Caliper Hosts Poets House Open Mic

Caliper hosted an open mic at the NYC Poets House on April 17.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Honora Muratori

Five years ago, at the end of a long school day, Stuyvesant students could flock to the Poets House, a poetry library and literary center overlooking the Hudson River. Bright sunlight amplified a vibrant atmosphere where they pored over works of poetry and studied in the quiet, inspiring space. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and a burst in the water line, the House closed its doors to the New York literary community in March 2020. This year, on January 27, the Poets House’s doors opened once again.

On April 17, Caliper, Stuyvesant’s largest literary magazine, collaborated with the Poets House to host an Open Mic. The event provided a space for writers and performers to showcase their poetry, songs, comedy routines, and other works of art. This fitting rekindling of Stuyvesant’s connection to the Poets House was organized by Caliper Editors-in-Chiefs (EiCs) , with coordination from Jade Mapp, the House’s youth programs and access coordinator.

Since the pandemic, Caliper has published numerous physical issues for the first time in years, and has looked to expand its role in the Stuyvesant community, leading to the concept of their first open mic performance. However, the EiCs required some helpful connections to begin organizing this event. “The other Caliper editors and I had been talking for a while about doing some sort of open mic event with [Poets House],” senior and Caliper EiC Dalia Levanon said. “Then, my Writing to Make Change teacher, Ms. Thoms, approached me one day and said that she had just visited the Poets House and that she would love to help me get in touch with them to organize an Open Mic.”

Thoms connected the EiCs with Mapp, who was thrilled to help them organize an event. “[Mapp] was super enthusiastic about helping us and creating a relationship with Stuy again,” Levanon said. “Before the pandemic, the Poets House and Stuy had a pretty strong relationship so she was really excited to help us with that. It was pretty easy working out dates and times with the Poets House and they were really good about communicating with us.”

However, the EiCs faced some challenges with funding for the event. “One of my biggest concerns regarding the open mic was how we were going to afford it, because [...] our funds are just barely enough to publish one issue per semester so we really did not have a budget for this,” Levanon said. “I spoke to [Mapp] about it, and she was really helpful. She said that she would do the event for free. I’m just very grateful for that because it made [the event] more feasible and accessible.” 

The EiCs were also concerned that not enough students would participate, so they attracted attendees with extensive advertising. “The biggest challenge of the event was getting people to sign up. Performing at an open mic is scary and most people are not comfortable with doing that, understandably.” Levanon said. “We did morning announcements and posters. I think I emailed every single club leader that had any position in a club that was semi-related to [literature, performing, or] an open mic, and we also had people advertise it in their English classes. We really tried to go down every single avenue for getting people to perform.” 

Despite initial concerns, the turnout of the event was outstanding for senior and Caliper EiC Ivy Huang. “The event went way better than I thought. The turnout was pretty great, especially since several people who initially signed up pulled out last minute,” Huang said. “People brought their friends and even parents so that definitely made up for the no-shows.” Ultimately 50 students attended the event, which featured 20 performances. 

The event began with a reception of food and drinks, and the performances began at 5:00 p.m. While this was the most complicated portion of the event, the EiCs came prepared with a Google Form predetermining the order in which students could perform. “The advertising and organization were great, in my opinion. I liked that the Caliper leaders created a schedule of people who signed up beforehand and took turns calling us up, two by two,” senior Erica Liu said.

The open mic was casual and a welcoming experience for students who wouldn’t ordinarily attend such an event. “It was pretty simple. I just went into the Poets House and there were seats set up in a room with a mic at the front, they announced performers two at a time and they went up to the mic to perform their piece,” junior Jared Lee said. “I think the event was just cool for people who enjoy creative writing to share that passion. I’m definitely not an English type of student, but even I enjoyed the event.” 

Performers used the event as a venue to explore new ways of performing and receive feedback for improvement. “What I performed was a poem in the form of a letter or dedication to my younger self [...] I don’t really do spoken word poetry, [...] so this was a new experience for me,” junior Virgenya Zhu said. “It felt really good to hear from people afterward what they liked a lot, and what they thought I could improve on.” 

Along with giving participants a chance to share their talents, the event gave Stuyvesant students the chance to establish deeper connections with each other through their performances. “I saw some people there that I was acquainted with from class but I didn't know they wrote poetry or knew how to sing songs,” Zhu said. “I learned a lot about people that I wouldn't have learned otherwise if I didn't go to the event.”

In the future, Caliper is hoping to strengthen their relationship with the Poets House and host more events. “We would definitely love to organize future events with the Poets House and we’re definitely thinking of making this at least an annual tradition,” Levanon said. “We also really want to revive the open mic culture at Stuy in general. There used to be a much more thriving open mic culture here; people used to perform in the library, which would be nice to revive.”

Overall, the event was successful in accomplishing Caliper’s goal: creating a unique opportunity for Stuyvesant’s creative writers and artists. “I just want to thank the Caliper staff, the faculty advisors and the people at the Poets House for putting together this event,” Zhu said. “In Stuyvesant, you don't really get a lot of opportunities like this, all with being a STEM school. Caliper is putting in a lot of work, and it shows because this was a great event.”