If you’ve spent any time in Cambridge, you’ve likely heard of Lizard Lounge. For 27 years, this venue under Cambridge Common has been a magnet for live music performances and the Poetry Jam community. Members of its passionate fan base and network of artists endearingly self-identify as “lizards” who return to the nightclub’s living room-like space week after week.
Slam master and bassist Blake Newman says, “We’re in residence every Sunday, barring the occasional blizzard, Super Bowl, or worldwide pandemic.” Starting at 7 PM, the poetry slam begins, followed by a featured poet and an open mic, both backed by Newman and drummer Phil Neighbors of the Blake Newman Group.
Slam competitors and open mic participants sign up each night on a first-come, first-served basis, so you never know who you might see or how their personalities and performances will build on each other. Lizard Lounge attracts a wide variety of people with diverse racial, gender, ethnic, and socio-economic identities, but art unites them. Energetic audience members—many of whom are performers themselves—create a call-and-response dynamic that performance poetry thrives on.
“It’s a safe space where everybody can feel included and special, where they can just express themselves and keep getting better every time they come back,” says Bill Stambaugh of Lizard Lounge.
Regulars set aside Sunday evenings to be together, but they also gather outside of Cambridge to collaborate, workshop pieces, attend cookouts, and, before COVID, travel to national poetry slam competitions. Some have even met their significant others over draft beers and friendly spoken word competitions. But whether they’re extending their reach locally at an unexpected venue like Hale or performing on a national stage, the impact of their work is deep.
“You will be moved by what you see here,” says Stambaugh. “You will be changed, and you will want to come back over and over again.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lizard Lounge / Bill Stambaugh.