Timing, as they say, is everything. The South Jersey Poets Collective, a relatively new group formed just more a year ago, believes the timing is right for a cultural movement in Atlantic City.

The group, which has dedicated itself to sustaining a community of artists interested in writing and sharing their poetry, hosts the World Above: Free Poetry Nights, held for free each month at Dante Hall Theater in Atlantic City.

The program's format is open mic, which is open to the public, followed by readings of works from a featured South Jersey poet and a visiting guest poet.

"SJ Poets was born at the right time, as they say, as Atlantic City works to build more cultural experiences within the city, not only for tourists but for the community," said Aubrey Gerhardt, who hosts the sessions and is a member of South Jersey Poets Collective.

The next poetry session will be held Sept. 25 and will feature poets Emari DiGiorgio and Emma Bolden.

DiGiorgio is an associate professor of Writing at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township and a N.J. State Poet-in-the-School.

Bolden has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, and was the recipient of a Tennessee Williams Scholarship for the 2008 Sewanee Writers' Conference and a finalist for a Ruth Lily Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation/Poetry magazine. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Georgia Southern University.

"We have two really amazing female poets lined up for this month that should bring out an interesting mix of people," said Gerhardt. "When we found out that Bolden was passing through South Jersey, we asked if she would be available to us, and she graciously said yes."

For the stand-up session, poets have three minutes on the mic and can sign up to read at the event or in advance on the group's Facebook page.

Poems are not screened in advance, so those who wish to read are asked to be respectful of those around them. No threatening, racist, homophobic or hateful messages of any sort will be tolerated, and the group's website advises that this series is recommended for adults due to the potentially mature nature of the poems read.

About 50 people attended last month's poetry readings, with about 22 participating in the open mic session, Gerhardt said. She hopes that as interest grows in the community about the monthly event, so will the number of people who show up and participate.

The group also has the support of professors from Stockton and Atlantic Cape Community College, as well as established poets who are Atlantic City natives.

The result is a cross section of poets of all ages and from all backgrounds, Gerhardt said. And now that the school year has begun, Gerhardt said she hopes more high school and college students will be able to attend and get involved. For her part, DiGiorgio has arranged for a shuttle to take a group of students from the Stockton campus in Pomona to Dante Hall in Atlantic City to attend this month's session.

And if by chance anyone can't make it to the monthly sessions, the participating poets do have the option of signing a release to have a recording of their reading posted on YouTube, so the public can experience some really great performances, Gerhardt said.

The monthly poetry readings are sponsored in part by Stir It Up Catering, which provides coffee and sweet treats for the evening, all free of charge, said Gerhardt.

The group's schedule is set through December and they are already lining up guest poets for 2014, such as Cynthia Arrieu-King and Josh Mehigan, she said.

In addition, the group is looking forward to getting its nonprofit status in 2014 and expanding its reach into the community through various programs.

Contact Lucia C. Drake:

609-569-7490

If you go

What: World Above: Free Poetry Nights.

Where: Dante Hall, 14 North Mississippi Ave., Atlantic City.

Parking: Free parking available in church lot behind Dante Hall, or for a fee in lot across from theater.

Who: Open to the public.

Cost: Free.

When: 7 p.m., once a month, on Wednesdays.

Upcoming schedule: Oct. 23: Cole Eubanks and Bruce Niedt; Nov. 20: Peter Murphy and Lili Mendozam; Dec. 18: MaryLisa DeDomenicis and James Richardson.

For info: see sjpoets.wordpress.com

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