In a pure proclamation of the poetic process, Milstein’s Movement Lab hosted a poetry reading and open-mic night this Thursday. With guest performer and former NYC Youth Poet Laureate Ramya Ramana leading the event, Bwog beginner Marino Bubba got more than he bargained for in this display of artistry, intimacy, and growth.

Shoes, they tell me, run counter to the very essence of this performance. It isn’t about displaying the facade of our artificial exteriors, or covering up the nastier parts of who we are. Poetry is about wearing one’s smelly feet proudly and applauding others as they do the same.

Thus, I found myself untying the laces of my scuffed Derby’s and adding them to the erratic pile of Birkenstocks and Doc Martens already beginning to teeter in the mudroom just outside Milstein’s Movement Lab.

“Movement Lab” is a doubly misleading title. To begin with the latter falsehood, the spacious room is less a lab than it is an indoor meadow. In fact, the entire forth wall is a screen on which the image of a rolling grass field was projected, as if the room itself dared you to feel the life within it between your bare toes. To complete the outdoor ambiance, a single Source Four light bathed the room in a golden glow. Just bright enough to tempt one to shield their eyes against its rawness. Unequivocal, like the natural sunset it mimicked.

“Movement”, too, is mostly misinformation. The room is thickly silent and rounds out all but the harshest –K‘s and –S‘s that the performers enunciate later on. One feels settled in this quiet stillness. Yet it does contain the seeds of motion, like a hummingbird hovering in front of a flower. Suspended, yet brimming with potential.

And so the verbalized worries of the poets and the resulting affirmations of those they brought along for moral support barely make a dent in this sonic blanket as they wait in anticipation for the night to truly begin. Seated on green felt cushions in a semi-circle that could’ve been drawn by a drunkard, their nerves only wind tighter as the commencement is pushed back a quarter of an hour. This is no doubt a byproduct of the massive turnout. Officially, attendance in the lab shall not exceed twelve.

Fifty pairs of eyes stare with anticipation at the solo microphone standing proudly in the center of the floor.

The muted din falls into total silence as Ramya Ramana takes the stage. Despite her diminutive stature, the former New York City Youth Poet Laureate commands the room, a skill no doubt acquired through the countless nights spent at events like these. But that was not always the case. Ramana rose to prominence after addressing a crowd of 5,000 at the inauguration of NYC mayor Bill de Blasio. On that blisteringly cold January morning, she used her poetry as a tool, turning the impersonal world of public policy cuttingly intimate.

“This is home,” her poem said of her native city, but “not lights, not Broadway, not Times Square. It is single mother donating her last meal’s worth of money to church. It is the faith in that heart that makes a dead dream worth resurrecting. It is coffee colored children playing hopscotch on what is left of a sidewalk. It is chalk outlined, colonized. A map on the street as dark as the bones of the dead. This we call holy.”

All ears strain to hear what she has to say tonight.

She shares two pieces, the latter an unfinished draft read out of her iPhone notes app. From here, she illustrates the theme of the open mic: celebrating the process of poetry. To workshop and improve on what is written, yes. But also to cheer– and to cheer gleefully– at what is there because it has been and is being created before our very ears. There is nothing more beautiful and more worthy of celebration.

When she asks who wants to perform, half a dozen hands shoot up, eager to join in this endeavor.

Five or six more follow behind them, apprehensive yet secure in the knowledge that the project to which they will be contributing is a worthwhile one.

And as each performer takes center-stage (or rather, center-floor), we do not lose sight of that theme. Some recite for the first time, with new pieces out of the drafts folder, or ideas young yet still imprinted in the memory. Others read from printouts of projects months in the making, or carry with them pamphlets of works already published. But one thing is constant.

After each piece come raucous, cacophonous cheers. In defiant celebration of creation. Of becoming. Pure poiesis.

This poetry open mic was part of Barnard’s larger Media Movement Salon (MeMoSa) series, which will host arts events once a month throughout the academic year.

Photograph of the projection screen in the Movement Lab via Marino Bubba