Thursday, May 17, 2018

New Video: "When They Look Right Through You"

This is an older poem (in my book, it's called "Cartpushers"), but it's probably one that not many people have actually heard. I'm happy to finally get quality footage of a decent performance. We ran with a different title for the video, hopefully something a bit more evocative. Two quick notes:

1. This poem is about the first job I ever had, and is dedicated to all the cartpushers, cashiers, drivers, servers, bartenders, and other service workers out there. For me, a fundamental pillar of spoken word is the idea that everyone has a story, and every story matters. So one of the most powerful things we can do is tell the stories that most people never choose to hear.

2. This poem also, for me, illustrates something I really appreciate about slam poetry as a style (which is, of course, a generalization, since a slam poem can be whatever you want it to be... I'm thinking more about tropes/formulas/common approaches): this isn't a poem that really "works" until you hear the last line. Everything else builds up to that. There aren't a ton of IG-ready quotes to share; it's really about the whole being more than the sum of its parts. I think spoken word is uniquely situated to build these little three-minute "experiences," and this poem falls into that tradition.

As always, I appreciate when people buy my book, but I also like to make the text available:

Friday, May 11, 2018

Poem of the Month: "Unforgettable" by Pages Matam, Elizabeth Acevedo, and G. Yamazawa

My name wasn’t given to me/ it was given to the rest of the country...

I've been doing weekly write-ups of certain poems on Button Poetry's channel, but I also wanted to highlight some older poems that are personal favorites of mine, which I'll be doing once per month here. It's a way to shout out some good work, and also to highlight some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers.

I remember my first time seeing this poem, and really being struck by G.’s line: "In Japan, your last name comes first; there is an emphasis on family. But in America, your nickname comes first, 'cause there is an emphasis on accessibility." For me, that’s one of the most important functions of poetry: to call out what’s hiding in plain sight, to encourage all of us to think more critically, and more intentionally, about topics we’re not always encouraged to think deeply about. Everyone has a name; how much do you think about where yours came from? What does it mean to you? What does it express, and what does it not express? How do our names move with us as we move through the world? These are big questions.

The whole poem is a great example of using something “small” and personal (names) as an entry point to explore an issue that is much bigger. While all three poets approach that issue from different angles, with different experiences, the overall “thesis statement” of the poem is laser-focused. This is a useful thing for aspiring poets to remember: there’s a difference between a poem about a topic and a poem that has a specific thing to say about that topic. This is a poem that knows what it is, so to speak, and communicates its message all the more powerfully because of that.

Feel free to share any of your own thoughts or observations about the poem (or its topic) in the comments.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

New Interview + Some Book Recommendations

Looking for book recommendations? Here's one of my favorite interviews I've done, since I basically just got to shout out a bunch of my favorite writers: N.K. Jemisin, Danez Smith, Carmen Maria Machado, Ed Bok Lee, Patricia Smith, Bao Phi, Jeff Chang, Marjorie Liu, Emily St. John Mandel, Ruth Ozeki, and more!

Check it out.

Speaking of books, some cool news concerning my book coming soon. A sincere thanks to everyone who's picked up a copy.

Monday, April 23, 2018

New Poem: "Thoughts and Prayers"

This is a brand new poem; basically a "written the day of the performance" poem. It's kind of an experimental piece, in terms of how it work as a "poem," but addresses something that a lot of my work engages with in one way or another: power.

On that note, I also wanted to share this series of videos from Ricardo Levins Morales, that I would encourage every aspiring activist or organizer to watch.

I'll also refer people back to this post, which includes a ton of links, resources, and poems on the connections between violence (especially mass shootings) and how we talk about masculinity.

Full text of the poem below:

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Poems, Links, and Resources RE: The Connections Between Masculinity and Violence

In the spirit of this piece (sharing poems that might be useful entry points into conversations about white supremacy) and this piece (sharing poems reckoning with #MeToo, consent, and rape culture), I wanted to pull together some poems/videos, links, and resources for people looking to start more conversations about the relationship between violence (whether that's interpersonal/domestic violence, mass shootings, and beyond) and masculinity.

Because as the left focuses on gun control, and the right (disingenuously) focuses on mental health services, I think it's worth considering that there's something deeper going on. It's also worth considering that just because that "something" is a more complex problem than a single policy can fix, that doesn't mean that there's nothing we can do about it.

Reading Up: Articles and Essays
To find solutions, we first have to acknowledge the problem: there is something about the way we teach boys to be men (especially in a white, western, capitalist context) that encourages violence. When we only understand masculinity through the lenses of power, control, strength, and dominance, when our pop culture heroes are so often men (and so often violent men), when our views of "what it means to be a man" are shaped by racism and colonialism-- this all helps create a culture in which violence can be committed, normalized, and even rationalized, again and again. More:
  • Don’t Blame Mental Illness for Mass Shootings; Blame Men (Politico)
  • Men Are Responsible for Mass Shootings (Harper's Bazaar)
  • Boys To Men: Masculinity And The Next Mass Shooting (1A)
  • We will never address gun violence if we don’t address the root of the problem: masculinity (Feminist Current)
  • The Boys Are Not All Right (NYT)
  • Toxic white masculinity: The killer that haunts American life (Salon)
  • When We Talk About Police Shootings, We Need to Talk About Gender (Feministing)
  • Who Are The Majority Of Mass Shooters In The U.S.? (AJ+)

