Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Inspired Word

I recently had the opportunity to inteview Michael Geffner, journalist and founder of NYC's The Inspired Word.  The following is an article based on that interview.  Although we don't discuss writing per se, it's an interesting look at how one person, through networking and believing in their cause, can accomplish so much in so little time.


It all started in the Forrest Hills section of Queens with “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”  It was 2009, and Mike Geffner, a 30 year veteran of sports journalism, with more than 9,000 published articles, was talking to the owner of a little café he liked to frequent.

Since Geffner had been teaching writing workshops for more than a decade, the owner asked him if he would consider running some workshops out of the café to help pull in business.  The workshops did well, but soon, the owner decided he would like to bring in poetry readings.

Geffner appreciated poetry; in the 1970s, during his teen years, he had seen Ginsberg and William Burrows read live in Manhattan.  He had experienced Ginsberg perform Howl.  But still, poets are a different breed than journalists.

How exactly does a sports journalist, who’s covered major sporting events from Superbowls to WorldSeries get in with poets?  By using the resourcefulness he learned during his 30 years of journalism.

“I went to Facebook in January or February of last year, looked under poetry, sought out people with MFAs in poetry, people who were doing readings, and I started inviting people to read in Queens.”

It may have started off simply, but the journey has been far from easy.

The first show was hit by a blizzard.  But the show went on, and soon, his poetry readings were reaching crowds of more than 60 people.  Shortly after, with future shows planned and poets booked, that little café, the venue for his shows, went out of business.

Geffner had to cancel shows and decide whether to continue the series.  Receiving a lot of positive feedback form poets and the more than 800 members in his facebook group, and by selling himself as a former journalist with an existing poetry series, he started his search for a new venue.  One thing he was sure of was that he wanted to be able to pay the poets for their performances.  Geffner laments, “Poets have gotten so tired of asking for getting paid, they’re doing it for free.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy-they don’t expect to make a living at it, so they don’t.  Instead, they sell life insurance or teach.”  Unfortunately, during his research he found that venue after venue had such high fees that he would not be able to pay for performances. His search lead him out of Queens and into Manhattan, where, at first, he did not have any further luck.  Geffner spent four months, every weekend and many weekdays, looking for a new venue.

He was close to giving up when he went to see a show at Le Poisson Rouge.  “The venue was gorgeous,” he recalls.  After a few weeks of persistent calling, the gallery manager of Le Poisson Rouge scheduled a meeting with Geffner.  They ended up sharing good vibes and the manager offered him a good deal.  The InspiredWord had a new home.

Since January of 2010, poets have been performing at Le Poisson Rouge’s gallery every second and fourth Friday of every month.  The gallery holds roughly 120 people who pay a $10 cover charge and expect to be entertained.

The Inspired Word performances are not your average open-mic or amateur hour poetry readings.  They are star-studded events.  Poets who perform at InspiredWord are polished performers who have been invited to perform by Geffner, who attends roughly three poetry events a week to scout for talent.  Many of the performers already have large followings.  They have been featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, Brave New Voices, the Bowery Poetry Club and Cafe, and the Nuyorican Poets Café.  Each poet’s performance is recorded and presented as a stand-alone video on the The Inspired Word’s youtube site.

Geffner’s mission with The Inspired Word is to build a community where poets receive support, are able to make a living from their passion, and in which audiences will open their minds.  Although spoken word has helped bring poetry out of the academic halls and to a wider audience, at times there seems to be a sort of “snobbery” towards performance poetry.  Geffner recalls that his mailing list was full of contacts he had made throughout his journalism carreer: Editors, publishers, top literary agents.  But unfortunately, they are not coming to his events.  “We’re all trying to move people with our words, who cares what style it’s in?  I want it to be all-inclusive.  I want to make the entertainment I’m providing available to everybody,” Geffner states.

The Inspired Word events are not strictly poetry events.  They also include prose and monologues.  Geffner dreams about having journalists read from their books, writers read from their short story collections.  As long as it is passionate and entertaining, and “as long as it’s interesting to watch,” Geffner is increasing audiences, and exposing more people to poets and their poetry, and therefore helping to motivate, inspire, and encourage poets themselves, who often do not get the respect they deserve.

Geffner notes that “I would say that 95% of the people that walk away from an event, walk away inspired-we’re getting kicked out of the venue (at the end of the show) and nobody wants to leave!”

Through The Inspired Word, Mike Geffner and the poets and audiences he brings together in New York City, are transforming written words into Inspired Words.


You can learn more about Mike Geffner and The Inspired Word by visiting these links:

Inspired Word Blog
Inspired Word on Facebook
Mike's Writing Workshop
Le Poisson Rouge

1 comment:

  1. My heart warms up when I hear that someone is promoting not only the art but the artists. Finding ways to pay an artist is more than just handling a fee. It is a recognition of the artist's hard work, professionalism and mastering of a media that only she/he can do well. Poetry is an spice in life that human beings can't afford to lose. Great article. Thanks for sharing.


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