House, settling into the myriad cozy seating options beneath the vaulted ceiling, eyes and ears focused on whoever happens to be on stage. Since late fall of 2014 New Ground Poetry Night has been a public platform for local poets, and has garnered consistent and diverse participation.
The event's poster describes the series as: "A saucy, seismic, splendid, sweet, scandalous, surprising, social open mic poetry series." Leading up to its 7:30 p.m. start time, participants sign up to read for five minutes (or read three poems, whichever comes first).
"We have a full house most months, with 15 to 20 poets signing up to read," says Al Abonado, creative writing professor at SUNY Geneseo and co-host of New Grounds with Jonathan Everitt, who is an MFA candidate in poetry at Bennington College.
Everitt says that in his experience, some poetry events begin with lots of momentum but tend to fizzle out after a year or two. But the co-hosts have managed to keep the series going with a combination of consistent regular participants and newcomers every month. And as they're both poets themselves, Everitt and Abonado both take turns at the mic.
"We've tried to make the series welcoming to the greatest variety of poets, and the turnout from month to month suggests it's working," Everitt says. "We have poets who are just getting started, established authors, LGBT poets, poets of color, from different faith communities, and of every age"
One participant signs-up under the moniker "House Sugar Punk." And regular participant David Ruekberg says, in regards to finding solace in tumultuous social times, "This is my version of summer camp."
Everitt clarifies that the series is not a competition: "We sometimes have new attendees ask us if this is a poetry slam," he says. "It's not. There's no jury, no vote-by-applause, and no champion. We're here to create a friendly audience for poets, and encourage them to grow as artists and keep coming back to share their work as they evolve."
Although there are other ongoing poetry series throughout the city (including Poetry & Pie, Rochester Spoken Word, and Rochester Poets Reading Series), Everitt credits the all-ages-friendly cafe and diversity in participants for bolstering a unique poetry mic environment.
The success of the series has inspired Abonado to begin another reading series at Small World Books called Bloom, featuring published poets.
New Ground Poetry Night begins at 7:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month at Equal Grounds Coffee House, 750 South Avenue. facebook.com/newgroundpoetry.