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.

Friday, April 01, 2016

My Final Presentation/Performance for Graduate School: Monday, April 11 at the U of MN's Rarig Theater


I've been in grad school at the U of MN for the past two years. I'm super close to being finished. If you're interested in my research, you can come check out this public presentation/performance on Monday, April 11 at the U of MN's Rarig Thrust Theater. 7pm. Free.

I won't go into super-specific detail here, but my project basically centers around how spoken word can be a useful tool for making social justice education programs not just more engaging or more entertaining, but more critical. We are often tasked with covering specific topics: consent, microaggressions, bystander intervention, identity & privilege, etc. But part of my project is about figuring out how we can talk about these things while also cultivating real dialogue, making systems of power more visible, challenging capitalism and the neoliberalization of the university, encouraging agency and activism, and creating spaces for real collaborative learning and organizing.

Especially when we're talking about first-year orientation and welcome week programs, where time is short and real relationship-building is a challenge, I'm interested in how spoken word (whether through live performance, online video, or generative writing prompts-- and the open discussion that would accompany all three) can be used by facilitators to do the kind of work that powerpoint presentations or bullet-point lists of statistics can't do.

There will be a free, public, online element of my project too, so if you're interested in that kind of thing but can't make it to the event itself, stay tuned.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

New Video: "How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist"



I could write a whole thinkpiece here, but I will try to keep this commentary short. This poem has been through a lot of drafts-- even this video is subtly different from the one on the album, and both are different from what I've been performing over the past couple of weeks. Just a couple of quick thoughts (all of which are in addition to the album commentary I already wrote):

Probably the biggest theme on "Post-Post-Race" is the importance of having a more critical, wider perspective on issues of race and racism. Racism isn't just about "bad people being mean to other people because they look different;" it's about history, it's about systems and institutions, and it's about power. This poem is maybe the most direct exploration of that idea on the album.

Especially today, in the context of Trump (and the movement that he represents) it's important to see racism and xenophobia as bigger than one individual's bigotry. We should work to defeat Trump, but we should not labor under the delusion that defeating Trump will be enough. It won't. Electing a Democrat won't be enough either. Even electing a progressive Democrat won't be enough. Defeating racism (and sexism, homophobia, etc.) will take a multi-tiered approach, and I'd argue that step one is affirming that these problems are fundamentally bigger than individual attitudes or actions.

And "bigger" doesn't mean "invincible." It just means that our work is not just the work of changing people's hearts and minds; it's the work of changing our institutions, laws, policies, media, and systems too.

I'd encourage everyone to read Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow," which might be the most important book of the last decade. I'd also recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Case for Reparations," which describes the system that we call "racism" as clearly as you're likely to read anywhere.

Finally, I'd like to shout out a couple of organizing efforts that have been successful lately, especially in the context of challenging racism as a system. Here in Minneapolis, organizers have been mobilizing around efforts to stop using the Grand Jury system for police shootings-- and they've won. In Chicago and Cleveland, the prosecutors in the police shootings of Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice were both voted out. Campaign Zero continues to propose and fight for policies to end police violence. This isn't exhaustive, obviously, but I think it's important to point to some successes too.

Thanks again for listening and for sharing. The whole album is still available here:


Full text of the poem:

Monday, March 07, 2016

Guante & Katrah-Quey: POST-POST-RACE Available Now



The new album is here. Thanks so much to everyone who pre-ordered it, came to the release show, and had a hand in putting the project together. I will likely do a follow-up post with some more notes and thoughts on specific songs, but for now, just wanted to get this out there (although I will share a few more general reflections below).

As always, the only real way people will hear this is if you share it-- on social media, in real life, however. All of those RTs, re-posts, and emails make a real difference-- and me and Katrah-Quey really, truly appreciate it. I'm not really expecting this one to blow up on the rap blogs, haha. Word-of-mouth is everything.

Also, because you can't release an album without some kind of video too these days, here's a video of me performing the last two verses on the album (which work as a pretty good encapsulation of the whole primary theme of the album, as does this video I released last week) a capella:



Finally, I'd like to share a couple of thoughts and reflections, especially since this album is attempting to do some pretty specific things.