The Underground Poetry Collective, The Best Kept Secret Of Fordham Lincoln Center

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Fordham’s underground poetry club, The Poetry Club, meets every Thursday night. (PHOTO BY ANDRONIKA ZIMMERMAN/THE OBSERVER)

By ALANNA KILKEARY and ALYSHA KUNDANMAL

Every Thursday night at around 10 p.m., a group of students gather in a McMahon apartment. Some bring tea, while the others rely on coffee to keep their minds awake for the reading about to take place. “Who’s got stuff?” the club’s co-founder, Adam Fales, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ‘17, asks. This question prompts all the attendees to peruse through their notebooks, poetry anthologies and iPhones to prepare to read some poetry aloud. Once someone responds to Fales’ question, that week’s edition of Fordham’s underground poetry club, The Poetry Collective, begins.  

What began as an alternative open mic space for underaged poetry enthusiasts on the roof of a parking garage in Lawrence, Kansas, turned into one of Fordham Lincoln Center’s best-kept secrets. The original group, started by a few residents of Fales’ hometown in Lawrence, was created because the group was not old enough to attend a 21+ open mic night at a neighborhood jazz club. Once he arrived at Fordham, Fales teamed up with former Fordham student currently attending Brooklyn College, Nick Rago, and the two decided to start another chapter of the Poetry Collective at Lincoln Centerpaying homage to his hometown one, of which Fales grew so fond. Now roughly two and a half years old, “It’s more of an excuse to bring people together than it is an event itself,” Fales joked of the Collective. “Most people are there just to share something about themselves, which is what I really think is so special about it.”

An expressive and convivial gathering of a group of college students indulging in poetry on a Thursday night doesn’t seem like your average college get together. In fact, the magnitude of the meeting is quite astounding, as every week members read selections of their own personal poetry or works of others that resound with them. “It can be something you wrote – I’ve been reading a lot of essays and poetry by other writers who are actually published that I just really admire,” Fales noted of his participation as of late.

“The Collective creates, obviously, a community of artists,” Heath Hampton, FCLC ‘17, one of the club’s original members said. “It allows people to discover that in what they’ve done there has always been art, and putting it side-by-side the work of others every single week gives us the sort of constant third person perspective needed for improvement.”

And it seems as if these workshop-esque exercises have done the students involved well. “Poetry collective is never the same event twice,” another member, Samantha Norman, FCLC ‘18, told the Observer. Norman remembers her first few times sharing her personal work at Poetry Collective and how the experience inspired her to submit her work for publication and competitions. “I probably would not have felt as confident in my work and voice without the community of poetry collective,” she said.

In regards to joining the club, all are welcome via the open Facebook group that any Fordham student is able to request to join, on which Fales announces the meeting places and times. Admins of the Facebook group also share events such as other open mic nights, book signings or lectures with the 154 current members of the group – most from the Fordham community and a few others from other universities in the city.

Regarding its structure, perhaps one of the most unique aspects of this group is that there is no hierarchy. It is specifically a collective – not a club – because there is no constitution, nor are there any leadership roles; everyone is an equal. Because of this, the collective is not an official Fordham group; there is no affiliation with Campus Activities Board (CAB) or the Office of Student Leadership and Community Development (OSLCD), and there is no funding for it. When creating the Fordham chapter of the Collective, Fales decided to mimic the setup he was already familiar with from Lawrence. “So we have a lot of ideals that we borrow from anarchism, but we’re hardly anarchists. I mean, when I say this, I’m speaking for me. There’s a bunch of people who don’t even realize what the word collective means and just come every week,” Fales explained with a laugh.

“I’m pushing an agenda, but it’s very subtle,” Fales joked. The Collective functions as a space purely for expression. “There’s something about being an amateur that facilitates the special human connection that I don’t think you can really have once it’s got the polished veneer and is meant for consumption on the market. There’s like a huge history of amateur culture that’s really great and has all these ties in with punk culture and anarchism and stuff like that,” Fales said.

It’s not just the interest in and enthusiasm for poetry that serves as the most intriguing aspect of this group. Perhaps, instead, it’s the depth of emotion shared amongst the group, as the space is celebrated to be a respectful and judgement-free zone. “I’ve read stuff before and like broken down crying in the middle of it, and I know no one is going to mock me if I’m crying at this stupid poem,” Fales noted of the unique space.

Alex McCauley, FCLC ‘17, also spoke fondly of the incredibly supportive atmosphere as well, adding, “Everyone applauds at every piece. People don’t lie to you and tell you your poem was life-changing or even good, there’s just a mutual respect among amateur artists.”

Like Fales and McCauley, Casey Bivens, FCLC ‘18, finds comfort in the nonjudgmental and open-minded environment. “I personally found it to be a really cozy and inviting space, where the floor is open to absolutely everyone and people are free to share what they choose, without judgment, be it something they wrote or something they stumbled upon,” she said. “It forces you to make time for yourself, something that’s really hard for students to do nowadays.”

Sophia Noulas, FCLC ‘17, another member, characterizes the space as, “A creative support system where you can share your latest works and thoughts without fear of being booted out.” This mentality encourages new attendees to share their own personal work as well as older members with stage fright to feel comfortable speaking in front of their peers. “Even if you don’t know anyone in the room, as long as you know someone in a book, you’re in,” Noulas said.

It is quite clear that Poetry Collective serves students far beyond that of a weekly club meeting just for routine’s sake. The Collective is a microcosm in the name of art and expression in itself; it is an escape from both the monotony and stress of early adulthood. Simply and eloquently put, Hampton captured the essence of the Collective better than any onlooker ever could: “It is a beautiful intra-personal melt of creative potential and impetus; a written tide that we pull into being, that wages weekly wriggling lines on a blank white shore.”