Wednesday, November 21, 2018

New Merch Available


Just set up a new web store with some merch featuring lyrics from me + art by some very cool artists.  Each design comes in multiple colors/styles, and you can check out the artists and more of their work in the info sections.

The "matches" quote is from the Sifu Hotman (me, Dem Atlas, and Rube) album, and the other two quotes are from the Guante & Big Cats album "War Balloons." Aside from shirts, there are also mugs and tote bags for when you need to tote something.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Poem of the Month: "Clowns" by Robbie Q. Telfer



"From the stage, you can't see the hyenas; but you can hear them barking. Your job is to be meat dangling, to tease out the barking..."

I'm highlighting some older poems that are personal favorites of mine; it's a way to shout out some good work, and also to analyze some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers. Find the full list here.

There are two things on my mind right now. First, this poem has been a favorite of mine for years, and it's always fun to share great poems with people. Second, I get a lot of messages from poets asking for feedback on their work, and I think this poem kind of crystallizes at least some of the feedback I end up giving to 99% of people. And with Button Poetry's chapbook contest now open, I wanted to share a couple of observations that might be useful to aspiring/emerging poets out there.

Friday, November 09, 2018

New Video: "Love in the Time of Undeath" via Button Poetry



"Ours is not a love song sprouted from redemption, hope, or even longing...  but it is a love song. Sing it under your breath. Sharpen it, every morning."

This is an older poem of mine (it's available along with many others in my book); those of you who know my work may know: it's gone through three different titles. I like this one the best; I also like this footage/performance better than older ones.

It's a love poem, and yeah it's kind of a weird love poem, but it's a poem that's always meant a lot to me. I think love poems are great opportunities to dig into some of the nuances of our emotions; there's longing and romance in this poem, but there's also fatalism and cynicism; those impulses exist at the same time.

Not to get too word-nerdy, but I also love the word "undeath." I think it communicates something powerful not just about vampires and zombies,  but about in-between spaces, about states of being that move over borders and transcend easy, black-and-white dichotomies.

I hope you like it; please feel free to share. Here's the transcript; I share it here for accessibility's sake, but of course, if you like, please consider getting my book:

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Pressure on the Wound: Why I Vote


I know people sometimes see the numbered list thing and assume it's a poem, but this is really just a collection of thoughts, links, and resources related to why I think voting is important. Feel free to add more in the comments.

1. PRESSURE ON THE WOUND
It's so easy to say that voting is "just a band aid."

A better metaphor is that voting is "pressure on the wound."

That pressure won't mend the wound by itself, but it will buy time. It is one small, but necessary, step in a larger healing process.

Monday, October 08, 2018

How Do We Build a Culture of Consent? (New Zine)

The full text is below; click the image for a downloadable PDF if you want to print your own.
A big part of the work that I do is traveling to colleges and high schools to talk about consent and gender violence prevention. For me, though, that conversation can't just be about prevention on an individual, "being a better person" level. Of course, that's an important part of it. But when we talk about sexual assault, we're not just talking about individual perpetrators, individual survivors, and individual bystanders-- we're talking about a culture. How do we shift culture?

An activity that we often do is to put up three big sheets of paper, and ask the question: HOW DO WE BUILD A CULTURE OF CONSENT? One sheet is for things we can do as individuals, on our own. One is for things we can do in community, with our friends, family, and peers. One is for things we can do to shift policy in a larger-scale, sustainable way. You may recognize this framework from my other zine.

The idea is that the activity becomes a visualization of action ideas-- it's big, messy, and includes steps that experienced organizers can take right next to steps that someone who is having this conversation for the very first time can take. It shows that we have agency. We have power.

For this new zine, I wanted to share some of the results of this activity, some of the action ideas that thousands of students, survivors, advocates, and organizers across the country shared. It's short, of course, but can hopefully spark some conversations, and some action. Please feel free to share, or even to download and print/fold some zines yourself (here are cutting/folding directions). Full text here:

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Poem of the Month: "For Our Families. For Our Community." by Tish Jones



"Vote. Because this system should serve more than those who clutch dead ideals and documents drenched in dust; it should serve us"

I'm highlighting some older poems that are personal favorites of mine; it's a way to shout out some good work, and also to analyze some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers. Find the full list here.

