Archie the Messenger is one of the many poets keeping the Baltimore poetry scene thriving. (Courtesy photo)

Baltimore, Maryland.  When I tell people I live close to the city, I get a number of responses. Of course there’s a “The Wire” reference, but there is also curiosity and indifference.

Baltimore is known as Bodymore, Murderland for a reason, and with the recent civil unrest surrounding the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, fear is another common response. As someone who lives in Pikesville, which is about five minutes from the city, Baltimore being the northern most southern city gives it an interesting feel in which the hustle and bustle of the big city is present but so are the small town sensibilities and bits of down home southern hospitality.

Baltimore.  It’s crab cakes and Old Bay.  It’s Chicken boxes and Half and Halfs.  It’s Ray and the Ravens, Cal and the Orioles.  It’s “Hairspray” and ‘Hon’.

As with most major cities Baltimore has a prominent arts community. As a participant in the city’s poetry scene, it’s the one I know best. While those in the know understand that the Mecca of poetry would be the Nuyorican Poets Café in Harlem, NY, the road to get there goes through Charm city.

What makes the Baltimore poetry scene both amazing and tough is the audience is just as important as the artist.  In other cities I’ve visited raucous applause is guaranteed, while in Baltimore I’ve found that the reception matches what’s being presented.  This isn’t to say the audience is rude or boos like say, at the Apollo, but more that the response is in line with what was performed.  A tepid response will justly be mated to a tepid performance.  That is one of the biggest thing that creates great artists here; Baltimore poets can count on an honest crowd reaction to their work.

Baltimore has spawned some of the most notable poets of our generation.  There’s the great Talaam Acey, who is considered by most the greatest poet of this generation.  There’s Lamar Hill, poet, slam champion, playwright, and author.  In addition, there’s Archie the Messenger, 13 of Nazareth, Rebecca Dupas, Love the Poet, Slangston Hughes.  All cut their teeth and honed their craft within Baltimore. The center of the poetry scene at one point was at The Five Seasons on Guilford Ave., but that’s now closed. Today, up and coming poets are likely to be found at places like .

Currently there is a new crop of artists and various shows to take in throughout Baltimore each with their own unique flare and flavor.  Some weekly, some bi-weekly, and some monthly.  Whether the theme is black pride, a live band, or a bring-your-A-game-to-the-mic, there is something to be enjoyed, learned, and, most importantly, inspired by.  Each show sports its own distinct audience.

As a performer, the poetry scene in Baltimore is a microcosm of Baltimore living; not too big, not too small, some moving and shaking combined with a certain amount of familiarity and open arms for those willing to embrace something new and exciting.  ‘On Deck’ is a term coined by hosts to let performers know that they’re next up as most hosts don’t follow the names on the list as they are signed.  Here’s to hoping I can see you at a show in the future so consider yourself on deck.