Literally finding their way into a world above, a group of local poets who used to meet in the Linwood Public Library basement - and briefly at the Ventnor beach - have moved their monthly World Above: Open Mic Poetry to Dante Hall in Atlantic City.

"There is nothing like it around here," Ventnor resident Emily Van Duyne said.

After meeting at National Library Awareness Week in April, the talent in the region demanded a formation of a poetry group, and monthly poetry readings were conducted in the library's basement, Linwood librarian Aubrey Gerhardt said.

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"Our first two meetings were held at the Linwood Public Library with guest poets Peter Murphy and Joel Dias-Porter, two big names in poetry living right under our noses," Gerhardt said.

After some time, due to the sometimes mature content of some of the poems, the group was asked to move from the Linwood library, which is how they started meeting at the beach, Van Duyne said. And the Poets Collective was born.

"Some might say that making a choice to live in South Jersey sacrifices any possibility of being a part of the arts scene. The South Jersey Poets Collective proves that geography does not determine the fate of a movement," Gerhardt said at the start of the evening.

"It's exciting that it's happening here in South Jersey, in Atlantic City where cultural events are making a resurgence," Gerhardt said. "We're excited to be adding our flavor to a citywide trend."

What Van Duyne likes most about the readings is they are not stagnant or boring the way poetry readings can be, she said.

"It's wonderful to have an audience and see how people react," said Jacalyn Shelley, of Egg Harbor Township.

Poetry readings can serve as a forum where art can go really far in making changes socially, Van Duyne said, such as the recent controversial statement about rape by U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.

While in the growing stages earlier in the summer, the group discussed possibly moving into Dante Hall, which is a space Stockton College is promoting as a cultural center, Gerhardt explained.

Local poet Peter Murphy, who has connections with the school, was instrumental in helping the group secure the site as a meeting ground, she said.

"He's like every poet's fairy godfather with getting us" into the hall, Van Duyne said, who said it is a beautiful venue.

With a master's degree in poetry, Van Duyne is one of the more experienced poets at the readings, but she likes the environment in comparison to events at the college.

"Of course Stockton has stuff like this too," she said. "But everything changes in an academic environment."

"The range of poets is really impressive, from students to 86 year-old retirees, there are numerous perspectives to be shared and a lot of poetry to be absorbed. People are going to hear about it and will show up either to step up to the mic or to come and listen to the diverse range of verses," Gerhardt said.

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:


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