This month, I wanted to share this Tish Jones poem (via TakeAction MN, shot by Line Break Media, featuring music by Big Cats too!) for three reasons:

1. First, Tish is the Executive Director of TruArtSpeaks, an organization I just donated $1000 to, because I've seen firsthand how powerful and vital their work is. There are just a few days left to reach this year's $10k fundraising goal, so PLEASE consider joining me in powering that work.

2. Second, this is a poem about the importance of voting. I write something about voting pretty much every year, and have a post coming with more thoughts and resources related to that. For now, though, I think this poem is a great reminder for those of us (especially those of us who CAN vote) who aren't already plugged in to plug the hell in. Schedule time to do it. Ask questions and gather resources if you need to. Find local organizations like TakeAction MN and dive in, volunteer for campaigns, have a plan.

In the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation, people are hurting, and angry, and sad. That's all valid. Voting absolutely isn't the only thing we can do. But it is one concrete action that can contribute to the larger movement-building work that needs to happen. Again, I'll be sharing more links and resources later this month. Oh also note, that this video is from 2014, and election day THIS year is not 11/4-- it's 11/6.

3. Finally, on a form level, this is a great poem to analyze in the context of the question: how do we effectively construct calls-to-action in poems? I just had a great workshop/conversation with some poets over at Macalester College where we discussed this, and it's a question that I am personally invested in asking wherever I go, especially when working with other poets. It is skill to be able to write a poem that isn't just "right" or "compelling" about whatever topic it's exploring, but has some kind of concrete action to share with its audience. It's hard to do well. It's easy to be corny, or preachy, or just not very interesting.

I think this poem succeeds for a few reasons:
  • The poem knows what it is. I get a very clear sense of who Tish is and what she values, as well as who the target audience of the poem is.
  • On a craft level, there's a lot of attention paid to sonic elements like assonance, alliteration, repetition and rhyme. It works as a poem first. Especially with the first point here in mind, it's engaging in terms of how it flows and choices made around sound.
  • It's short. Brevity matters in general, but especially for this kind of poem, it can't drag on for five minutes. Make it punchy. Make your point and bounce.
  • The poem uses juxtaposition in a subtle but powerful way-- large and small, ancestors and future generations, the powers-that-be and the power we have access to-- all of these frameworks and set up in an intentional way that flows into the larger statement that the poem is making.
  • On a content level, the poem isn't parroting the old "vote because it's your civic DUTY" line; it's saying something more specific, and more meaningful. It's connecting the listener-- especially the listener who may not come from a privileged place in society-- to a history of struggle, not to mention a *present* in which far too many people have had their rights stripped away. That connection drives the call-to-action. The poem does a lot of work in just a minute-and-a-half.
One of the central questions we ask in these conversations about anthems and calls-to-action is about whether the poem that wins a poetry slam, or goes viral on the internet, can also be performed at a rally. Or a fundraiser. Or an improvised protest. The answer is very often no, because those kinds of poems require an approach that we don't always learn-- whether we come from the MFA world or the slam poetry world. It is possible to write those poems, though, as Tish demonstrates here. It is also necessary, especially in this historical moment.

Further Reading:
  • Find more from Tish Jones (and book her for your college, conference, etc.) here.
  • Find more about TruArtSpeaks on all social media: @TruArtSpeaks
  • Find a full list of my poem commentary/analysis essays here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Guante & Big Cats: WAR BALLOONS is available now!



Happy release day. It's available on Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music, and all that. Hope you like it.

And if you're in the Twin Cities, please come check out the release party this Friday! You can get your tickets now.


Will be sharing more thoughts on the album in a while, but wanted to give people a chance to just listen first. Thanks!