By Rick Grijalva

“When’s the next poetry jam, Rick?”

“Hey, man, congratulations, this was awesome.”

“You should do this every month!”

It all began with an unusual flicker of a daydream. It would be really nice, I thought, to hear writers on the Coast read their poetry and stories for an audience in an intimate setting. Will anyone be interested in coming to an event where people just read their poetry? We could mix in music—Jazz music—to break up the readings. Still just listening. But what about the eyes? Sure, you can watch a band, but poetry is art; music is art; there should be visual art. A gallery? Logistics, space. How many artists do I know here? Or non-gringo poets? This probably won’t happen.

As I brainstormed alone, I played with ideas, and the excitement of a unique event sent bubbles through my imagination. Many of my own doubts checked my enthusiasm, but the Oíste team (Regina and Sarah) liked the idea and were ready to run with it.

“We could have it be an Oíste event.”

The ladies helped keep the event idea rolling, and together we helped the Poetry Jam gain momentum. To generate interest in the event, Aara and I took paseos to Universidad del Norte and Bellas Artes, handed out fliers and spoke with coordinators and directors about recruiting contributors. Jaime, the owner of Mazzino Pizza, generously donated to us the entire back patio to use for the event.

For the weeks and even days leading up to the event I was on Facebook, email and Whatsapp corresponding with local poets and artists, selling them on the fact that yes, this event is real and yes, is definitely happening. Meanwhile, I was secretly comforted by an emergency evacuation plan I would implement if needed: a quick message to all invitees that the event has been postponed. The big day came. Regina and Sarah came early to help set up the space. We finished the last-minute touches on the art activity, set up the live art table, aimed the projector, and my emergency back-out plan faded from unlikely to impossible. The artists were at home already bundling brushes and PCVs were at the tienda drinking beers before the show.

The welcome crew gave raffle tickets to each guest as they signed in. The show began with an art gallery projected across a white sheet screen on a patio wall while people found their tables, scooted plastic chairs and ordered from polo-shirted waiters. Local poets and even some of our own from Peace Corps read original work over the course of three sets. The Mazzino Quintet played jazz standards on a dim stage backed by tiny decorative bulbs on white strings. During some music and a break the local artists, looking especially hip, performed a live painting on two canvases. The audience members admired the live art and did some of their own, drawing and writing colorful memories from around Barranquilla across a white map of the city. Finally we held a raffle; the winners collected their prizes, and I before I knew it, the night was almost over.

People stayed to hang out. I mingled among the crowd as one does at his own birthday party, with open mouth smiles, the glad-ya-cames and long-time-no-sees. Although there were some small disappointments, the show happened, the venue filled to maximum capacity, people had a great time, and I was happy.

Due to the popularity of the event and inquiries about another one, the Oíste team is planning to host its second Poetry Jam later this year.

Click here to check out the event photos.


Special thanks to…

Regina and Sarah: Co-organizers

Aara: List manager, welcome crew, contributing artist, general assistance

Shanna: Video and still photography, raffle drawer

Megan: Welcome crew, general assistance

Sammy: Welcome crew

Maria Melendez: General assistance

Jaime Lastra: Venue provider

Jose Maldonado and Marvin: Live artists

All the contributing gallery artists


All readers: Megan Birnbaum, Jeremy Booth, Shanna Crumley, Darien Echeverria, Jimmy Everett, David Fernandez, Aara Johnson, Anthony Linero, Mario Meza, Sammy Quezada, Rosemery Suarez, Alex Torres, Liliana Valencia


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