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Deandre Castro takes the microphone to deliver one of her poems for the Jazz Poetry Cafe. The 25-year-old Triangle resident sometimes serves as emcee for the open-mike poetry nights. The event is open to everyone, and happens on the first and third Saturday night of the month at American and Caribbean Delights restaurant.
While poets recite, the restaurant's chef/owner Earl Powell serves ox tail, curried goat, jerk chicken and roti as well as American fare with Jamaican Red Stripe beer. Powell, who grew up in Jamaica, co-owns the business with his wife, Maureen.
Myisha Cherry's work is known in the Baltimore-Washington region. Here, she listens while other poets interpret their work.
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
MARIA "LOVE" Cook has been writing poetry since she was 12.
But the 1994 Caroline County High School graduate finally found an audience for her work in February.
That was when Cook, now 26, began performing at Jazz Poetry Cafe.
The artistic venture was started by Phillip Gregory, a 37-year-old former Marine who has lived in North Stafford since 1991.
The series had a nomadic first year. It opened at the now-defunct Shark Club in February, moved to 623 Bistro in April, then to Dining on the Knoll in June.
The spoken-word open-mike series seems to have finally found a home at American and Caribbean Delights restaurant in North Stafford, where it moved in July. Poetry is offered there the first and third Saturday nights of each month.
Cook, who works for a Fredericksburg temp agency, has become a regular.
The series features regionally--and a few nationally--known poets from the Baltimore-Washington area.
The highlight was an appearance by spoken word recording artist Taalam Acey, whose work is known world-wide.
But the poetry slam's heart and soul is the work of young amateurs like Cook, who can simply show up and be heard.
"I was very nervous the first time," she said. "But it was the best experience I've had as far as being able to share my work with everybody. The first time I went up, I just knew I had to keep going up. I'm much more confident now, more relaxed."
Deandre Castro of Triangle is a member of the committee that runs Jazz Poetry Cafe. The the 25-year-old poet sometimes emcees for the event.
"I think it's an outlet for urban youth--any youth--to come and say what you have to say with no rules and regulations," she said. "It's a positive outlet for a lot of youth in the area."
Standing in front of people and reading her poems is healing, she said.
"It is my therapy," said Castro, an office manager at a Manassas graphic design company. "These are my inner feelings."
She also believes she's helping others.
"I'm almost teaching. Maybe they walk away with something more than a few rhyme patterns."
Caroline native Cook enjoys the feeling of kinship with the more experienced big city artists who are featured.
"They come to me and say 'I really liked your piece,'" she said. "I feel their energy and that inspires me."
On a recent Saturday night the crowd was small but enthusiastic. Patrons dined on Jamaican dishes, sipped beer--some even cuddled.
Sixteen people--including other poets--listened as Baltimore's Myisha Cherry spoke the words "How many women have to die before low self-esteem is considered a crime? She lived for his attention, but never intended to live for herself."
Cherry is a self-published poet who has a regional following.
Gregory, who runs the series, stood in an adjoining room and played cuts from jazz CDs as Cherry recited, her eyes shut in concentration.
Yvette Barnes, a Northern Virginia poet, appeared when the slams were at Dining on the Knoll. Gregory is on the right track with the series, she said.
"There was basically nobody there, just the other poets, but I can understand what he's trying to do. He's getting some pretty good poets. He's slowly getting a lot of [poets] coming from the D.C. area."
Because of Acey's appearance, Gregory said, "the underground network in the poetry circuit is buzzing about Stafford."
For Barnes, North Stafford's Jazz Poetry Cafe is more laid back than venues in Washington and other big cities, where crowds are more responsive and vocal.
Gregory agreed with that assessment, saying this venue is more "cozy and comfortable" than urban clubs.
There's no stage at American and Caribbean Delights Restaurant, but the lights are dimmed, and the tiny room is intimate. At the most recent poetry night, Cherry encouraged listeners to snap their fingers if they liked her work. But no one seemed to catch on to that early '60s beatnik coffee-house custom.
But Castro is confident Jazz Poetry Cafe will catch on in North Stafford.
"We have it in Norfolk and in D.C., but we don't have it in this little area," she said. "A lot of people drive from this area to D.C. to see the same thing we have. Once people know about our venue, I'm sure its something that's going to be awesome."
Barnes, who plays acoustic guitar as she recites her poetry, said it's becoming more common for urban poets to perform in the suburbs.
"People are having a hard time finding gigs," she said about the cities, "and they're branching out.
"Caribbean Delights is very close to Quantico and close to Fort Belvoir, and it should be able to attract a lot of military people who are used to going to these events."
Adelphia Cable has been airing tapings of Jazz Poetry Cafe's featured artists called "The Poet's Drum" locally on Friday nights at 9.
WHAT: Jazz Poetry Cafe open mike for poets. Next Saturday's slam features Kanikki J, Telekinesis and Mark Price
WHEN: 8 to 11 p.m. on the first and third Saturday of each month.
WHERE: American and Caribbean Delights restaurant, 3650 Jefferson Davis Hwy. On U.S. 1, just south of Boswell's Corner in Stafford County
COST: $10 cover, $7 with college ID
INFO: 540/657-5390 or www.jazz poetrycafe.net
FYI: Poetry is uncensored.