Thursday, July 21, 2016

Beyond the Benefit: Ten Ways Artists Can Help Build and Support Movements

Note: this writing pulls together a few other things that I've written; I'm also planning on updating it with more concrete information as we get closer to the election.

On a personal level, things are stressful right now. I know I'm not alone in that. At least part of that stress is knowing how important the next three months are going to be not just because of the presidential election, but because of a whole host of other stuff on ballots around the country and here at home, plus the broader opportunity to do something with all of the energy, anger, and drive out here right now. A lot of us are trying to figure out how to best use whatever power, resources, or skills that we have to help make a difference.

So I'm thinking about the artist's role in helping to build a mass movement.

Of course, building a mass movement is everyone's job, and everyone has to figure out how best to leverage their strengths, passions, resources, access, etc. to contribute to the larger struggle. I think of teachers shifting their lesson plans in order to talk about current events. I think of religious leaders doing the same thing during their sermons. I think of workers organizing anti-oppression committees or even just book clubs in their workplaces. I think of athletes wearing #blacklivesmatter shirts and refusing to be silent. I think of online communities. I think of students. I think of young people. Everyone has some kind of power or access to space that can help this movement grow.

When it comes to artists, this conversation usually begins and ends with our art. People talk about the power of narrative and framing, the power to make the abstract concrete, the power to touch people on an emotional level and transcend petty campaign politics. And I'm with that. But that's not the conversation that I want to have here. Because I believe that as artists, we have more to offer than our art.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Few Resources, Links, and Readings Regarding Ongoing #BlackLivesMatter Protests

Like a lot of people in my community, I was out this past weekend at a couple of different actions/protests regarding the killing of Philando Castile (and others across the country). Rather than write my own big think-piece here, I thought a better use of this platform would be to collect a bunch of the links and resources that have been helpful to me over the past week (I also did this back in 2014, but it's time for an update). I'm framing this around the question "BUT WHAT CAN I DO?" which has come up a lot recently.

I think it's important to note that there's no easy answer to that question. I want to say "organize." I also want to say, though, that at different times, "doing something" will look different. It might be calling a jail to check on arrested protestors. It might be just showing up to whatever action is happening and standing in solidarity. It might be donating money to a bail fund, or dropping off supplies at an occupation, or filming a police encounter, or going to a meeting, or being there for a friend, or organizing a healing space or benefit concert, or a million other things. It doesn't mean, however, sitting back and criticizing what's going on when you have no skin in the game. It doesn't mean emailing your one Black friend and asking them what to do (they probably have enough on their mind right now). And it certainly doesn't mean business-as-usual. There's always something that can be done, even if that "something" isn't a big red button that fixes everything right away.

So here are a few starting points. Feel free to add more thoughts in the comments.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Finished Grad School - Now Booking for Any/All Future Dates



So I've been in grad school for the past two years. It was an interdisciplinary Masters program at the U of MN (Master of Liberal Studies) that let me focus my research on how arts approaches (especially through a spoken word lens) can make social justice education programs and curricula more critical and participant-centered. This topic allowed me to weave together disciplines like theater, public policy, journalism, curriculum & instruction, gender & women's studies, and more, and it's helped me focus and sharpen the work that I've already been doing: traveling to colleges and conferences, using spoken word as a jumping-off point for deeper conversations about identity, power, and agency.

I'm still working on a way to share all of that research and work here at my site; for now, check out one small piece of that project, my list of 100+ spoken word videos that might be useful to social justice educators.

In the meantime, I'm done with school. Forever. Which is wild. But that also means that I'm booking for Fall 2016 and beyond. If you want to bring me to your college or university, book me to perform, present, and/or facilitate workshops at your conference, or engage in a residency at your high school, please check out the UPDATED booking/info page on this website and get in touch.

If I were to present a pitch, it'd be that I've been involved with social justice education and facilitation for as long as I've been making art. So when I visit a space, I'm not really interested in just performing poems for 45 minutes and leaving. I want to think critically about how those kinds of spaces can be used in more dynamic and interactive ways. I want to facilitate workshops and skill-sharing sessions. I want to visit classes and explore how my work intersects with the work students are already doing. At conferences, I want to grapple with issues using narrative and metaphor in order to highlight different angles or frameworks for thinking about those issues. Mostly, I just want to connect. Feel free to get in touch, and/or forward this link on to anyone you know working in higher ed, community orgs, conference organizers, etc. Thanks!

Monday, June 13, 2016

New Video Featuring a Powerful Poem from Duncan Slagle, Plus the #BeHeard16 Send Off Show

Lots happening, as always. Three thoughts:

1. New Poem Video: Duncan Slagle's "Salem"

Thinking about young people being courageous and brilliant, and how important it is for us to listen to them. Here's a brand new video of Duncan, one of the ‪#‎BeHeard16‬ team members, with some powerful words on victim-blaming, scapegoating, and rape culture.

