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8 Best Places in NYC for Live Open Mic Poetry Readings and Slams

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As part of our Gotham Insiders Guide series, we’ve been opening up our secret vault and sharing our favorite places for just about everything in New York City. In honor of National Poetry Month, we’ve turned our attention to where to go in the city if you want to hear a poetry reading, watch a poetry slam, or even perform yourself. We’ve rounded up the best places in New York City (NYC) for live open mic poetry readings, spoken word performances, poetry slams and more, including the famous Nuyorican Poets Café. Walt Whitman would be proud.

what are the best places for live poetry readings, slams and spoken word performances in NYC?

Whether you’re an avid poetry reader or just appreciate a random poem on the subway every now and then, it’s time to celebrate National Poetry Month. In New York City, poetry is a communal event — something meant to be shared live with one another, to remind us of our common humanity.

Best places in New York City (NYC) for live open mic poetry readings, spoken word performances, poetry slams, including Nuyorican Poets Café.
Best places in New York City (NYC) for live open mic poetry readings, spoken word performances, poetry slams, including Nuyorican Poets Café.

8 best spots in NYC for live open mic poetry readings, slams and spoken word

If you’re looking to enjoy a night of live poetry (or to share a poem yourself) check out this list of the top 8 places in New York City where the poetic spirit will move you.

1. nuyorican poets cafe, east village.

The historic Nuyorican first opened in 1973 as an informal living room salon. It’s a classic East Village location beloved by New Yorkers and tourists alike. They are champions of poetry, of course. But also prose, visual art, theater, hip-hop and more.

If you have a free night in New York and are unsure of what to do with yourself, they are almost always worth checking out.  Every Monday they have an open mic, available for rookies and seasoned performers alike, that begins at 9 pm. The first twenty-five people to sign up in person can perform, each with a five-minute slot.

Their poetry slams are legendary: truly poetry of and by the people. Winners of any Nuyorican Poetry Slam are chosen entirely by varied audience members. It’s a continual stream of changing faces, ages and backgrounds that make up New York City on any given night. Each week they host two slams: on Wednesday and Friday nights. Anyone can participate in the first. And winners are able to perform in the second, which leads to semi-finals and a Grand Slam finale in April.

Best places in New York City (NYC) for live open mic poetry readings, spoken word performances, poetry slams, including Nuyorican Poets Café.
Best places in New York City (NYC) for live open mic poetry readings, spoken word performances, poetry slams, including Nuyorican Poets Café. Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

2. pete’s candy store, brooklyn.

This offbeat live music and watering hole hosts a variety of daily free events, from trivia nights to open mics. Every first Friday of the month at 7pm, catch Dead Pete’s Society, an open mic poetry night. If you’re looking for a cozy and relaxed evening (with cheap eats), mark your calendar for events at this neighborhood bar.

3. poetry society of new york.

The Poetry Society of New York is a non-profit dedicated to promoting poetry within our culture. You may have a serendipitous encounter with one of their typewriter installations or typewriter poets who create original poetry on the spot but if you’re looking for an immersive event, you’ll want to check out The Poetry Brothel. It’s a literary cabaret series that fuses poetry, activism, burlesque, live music, vaudeville, and mysticism for an only- in-NY experience. Check out Eventbrite for their upcoming events.

4. brooklyn poets, brooklyn.

This nonprofit organization celebrates and cultivates the poets, poetry and literary heritage of Brooklyn. It is home to the most original and influential poets on the world stage from Walt Whitman, Hart Crane and Audre Lorde to hip-hop pioneers such as Biggie Smalls, Lil’ Kim, and Jay Z. Their reading series has been named of NYC’s best as well as one of the 50 best free things to do in the city by Time Out New York. The Brooklyn Poets Reading Series takes place bimonthly at select venues in Brooklyn. Check out the calendar here.

5. parkside lounge, lower east side.

Longtime journalist and former Village Voice columnist Mike Geffner’s The Inspired Word has found a home at this old school juke joint. Started in 2009 as a poetry series, it has now expanded to include other live performing arts. Think spoken word, music, comedy, and storytelling in addition to poetry. Every Monday and Tuesday from 7p to 10pm, the high-energy indie showcase and open mic never fail to inspire.

6. bowery poetry club, east village.

Bowery Poetry Club is a popular meeting place for poets and aspiring artists. This legendary poetry performance space is a great place to catch a live performance. The intimate atmosphere is well-suited for listening to a variety of readings, from open mic nights to slam competitions and music nights. They also offer workshops for aspiring poets and writers who wish to expand their craft.

7. kgb bar, east village.

Since it opened in 1993, this Soviet-themed bar has evolved into a NYC literary institution. It’s been named the best literary venue by the Village Voice and New York Magazine. Admission is free, drinks are cheap and strong and every Monday is devoted to poetry readings from 7pm to 9pm. The weekly series unites poets and audiences from across the country to hear up-and-comers as well as legends.

8. schomberg center for the arts, harlem.

This cultural center in Harlem hosts an annual First Friday’s Open Mic Edition, Poetry Slam. This month’s event is being done in partnership with the Candela Writers Workshop. You’re invited to bring your best poetry to share during the open mic sessions. Then dance the night away to curated beats by DJ IRS. María Fernanda and Tone Blaze host, with special opening remarks by award-winning poet and Schomburg Director Kevin Young. If you haven’t yet read his phenomenal collection Brown, promise us you’ll finish reading this post and then drop everything and buy it.

8 Best Places in NYC for Live Open Mic Poetry Readings and Slams

There you have it — 8 places to get inspired by poetry in New York City. Happy National Poetry Month!

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