Curation as Creation
POETS & WRITERS IS MORE than a magazine. We are a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving creative writers. We pay fees to writers giving readings and leading workshops, provide information and advice to authors, and help them connect with one another and with audiences. We also sponsor a number of awards and prizes.
I am an educator, a poet who performs, and a literary curator. This is not a job description I thought about while growing up in Clinton, Maryland, a child of Filipino immigrants. But in the early nineties, after graduating from New York University, I discovered that slam poetry would allow me to write my own role and dazzle a bar full of listeners, leaning at the edge of their seats, savoring my language.
Creating platforms and amplifying the voices of others was part of my genesis as a writer. A year or two after I graduated, funding from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshop program helped me start Writers on the Ledge, a series in the now defunct Papi Luis on East Second Street in New York City, where writers stood on a tiny ledge because there was no space in the café. This fed my own writing, and when I came out as a gay poet on the stage of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, I was inspired by gay poet and activist Essex Hemphill. But my strength came from the poets at the readings I’d curated.
By 2006, I’d moved to Washington, D.C., and was a regular featured performer at Busboys and Poets, where I bore witness to the rampant transphobia and misogyny that invaded open-mic spaces around U Street as a result of the District’s gentrification. During my nights as a host at the well-known venue, I saw audience members running out of the Countee Cullen Room as if the nonbinary rainbow air would turn even the straightest into same-gender-loving zombies.
To combat the queerphobia I started Sparkle: A Queer Series, cohosted with Danielle Evennou, as a safe space for audiences and writers of all genders and sexual identities. This led, in 2010, to the creation of an international slam for queer poets, for which funding from the Readings & Workshops program was again critical. National Poetry Slam icons Andrea Gibson, Sonya Renee Taylor, and Chris August as well as emerging poets Baruch Porras-Hernandez and Adele Hampton participated in an event that served as an antidote to the highly competitive, commercialized, and cutthroat world of National Poetry Slams. When competing on the slam circuit, queer poets were forced to question whether we should pull our gender/queer/erotic poems. By contrast, Capturing Fire, a three-day festival, was a forum for queer writers to perform what we wanted without feeling like a trope or an “other,” without explanation. Poets took workshops and ate pizza and drank wine into the wee hours of the night, sometimes freestyling verses on U Street. It was a huge success. Capturing Fire led to the creation of the Beltway Poetry Slam team, which, led by Sarah D. Lawson and coach Pages Matam, took first place in the 2014 National Poetry Slam; as well as the youth team, led by Jonathan B. Tucker, that took first place in the 2014 Youth Poetry Slam.
In the years since, Sparkle and Capturing Fire have presented and nurtured writers who have gone on to start other series and platforms, helping to develop the voices of yet more poets, in a web that stretches far from U Street. In 2019, Capturing Fire will feature Shannon Cain of Paris in an event that will celebrate the spirit of James Baldwin. We will offer workshops focused on xenophobia and the proliferation of the alt-right in the United States and France.
From a tiny stage no bigger than a ledge to an international festival, I’ve created platforms for poets whose identities were not only invisible twenty years ago, but not even named. While ongoing efforts to erase sexual and gender identity are real and dangerous, we also see in D.C. an overwhelming level of participation from gender-nonconforming poets and SGL (same-gender-loving) poets in a movement now led by Charlie C Petch, J Mase III, and others. Readings & Workshops funds have allowed me the joy of nurturing young voices on an international platform without fear of censorship. Poets & Writers values the multiplicity of voice, regardless of style, from academic to performative, political to ribald and libatious. For that I am humbly grateful. May the rainbow flow of poetry carry us forward to the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall and beyond.
Regie Cabico won the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam and took top prizes in three National Poetry Slams. His television and radio credits include two seasons of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, NPR’s Snap Judgment, and MTV’s Free Your Mind. The Kenyon Review named Cabico the “Lady Gaga of Poetry,” and he has been listed in Bust magazine’s 100 Men We Love. Cabico is the recipient of a 2006 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award for his work teaching poetry to young adults at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He is the editor of Super Stoked: An Anthology of Trans and Queer Poetry (Capturing Fire Press, 2018).