When The Inspired Word, the umbrella name of an ongoing series of presentations by poets, singers, rappers and other performance artists, began five years ago in a vegan organic restaurant in Forest Hills, its audience numbered around 10.
While the restaurant has since gone under, The Inspired Word continues to blossom as it — yes — inspires. And the crowds have grown tremendously.
How the series attained its enviable position as one of the city’s premier platforms for artists eager to share their talents is an inspirational story unto itself.
According to the brains behind the operation, Mike Geffner, a native of Queens who has lived in Forest Hills for the past 41 years, it started as “a little poetry series.”
Then, Geffner said, people seemed to discover performance poetry and began to spread the word. The crowds soon numbered as high as 65, a “monumental achievement” for a poetry event in the neighborhood, according to Geffner.
Branching out, Geffner said the first event in Manhattan drew an audience of 90. He now produces four or five shows a week between both boroughs.
A journalist with a 33-year career behind him, Geffner gave it all up when he realized that producing poetry nights “took over my life,” saying, “It’s a great achievement to build something out of nothing.”
One of Geffner’s most popular attractions is an open mic held every Wednesday evening at Coffeed, a cozy eatery overlooking Northern Boulevard in Long Island City.
Last week, so many performers signed up that the show’s announced starting time of 7:30 p.m. was moved up half an hour. As 9:30 approached, the show was still going strong, with additional audience members still piling in.
Geffner recalled as a child attending readings — by the likes of authors such as Joseph Heller and William S. Burroughs. To now be producing such events is “just coming full circle” for him, he said. “I relate to aspiring artists.”
As producer and curator of the events, which take place at multiple venues around the city, Geffner refers to what he does as “syndicating open mics,” and adds, “No one is doing what I’m doing.”
To what does he owe this success?
“There’s a tremendous amount of support for each other” among the performers, whose ranks have also included fiction writers, storytellers and even an occasional dancer, Geffner said.
When not on stage, the performers are part of the audience and have the opportunity to enjoy each other’s work. Often, even nonperformers are drawn into the act.
“We live in a reality generation,” Geffner said. “They don’t want to watch the show; they want to be part of it.”
Last week’s lineup included a tall, young African-American stand-up comedian who joked about shootings on the subway, and an older female poet who began by admitting, “I’m kind of late to the party” — and ended up exposing her heart in a paean to a dog that she said had taught her about unconditional love.
A young comedienne related an incident in which “this guy found out I was half Jewish and asked if I had horns.” She told him, “I’m half Jewish. I have one horn.”
And then there was the single-named Kippoo, a striking woman in flowing white dress who, as part of her audience-involving routine, said she had just gotten her driver’s license that day and “I don’t like road rage.” She called on the spectators to join her in a chant, “Karma is going to bring you down.” They happily obliged.
There are, of course, a number of regulars among the performers, some of whom have already begun to develop something of a cult following.
Danny Matos, 28, a graduate of St. John’s University, performed in his first spoken word open mic a year and a half ago. Known for his honesty and vulnerability, last week he presented a poem on the dualities within relationships, earning him one of the biggest hands of the evening.
Another popular presenter was Valerie Keane of Middle Village, who said she began writing poetry over 20 years ago. She has appeared at Coffeed nearly every week since Geffner’s first show there, two and a half months ago.
“This is an enormously supportive, kind group of people,” Keane said. “It’s pushed me to share newer works before they’re 100 percent done. It’s safe.”
Coffeed is located at 37-18 Northern Blvd. and is open Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for breakfast, lunch, sandwiches and, of course, coffee. For The Inspired Word at Coffeed, admission is $7 per person, plus the purchase of at least one food or drink item.
For more information on upcoming events from The Inspired Word, visit inspiredwordnyc.com.