Karen Jaime Discusses the Glam Slam at the Nuyorican Poets Café

The words ballooned on the homepage of the Nuyorican Poets Café’s website are derived from the quote by the iconic beat poet, Allen Ginsburg: “The Nuyorican Poets Café is the most integrated place on the planet.” Karen Jaime, Ph.D. who came to Bates on Wednesday, February 27, to talk on a particular event hosted by the Café, would probably agree. Jaime’s talk, “Tens Across the Board: The Glam Slam at the Nuyorican Poets Café” was the first in the series, “What is American Studies?” presented by the American Studies Department at Bates.

Jaime is an Assistant Professor of Performing and Media Arts and Latinx Studies at Cornell University. In addition to her many publications in academic journals, Jaime is an accomplished spoken word and performance artist. She acted as the host and curator of the Friday Night Slam at the Nuyorican Poets Café where she received the inspiration for her current book project, “The Queer Loisaida: Performance Aesthetics at the Nuyorican Poets Café.”

The Nuyorican Poets Café, located in the lower east side of New York City, was founded in 1973. Over the past four-and-a-half decades, the Café has served as a multicultural space for groundbreaking work in poetry, visual arts, music, and theater. Nuyorican was an originally pejorative term for members of the Puerto Rican diaspora, but in her talk, Jaime described the way the term has been reclaimed as by the founders of the café to mean an “Aesthetic practice based on the history and politics of both the ethnic marker Nuyorican and its relationship with the café itself.” In her project, Jaime demonstrated that “Nuyorican” came to encompass those who not necessarily identified with a Puerto Rican ethnicity but practiced the same cultural art forms. This allowed for Nuyorican to define Puerto Ricans as well as those in the queer and black community.

The Grand Slam, the culmination of the year’s various poetry slams, is one of the most well-known events at the café. The event Jaime discussed on Wednesday, the Glam Slam, is a linguistic play on the Grand Slam. The Glam Slam was a competition that involved the intersection of the slam poetry community and the queer ball scene. Performers shared their poetry and art with an aesthetic of glamour usually associated with the queer drag scene. Jaime noted that, “The Glam Slam centered queerness not a reason for the happening, but as the reason for the happening.” The Café had always been a location which represented diverse ethnicities and queerness, but, “The combination of the slam poetry community and the ball scene through voice and movement [in the Glam Slam] effectively [developed] a new poetic aesthetic and rubric for queer poets at the Nuyorican Poets Café”, according to Jaime.

Before becoming a host, Jaime was an attendee of the Café and participant in the Glam Slam. In 2002 Jaime competed in and won the Slam. Jaime identifies as Butch Lesbian, and said, “For me, the Glam Slam brought together two communities that I desperately desired to be a part of: spoken word slam poetry and queer nightlife in New York City.”

Jaime used herself as a text in her talk, in form of her personal memories and a video of herself preforming at the Café in order to demonstrate the Glam Slam’s role in defining the Nuyorican aesthetic. The Glam Slam in the Nuyorican Poets Café created a venue for Jaime and others to compete in a space that honored the caliber of their talent while simultaneously accepting them for who they were.

The next installment of the “What is American Studies?” series will be on March 12th and will feature Jami Powell from Dartmouth College in a lecture concerning indigenous representation and institutionalization of native art.