Having a Deeper Conversation: Poem/Videos
My work is about using poems as entry points to dialogue, since poems and stories are able to put a human face on issues that are, for some people, too easy to intellectualize or think about in an abstract way. With the above articles as context, my hope is that these poems can be resources for educators (or just people who want to start more conversations) to jumpstart some reflection, soul-searching, and community-building:
  • nayyirah waheed (from salt.)
    • This is the only poem on this list that isn't a video, but it's such a perfect entry point, one that sums up this issue elegantly and precisely.
  • Rudy Francisco: The Heart and the Fist 
    • This is a newer poem that powerfully makes the connection between gun violence and masculinity. This poem doesn’t just make that connection, though; it challenges us to see both why that connection exists and why it doesn’t have to. The link includes both the video and some further thoughts/analysis from me on the poem.
  • Elizabeth Acevedo: I use my poetry to confront the violence against women
    • This is a TEDx Talk, but includes multiple short poems. When the national conversation focuses on masculinity and mass shootings, it's important to keep a broader view of what "violence" means. It isn't always headline-grabbing. It isn't always reported. This conception of masculinity hurts people-- especially women, trans people and gender-nonconforming people-- every day.
  • Guante: Handshakes and Ten Responses to the Phrase "Man Up" 
    • I'm including both of these poems of mine here because they're both explicitly about how so-called "little things" (habits, word choices, small actions, etc.) both shape and are shaped by the larger culture. Especially when we think about masculinity-- our socialization starts so early, and is so insidious because those "little things," if we don't think critically about them, are so easy to never even understand as harmful.
  • Donte Collins: Genderlect 
    • This is a great exploration of how the positive things we're taught to think about men are so often rooted in the negative things we're taught to think about women. Violence can take many forms-- mass shootings, domestic abuse, sexual assault, any beyond-- but it often starts in the same place
  • Sam Rush, Kwene, & Oompa of House Slam: My Masculinity
    • This piece could be a good introduction to talking about masculinity as a social construct, as opposed to something that is inherently/inextricably "male." 
  • Javon Johnson: Baby Brother
    • The connection between masculinity and violence includes more than just mass shootings. It's about the violence we inflict on the people to whom we are closest, regardless of gender. It's also about the violence we inflict on ourselves.
  • Alex Luu & Jessica Romoff: Masculinity
    • Like the previous poem, this piece explores the issue of masculinity's connection to violence through family relationships-- in this case, a father's effect on his household.

Next Steps and Other Resources
"What we do" about this is a big question, and will shift depending on who we are, where we are, and what kinds of resources and audiences we have access to. So while "having a conversation" is not the only work to be done, it is an important starting point, and I hope the links and poems above can be useful. What follows are some examples of where people are taking this work:

As always, I'm far less interested in writing authoritative think-pieces as I am in just sharing resources and creating space for dialogue. So if you have other poems for the list, other links to share, or just some thoughts, feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The 2018 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series FINALS: March 31 at SteppingStone Theatre

It's that time of year again. This is the SIXTH annual Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series presented by TruArtSpeaks, and we've already been through five fantastic prelims and two semis bouts. Finals, featuring 12 of the fiercest MN poets between the ages of 13 and 19, will be held on Saturday, March 31, at SteppingStone Theatre in Saint Paul. Get your tickets now!

Every year, Finals is breathtaking. If you want to support youth voice, and also just hear some moving poetry, you should be there.

For more on the series, check out this MN Monthly piece, as well as the latest TruArtSpeaks email newsletter, as well as this great MPR story featuring a few poems.

And here's the first of many poems we'll be sharing from this year's series; check out this piece from Muna Abdulahi:

Friday, February 16, 2018

"A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry" | Relaunch Details, Release Party Update, Plus New Videos

1. The Book:
This book is a collection of pretty much all of my best work over the past few years. I self-published it last year, and now it's being re-launched as an official Button Poetry publication (along with a new cover design courtesy of Nikki Clark). Here's the blurb:

One part mixtape, one part disorientation guide, and one part career retrospective, this book brings together spoken word poems, song lyrics, and essays from the past decade of Guante’s work. From the exploration of toxic masculinity in "Ten Responses to the Phrase 'Man Up'," to the throwback humanist Hip Hop of "Matches," to a one-act play on the racial and cultural politics of Eminem, "A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry" is a practitioners eye-view of the intersections of Hip Hop, poetry, and social justice.

It's available for order now. The first 100 preorders are signed, and come with a special gift. The official release date is February 20.

2. The Re-Launch Party:
We'll be having a special performance on Sunday, February 25 at Icehouse in Minneapolis. I'll be reading some stuff from the book, along with some brand new work. I'll also be joined by Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay (who wrote the book's foreword) and singer/songwriting Lydia Liza, and the evening will be hosted by Dua. All three are personal favorites of mine, as artists and as people.

The event just goes from 7-9pm because early shows are awesome. The cover is $15, but that comes with a copy of the book. Tickets are available here.

3. Two New Videos!
These are both older poems of mine, but ones I'm proud of:

Thanks again to everyone who already bought the book the first time. This re-launch should expand the book's reach, but I'm definitely grateful to everyone who's already been plugged in.