So chances are you hate poetry. That sounds reasonable. We can’t blame you for hating a genre that’s so often poorly taught in school, and we can’t deny its almost immediate association with old men in long beards complaining about that girl who friendzoned them about two hundred years ago, either.
But if you do hate poetry, chances are you have no knowledge of the beautiful, vast and varied underground poetry scene that lies hidden in many cultural centers in Buenos Aires. Performance poetry – that is, poetry meant to be put on stage, where the body language and the use of one’s voice are just as important as the written poem itself – has been particularly on the rise. In any case, this city’s poetry events range from competitions to classic readings to evenings where music and literature intertwine. The Bubble’s got you covered: here’s a beginner’s guide to the Buenos Aires poetry scene.
Born in February 2011, Tercer Jueves is one of Buenos Aires’ longest standing poetry cycles: just last week, it celebrated its seventieth continous edition. Hosted by Fernando Bogado, poet and professor at UBA, and Gabo Cuman, bassist, Bogado wanted a simple name, one that would allow people to remember the date of every edition: they just called it Tercer Jueves because they would host the event on the third Thursday of every month.
The cycle mixes poetry and music. BogadoCuman is also an artistic duet and, alongside two poets and one musician, they always perform at the cycle. “The event works as a sample of what’s going on in the contemporary artistic production”, Bogado told The Bubble. Although the styles and themes of some poems repeat themselves from one edition to the next, this is not at all intentional. On the contrary, the curators make a point of inviting all kinds of poets, which is why Bogado attributes these similarities to the times we are living in. After all, “performance poetry is part of this historical moment, which is why its most interesting dialogue takes place with current cultural productions and subjectivities”, he said.
Where: El Quetzal Casa Cultural (Guatemala 4516, Palermo).
Ok, cards on the table: she who writes this articles is also one of the organizers of this poetry slam. What is a poetry slam, you ask? Invented by Marc Kelly Smith back in the eighties, it is a poetry competition where those who participate perform a piece of their own to be judged by three random people in the audience who will score their performance from one to ten. In the words of Julia Kornberg, a fellow organizer of the event, “I would like to think of it as a highly regulated, sometimes strictly ruled sport that still leaves room for play and experimentation.” In the Justa Poética’s case, we host sixteen weekly slams in the span of four months. The first three are open slams, which means that anyone can sign up to play. In the fourth week, the three winners of the former editions compete for a spot in our team. After repeating this process four times, we are left with a four-member team that will represent Justa Poética in competition with other slams, and with a budding sense of community thanks to its weekly frequency.
The competitive aspect that makes a slam what it is often tends to be what makes people steer away from it. How is it possible, they ask, to put a number on a poem? Kornberg said it herself: “it’s totally illogic to force an objective standard such as a number into something as subjective as poetry.” And yet the points are not the point at all. Kelly Smith explained it with a very clear analogy: if you walk into a bar and two people are arm wrestling, you’ll definitely stay and watch. You may not know these people, but there’s something about competing that makes an event spectacular and enthralling. “The most important thing for us is to build a well-structured event where healthy competition and self-improvement are encouraged. It’s all part of the particular dynamic of this event, and it’s also really fun to watch – it contributes to a dramatic arc that is not always present in non-competitive events,” Kornberg told The Bubble.
Where: La Hormiga de Oro (Medrano 688, Almagro).
On the other side of the poetry spectrum, there’s MAPPA, an open mic cycle where anyone can sign up to read and experiment without fearing a low score. “We all agreed there was a need to bring as many cycles as possible together so as to create a network”, host Javier Martínez Conde told The Bubble. “Aside from hosting our monthly event, we put together a map that lets people know about other poetry events happening in the city, making a point of building a community in these cultural spaces.” MAPPA came to being at a time when the porteño poetry scene was already blossoming with dozens of cycles every week. Martínez Conde and his co-hosts, however, believed it was important to keep on producing these types of events. In his own words, “poetry cycles liberate the genre from the obsolete and elevated art form it’s often considered to be. They are also a way of defending independent culture and they bring unknown artists together, which allows for bigger creative growth.”
