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.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Button Poetry is Re-Releasing My Book for 2018

This February, Button Poetry will be re-releasing my debut book, A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry.

It's got a new cover (by designer Nikki Clark), but it's the same book that's been out for a year now. The book was technically self-published, and Button handled the online orders and helped promote it. As we've gone through a few runs now, we figured we may as well "make it official" and actually publish the book through them. I'm hoping this re-release puts the book in more people's hands. If you already got one, thank you! If you didn't, you can order it here. You can also read the full first chapter, "Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Spoken Word and Slam Poetry," here.

It's always weird seeing my book next to other poetry books (Button has also published books by Danez Smith, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, Rudy Francisco, and many others; mine will be joining a 2018 slate that includes Neil Hilborn, Rachel Wiley, and Jared Paul); I don't say that to be faux-midwest humble; I think the book functions pretty differently from most poetry books, so I'm extra grateful to Button for being so supportive of its weird vision. I'm currently working on the next one too.

Here's the full blurb and some nice things people said:

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 riveting, it’s blunt, and trust me, you will be smarter when you finish this book than when you started."
--Neil Hilborn, author of Our Numbered Days

"A poignant critique of power, privilege, allyship, identity and more, A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry grounds the abstract concepts of social justice in heart wrenching narrative poetry and brilliantly insightful raps. Generously loaded with commentary on his structure, process and pedagogy, this collection is arsenal, consider yourself weaponized."
--Tish Jones, poet and executive director of TruArtSpeaks

"A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry is more than just a book; it is an experience. To say every poem was welcoming would be a lie. To say it gave me hope would be another lie. It gave me fight. It gave me a set of nails, a hammer painted pink, and a dare to build something I always thought was impossible. Go! Get your hands dirty."
--Hieu Minh Nguyen, author of This Way to the Sugar

Come to the book re-launch event too! Sunday, February 25, at Icehouse in MPLS.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017 Wrap-Up Post: Songs, Poems, Videos, and Writing You May Have Missed

So, not a great year, in general. But I was able to be part of some cool stuff, and am endlessly grateful for everyone who helped make that possible. Here's a quick recap (and you can find my other end-of-year recaps here) of some of the stuff of mine that people may have missed:

1. My TEDx Talk:

Read more about this here.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Ongoing Thread: A More In-Depth Look at a Few Poems/Videos


A few months ago, Button Poetry asked if I might be interested in doing some more in-depth write-ups of a handful of poems going up on their channel. It felt like a good opportunity to shine a spotlight on some other artists, as well as share some basic critical analysis tools with Button's (considerable!) audience. Spoken word video has, after all, really blown up over the past few years, with millions of people watching poems online, sharing them, and beginning to participate themselves. I believe this is a good thing.

What's maybe missing, to some extent, is the space to develop some critique skills that go beyond "I like this" or "I don't like this." We do this in classes, workshops, and writing circles, but not everyone has access to those. We do this in informal conversations with one-another, but again, not everyone has access to those. And since there aren't really a lot of big spoken word-focused blogs, podcasts, journals, etc. (in the same way that there are for, for example, Hip Hop, or traditional page poetry), this felt like a niche we could start to fill.

Because that process-- of figuring out why we like something, or analyzing what makes a particular poem work, or being able to identify the tools and techniques being used-- is bigger than just poetry. That's about cultivating curiosity and critical thinking. Ideally, more people will begin doing this, both through Button and on their own.

For now, here are the write-ups that I've done. Note: Button posts a new video pretty much every day, so I'm not writing up every single one-- just the ones they send me. I hope these are interesting and/or useful. Feel free to post your own thoughts, disagreements, and observations.

Dave Harris: To The Extent X Body Including its Fists Constitute "Weapons"

Sam Sax: Written to be Yelled at Trump Tower During a Vigil for The NEA

Bianca Phipps: Stay With Me

Donte Collins: New Country (after Safia Elhillo)

Hanif Abdurraqib: Watching A Fight At The New Haven Dog Park

Javon Johnson: Baby Brother

Blythe Baird: Yet Another Rape Poem

Hanif Abdurraqib: At My First Punk Rock Show Ever, 1998

William Evans: They Love Us Here

Jared Singer: Silence

Ariana Brown: Ode to Thrift Stores

Mitcholos: Cacophony

Alysia Harris: Joy

Carmen Gillespie: Blue Black Wet of Wood

Olivia Gatwood: When I Say We Are All Teen Girls

Franny Choi: Split Mouth

Billy Tuggle: Marvin's Last Verses

William Evans: Bathroom Etiquette

Talia Young: While My Love Sleeps I Cook Dinner

Bao Phi: Broken/English

Soups: The Dark Side of Being Mixed

Ashaki Jackson: The Public is Generally Self taught and Uninformed

Rudy Francisco: The Heart and the Fist

(to be continued)

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

My Tedx Talk: "Five Things Art Taught Me About Activism" (featuring a new version of "Quicksand")



***UPDATE: a limited run of shirts available for order now featuring a quote from this talk; order before 12/21 and get free shipping (in the US)***

Here it is. If you want a summary, the talk is basically about how the relationship between art and activism is so much deeper than just art that happens to be about activist stuff, that there's a further connection in terms of process. The questions that artists ask themselves often mirror the questions that activists ask. The steps that artists take from idea to concept to art often mirror the steps that activists take from value to principle to action.

My biggest worry is that the title of the talk might insinuate that it's "for" artists or people who are already deeply engaged in activist work. And it's not, really. This talk is for anyone who knows the world is messed up, and wants to do something about it. Just a few notes:

1. The talk opens with a revised version of my poem "Quicksand." I've always liked that poem, but have also always worried that it's too easy to misinterpret, to read it as a critique of slacktivism, or a call for action-for-action's sake; for me, it's something more nuanced. It's my own fault as a writer that that isn't more clear, but this talk gave me a chance to dig into the poem a little more.

2. The full text to that poem can be found here, and it's also included in my book. As for the text of the full talk, I'm working on a highly-reimagined version of it for my new book, but I'd be happy to email anyone requesting the text for accessibility's sake. The little verse at the end is from the Sifu Hotman (which is me, Dem Atlas, and Rube) song "Matches," something I've found myself performing more and more over the past year.

3. The talk also plays off the zine that me and Olivia Novotny made this past year; I'm currently working on a revised/updated version of that as well. Feel free to share!