Lyrical Devotion

A Jewish group builds a temple to verse

Between readings, Debra Eder sits in the second row with her sister, Melissa, leafing through a Barbie notebook thick with poems. Eder, 39, is of Polish-Ukrainian descent, but a native of New Jersey. ("Can't you tell?" asks her sister.) She started slamming four years ago at the Nuyorican Poets Café, the local temple of slam. However, there were times when she craved a different kind of audience. "She read a poem about the Holocaust," explains Melissa, referring to a performance of Debra's at the Nuyorican. "I think it was a little too intense."

And the PJL slam? "This is a group of Jewish people here to meet and mingle," says Eder. She makes the final round, and reads a poem about the time her Uncle Sigmund said she looked like the mother he lost in a concentration camp. Eder has a theatrical voice that rises and falls as she rocks on her black boots. The judges are polled: 7.5, 7.5, 6, 6.5, 8. Not bad. Later, after it's all over, Eder reflects. "I got very consistent numbers, but it's hard quantifying somebody's creativity."

The prize, a $35 bookstore gift certificate, goes to Freedman. Philip Roth would be proud. Self-gratification has won out over love ballads and war stories. Freedman converses with a small crowd at the bar, musing whether he will buy the work of any French writer "except Flaubert" or settle for a dictionary. In other corners, Jews are meeting and greeting. Cheese and crackers are disappearing. White zinfandel bottles are at half-mast.

Slam hostess Pearl Gluck at the Cornelia Street Café
Dennis Kleiman
Slam hostess Pearl Gluck at the Cornelia Street Café

"Look at everybody mingling, I'm so happy," says Gluck, pausing to whack the arm of Levine, who lingers shyly in his dapper leather jacket. "Go mingle, damn it."

The next PJL slam is February 16 at 8 at the Cornelia Street Café, 29 Cornelia Street. For info, call 792-6272. Transcripts of the slams will be posted online at

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