Poetry in NYC Communities

Poetry Dialogues

See, we try to have the conversation
through the rhyme,
that’s what we do, yes all the time
This is the aspect of Hip-Hop
that you might not see on D-TV,
or the radio,
I said, sometimes, we flow
That’s the way we battle life
without fists, you know,
without the guns, without the knives,
without the violence—
that’s the way we keep the hood
in peaceful silence!
                                  —Toni Blackman

The Poetry Dialogues, sponsored by City Lore and Poets House in collaboration with Urban Word, was a series of teen-based intergenerational workshops, presentations, and community dialogues that utilized contemporary and traditional poetry forms — including rap, spoken word, African “jali” or “griot” praise poems, Muslim prayer-calling, and Puerto Rican improvised decima — to engage audiences and communities on self-defined issues.

The Poetry Dialogues created intergenerational poetry teams, defined by identity and comprised of young poets, elder master poets or “mentor poets,” and poet-facilitators. The teams were as follows:

*Palestinian American poet Suheir Hammad led a Muslim American team that brought four high school-age hip-hop poets with roots in the Middle East and the Muslim world together with elder poet Ishmaili Raishida, and musician and Rumi chanter Amir Vahab. A second Muslim American team led by Bushra Rehman and Tahani Salah.

*Filipino American poet Regie Cabico brought together a group of four hip-hop poets, all with Filipino roots, with Frances Dominguez, an elder master of Filipino oral poetry traditions in New York.

*Poet and renowned freestyler Toni Blackman led a team of seven young African American rappers, working with jali (“griot”) poets led by Kewulay Kamara from Sierra Leone.


Mentor poets continued work in their own communities.  The audiences at the project’s venues like St. Augustine’s, the Jamaica Art Center, the Bowery Poetry Club, and the Dodge Poetry Festival were visibly moved by the programs and the ensuing dialogues. The Poetry Dialogues showed the audiences a new kind of presentation that combined poetry and dialogue, and that addressed community issues with the community itself.

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