Where: Código Montesco Teatro Restó (Gorriti 3956, Palermo).
BOCA DE BUZÓN
Boca de Buzón features two of the most talented women in the independent artistic scene. With Paula Maffia, lead singer of bands such as Las Taradas performing her songs, and Mana Bugallo, spoken word poet and stand up comedian performing her poetry, you can’t go wrong. After sharing a stage and falling madly in artistic love, the two began hosting Boca de Buzón, a monthly cycle in Casa Brandon where, in the words of Mana Bugallo, “people come to see Paula and me be friends.” And it certainly is a beautiful sight. With a healthy dose of sarcastic humor and a whole lot of feminism, the interactions between the two are just as entertaining as the show itself. As Bugallo told The Bubble, “we managed to create an ideal balance between poetry, songs and conversations between us.” Thanks to their incomparable chemistry on stage, Boca de Buzón is an unfailingly enjoyable ride.
It was 2013 when two Literature students from UBA realized something: “for a major that revolved around a certain love and interest for literature, people were surely apathetic towards those who wanted to show what they wrote”, Pierre Froidevaux, one of the organizers, told The Bubble. In a horribly cozy cultural spot in Thorne and Directorio, the poets who started Noche Equis began reading their own pieces and signing their own songs to counter the rejection towards artists showcasing their work. Four years later, the cycle has built an identity that centers around “always opening up the game field to new voices, to poets who are just starting or who don’t participate on the cycles we usually attend to”, said Froidevaux. An event where the hosts are specially on the lookout for writers to invite, Noche Equis has seen and continues to see a wide variety of artists.
Where: Espacio Cultural Mi Casa (Agüero 787, Almagro).
FANÁTICA DE LOS BOLICHES
For those of you who are more into classical poetry, Fanática de los Boliches presents a lovely, apparent contradiction: it is an event dedicated to reading poetry hosted in the midst of the Jolie party. It is precisely the coexistence between these seemingly incompatible worlds that makes this cycle unique. Organized by Jacqui Casais and Silvina Fernández, the name of the cycle has a feminist undertone: it is a response to Clarín’s article reporting Melina Romero’s disappearance, where the misogynistic headline read “A fan of nightclubs who dropped out high school”. “After Melina turned up murdered and raped, the cycle was named to pay homage to her, and to reclaim our right to be fans of nightclubs,” Casais told The Bubble. Fanática de los Boliches consists of guest poets and the occasional acoustic musician, followed by a collective game where the audience creates a poem from random words taken out of a bowl. On special editions, they even host short workshops to honor female poets or LBGTIQ artists.
Where: Fiesta Jolie (Av. Juan B. Justo 1658, Palermo).
SLAM ZONA SUR
Deep in the conurbano sur, there lies a magnificent cultural center in Banfield called Espacio Asterisco. In it, its producer So Sonia has been hosting the monthly competition Slam Zona Sur for three years now. It all started after she saw a slam at the FILBA Literature Festival and, completely fascinated by the ordeal, left feeling a desperate need to organize one herself. “A tournament is a game, and playing games is just great,” Sonia told The Bubble about her love for poetry slams. “Besides, poems can definitely be scored from one to ten. That doesn’t mean that scoring them is the way to validate them.” As far as themes and styles are concerned, Sonia has always noticed a tendency for more narrative pieces rather than elaborate performances, and it is the most honest and gut wrenching poems that always do better at the slams. “I believe it’s very important to create spaces where we can say things and listen to others. It seems to me that words are valued less and less these days. In the internet, we all express our opinions almost compulsively, and in the physical world, we’re just bodies going around with no voice,” said Sonia. “Taking back places where our body and our voice are reunited is of vital importance.”
Where: Espacio Asterisco (General Levalle 1293, Banfield).