Initiation Day.

on Mar 31, 2012 in This is PUP! | 0 comments

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Which also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day. I step into the bright buzz of Union Square. It’s only 2:30 in the afternoon, but I’m already nervous about the holiday activity that’s legendary in this city on March 17th. But most of my jitters fade away when I join the circle of fellow PUPers gathered at the Ghandi Statue.

We head down into the station to hop on the Q train to Brooklyn. A dapper and highly decorated service man stands directly across from me. I tease the captain in a friendly banter about his ornaments, knowing that what was about to go down was probably going to be unlike anything he’d ever seen. I have a good feeling about this.

Bob Holman and Q Train Straphanger/Poet face off.

There is already a sense of the unexpected in this car. The doors close. Anticipation on the part of the poets is palpable. Adam journeys us in deftly into the Q train’s flips and curves. Then comes the realization that we had entered someone else’s stage. Just as Adam finishes, a woman dressed in black with eyes afire bellows, “You think that’s a poem?” and begins sharing one of her own. The train car is mesmerized. What is the relationship between this woman who has been on the train and the man who has just arrived? “Is the train always like this?” an out-of-towner boy asks his mom.


The rapid fire of poets that follows ignites the ride to spontaneous combustion. Ngoma, true to his name, captures astounded glances and mmhmms while he intones rhythm and wisdom. Bob Holman jumps in –seemingly out of know-where– to the surprise and delight of a train car that begins to see that there is some connection in these spirited presentations. And we’re only at Canal Street! A woman turns to me and asks, “Do these people know each other?” I wink at her. Throughout the car, smiles and mobile phones are flashing.

New York City in flawless fashion knows how to participate in the unexpected. By the time Ngoma launches into part two of his poem and speaks the word “light,” the Q bursts onto the Manhattan Bridge and the St. Patty’s Day Sun pours into the poem. Then Jon Sands takes hold of the crowd. The train car is snapping, clapping and head bobbing. We are spurring each other on. I feel myself ready to burst. I step through the train creeping closer and closer to him. I don’t care who thinks they know what’s coming next, I just can’t wait to tangle my voice into the web he’s weaving. And it happens. I’m freestyling off the end of his flow like a skateboard flies off the pipe. And I feel free this way. Hype this way. Fresh this way. I’m shaking that good shake.

A breath of calm comes from the other end of the train car. Victoria Lynne McCoy begins another story. An older couple, who’d practically covered their ears while we are in our high volume phase, are captured by the pleading confession of her words. They listen. Simultaneously, the woman in black kicks a rhyme at my end of the car. There is poetry everywhere. This is the point. All of this is the point.

The circle comes around to Osunyoyin Alake, who in divine expansion brings the first ride to a close with praises, admonitions, and celebrations. Like amber and gold threads spun from her throat, she leaves the final lines with our audience as we exit the train into the Atlantic/Pacific train station.

We are practically aflight with excitement. We could probably float back to 14th Street. Instead, we wait for the opposing train to take us back over the bridge. The second leg of the trip offers us a new crowd, new surprises and many more folks dressed in green. When an unsuspecting crowd of St. Patty revelers joins us at Canal Street, it only takes a moment for them to realize they have come to the meeting place. I weave my poem Blacksmith Orchestra through their confused, curious, and awkward smiling faces.

After another round of poems, Adam closes our final circle in a call and response celebration of saying “yeah” as only he can. The burst back onto the train platform at 14th Street is a homecoming. I feel like I just won something! I’m giddy and ready for a good meal. PUP mission accomplished. Best. Initiation. Ever.
–Abena Koomson

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