2. The #BeHeard16 Send Off Show: June 17
I'll be performing alongside Duncan and the whole team at the Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series Team SEND OFF SHOW is this coming Friday (7pm at the UMN Rarig Center; only $5).

Desdamona, Danez Smith, Khary Jackson, and members of the TruArtSpeaks Youth Advisory Board will be performing as well. That's quite a lineup, so if you're in the Twin Cities and into spoken word, do not miss it.

It's also the team's last performance before they head to Brave New Voices to rep Minnesota, and we can't wait for you to see what they've been working on.

More details, parking/transportation info, and a link to reserve tickets ahead of time here.

3. Orlando
Just one small addition to the larger conversation. Thanks to Sierra, Abeer, Igor, and the thousands of other voices (especially LGBTQ Latinx voices) driving the anti-homophobia, anti-Islamophobia, anti-"thoughts and prayers and nothing else" narrative that's so important.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Spoken Word Tips, Tools and Tactics Part FIVE: On Revision



It's been a minute, but here's the fifth entry in my video series sharing tips, tools, and tactics for aspiring spoken word artists and writers of all kinds. This video is sharing the questions that I ask when I'm revising a poem. Here they are:
  1. What is the poem's thesis? What, specifically, do I want the poem to say?
  2. Is every line necessary? Are there parts of the poem that are redundant?
  3. Are my opening and closing lines as powerful/memorable/engaging as they could be?
  4. Are there moments when I’m being abstract when I could be concrete?
  5. Can I push my imagery further? Can I avoid "level one" imagery and make this poem "more mine?"
  6. When I read the poem out loud, does it feel right? Does the poem "move" in a compelling way? Is there a some kind of intentional structure to it?
  7. Have I gotten feedback from anyone else?
  8. Bigger picture questions: What is the work that I want this poem to do? Who is this poem for? Who do I want to hear it, and who is most likely to hear it? Am I offering something to the larger conversation? Am I telling my own story and not trying to speak for someone else? Can I turn the lens of the poem more on myself? Can I be more present in this writing?
As always, I hope some of this stuff can be useful to any writers out there. Feel free to share. Also, here's my consolidated list of resources for spoken word poets.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

A Few Thoughts on New Twin Cities Hip Hop from Tony the Scribe, Desdamona, GP Jacob, Maria Isa (Plus Links to More)

Yesterday, BK-One posted this excellent rundown of some of the great music released here in the Twin Cities just in the past couple of months (including new stuff from Lady Midnight, Meta, 9th House, ZULUZULUU and more). I wanted to highlight a few projects I've been listening to lately, especially ones that may have crept under some listeners' radars.

Tony the Scribe: Mixed Blood
I can say from a decade-plus of experience: the temptation that indie MCs face to be “intense” can be overwhelming. Rapping kind of fast, kind of loud, kind of angry (or, alternatively, doing a lot of turn-up songs) is a quick way to get audiences who may not care about who you are or what you have to say to pay attention (that’s most audiences, by the way, at least until you break). I’m obviously guilty of this; not that it’s necessarily a bad thing-- I mean, I enjoy being loud and angry on stage. But that pressure to “sound hungry” also closes some potentially compelling stylistic doors.

The willingness to break from that mold is probably my favorite thing about Tony the Scribe’s new project. Better known as the MC half of duo Killstreak, Tony is a disciplined writer, excellent technical MC, and an artist very comfortable with conceptuality and storytelling. These are all great qualities, but the thing that sticks out on this project is how intense it is without being “big and shouty.” The intensity is emotional. The intensity is subdued, simmering, evocative. From the intentional pace and conversational tone of “Checkmate” to the barely-there whisper of “Out-of-Doors,” the intensity is earned through the subject matter of the songs as opposed to telegraphed by the hardness of the vocals.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

New Footage of "Ten Responses to the Phrase 'Man Up'" Plus a Massive Update of My List of Other Poets' Work

Lots happening right now, especially with my final grad school presentation right around the corner (Monday, 4/11 at 7pm at Rarig; free and open to the public). Two things related to that:

First, here is brand new footage of what has become my most popular poem, "Ten Responses to the Phrase 'Man Up.'" The Button Poetry version already has 850k views (!), and there's another version with 100k+ too, but this performance is just better, I think. If you know me, you probably already know this poem, but it's always nice to have a more definitive version available online. Find the full text here.


Second, I just completed a huge update to my "Beginner's Guide to Spoken Word and Slam Poetry" page. There, I've collected over a hundred poems that I would recommend to others; a few personal favorites mixed in with some that I think just do a good job capturing the power of spoken word as both a form of artistic expression and a potential teaching tool. Check it out, and feel free to get in touch with any suggestions.