Sunday, June 30, 2019

Two Big July Shows: CONvergence and a New Project Release

Lots going on; two specific performances coming up in July that I'd like to share (EDIT: switched them around so the latter one is on top):

Sunday, July 21: "The Art of Taking the L" Release Party at Icehouse
Official Blurb: Join MC, activist, and two-time National Poetry Slam champion Kyle "Guante" Tran Myhre for the release of his newest project, "The Art of Taking the L." Admission includes a copy of the poem, an exploration of how much dominant conceptions of masculinity are defined by "winning" or "losing" and how that binary connects to gender violence, mental health issues, mass shootings, and beyond. Along with that brand new poem, Guante will perform some of his most-requested work around the themes of masculinity, consent, and dismantling rape culture. Proceeds from the event benefit the Sexual Violence Center (SVC), an organization that serves youth and adult victim/survivors of sexual violence throughout Hennepin, Carver and Scott counties.

Definitely excited for this one. It's really an opportunity for me to do the kind of set that I do when I'm on the road, but rarely get to do here at home. It'll be a themed "arc" of poems, all exploring masculinity, gender violence, consent, and activism. Button will be filming it, along with the inter-poem framing stuff too, so it can have a life beyond live performance.

I'm honored to be joined by Chynna Heu Moua and Jada Brown, two local artists you may or may not know already; but they're great. Get your tickets early!

Saturday, July 6: Guante & Big Cats at CONvergence!
"CONvergence is an annual convention for fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy in all media: a 4-day event with more than 6,000 members, and the premiere event of our kind in the upper Midwest."

As a duo, me and Big Cats don't play a lot of shows. This one just sounded like it would be fun. You can only go to it if you're already attending (and have passes for) the convention, but if that's you, please consider checking out our set! It'll be Saturday night, 8:30-9:30pm in the Hyatt 2 Regency Room (as part of Harmonic Convergence).

If you only know me because of my poetry stuff, or my political work, this free Guante & Big Cats sampler mix is full of examples of why our playing at a big sci-fi convention actually kind of makes sense. There's also the first single from our latest album, which is... out there.

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Few Thoughts and Links RE: The Ongoing Fight for Reproductive Justice

Image via Repeal Hyde Art Project
One of my all-time favorite tweets is this one from Mariame Kaba:

Questions I regularly ask myself when I'm outraged about injustice:
1. What resources exist so I can better educate myself?
2. Who's already doing work around this injustice?
3. Do I have the capacity to offer concrete support & help to them?
4. How can I be constructive?

It's interesting, to me at least, how much these questions line up with questions I ask myself about my own arts practice. Especially that last one: as a poet, I don't think my job is to write the "best" poem; it is to be constructive. To be useful. To offer something. Same with this blog: I don't write a lot of rabblerousing thinkpieces these days; I just want to share links and resources that have been useful to me, especially ones that point to specific, concrete actions (see more here and here).

And while those questions can be applied to any issue, I find them especially helpful when it comes to issues for which there isn't one big, obvious solution. With abortion access under attack (and for some of us, in states in which we do not live), it can feel overwhelming. I'm still trying to figure out how that poem (or poems) will work; I don't have a dramatic personal story to share here. What I do have, in the meantime, are some thoughts, links, and resources that have helped me wrap my head around this; here's what I shared on social media:

Thursday, April 11, 2019

National Poetry Month Writing Prompts

Photo by Tony Gao
For those who don't know, April is National Poetry Month. For some, that means they share poetry on social media, or book poets to visit their schools (wink); others engage in "30/30s," writing 30 poems in 30 days.

To be honest, I've never done a 30/30 and don't plan to. I definitely encourage others to try it, as long as it feels like a healthy challenge, and not something stressful; it just doesn't work for my personal process. I do, however, love the idea of sharing writing prompts, little poem starters or ideas for people who are looking for some inspiration, or are struggling with writer's block.

TruArtSpeaks is sharing a writing prompt every day this month. Young Chicago Authors also has an archive of prompts. There are plenty of others online. For this post, I wanted to share a few of my own, with a small twist.

Most writing prompts focus on form (and that's great!); just for a change of pace, here are a few that focus on content instead, leaving the form part completely up to you. Maybe it's a sonnet, or a song, or a persona poem, or an open letter, or something else; but here are a few topics I'd personally like to hear more poems about.

I am not saying that these are the only important issues of our time. I am not saying that every poet should stop what they're doing and write about these topics right now. I am not in the business of telling people what to write about (especially since we all face different interests, pressures, and expectations). But for poets, songwriters, and other kinds of artists out there who ARE actively looking for a challenge, I'd offer these five prompts:

Sunday, March 24, 2019

#BeHeard19 Finals: Saturday, March 30, 2019

The 7th Annual Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam series wraps up on Saturday, March 30, at SteppingStone Theatre in Saint Paul. Here's a link to reserve tickets.

I work with TruArtSpeaks and spread the word about Be Heard every year, and Finals is always an incredible show, an opportunity to not just support young people, but also witness some of the most dynamic, forward-thinking writing and performance art our state has to offer. This year will be no different... but it also will be. It's always the right time to listen to youth, but these past few months have really driven that point home in a powerful way.

I got to host the last semifinal bout in this year's Be Heard series; this was just a day after a white supremacist murdered 49 people in New Zealand. That juxtaposition got me thinking, more than usual, about the importance of storytelling, about how narratives are controlled and spread, and about what power we have to shift dominant narratives.

From mass shootings to climate change to racial justice to education and beyond, young people are either at the forefront of our movements, or deserve to be. Be Heard has always been a platform for that particular truth, something that is bigger than poetry, bigger than "celebrating" youth. This is movement-building work. The stage is a big, open, public space for people to tell their stories, to present counter-narratives, and to build community.

So if you can make it, I'll see you there. If you can't, but you're still interested in this kind of thing, please check out my big list of local open mics, slams, and workshops; in particular, I always shout out TruArtSpeaks' ReVerb open mic. It's every Thursday, 6-8pm, at Golden Thyme Cafe in Saint Paul. That open mic is free and all-ages.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Song Spotlight: "You Say 'Millionaire' Like It's A Good Thing" (Big Cats Remix) + Some Great Links on Wealth and Inequality



“Right now, I feel a need for all of us to breathe fire.” --Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

With more and more discourse lately (online and in real life) about how corrupt and out-of-touch the super-rich are, I wanted to share a few thoughts and links related to this song. "You Say 'Millionaire' Like It's A Good Thing" has been around for a few years-- the original version of the song is available here, and the lyrics are included in my book. This remix, courtesy of Big Cats, is the song's Final Form-- a lean, focused burst of venom directed at the rich.

As a writer and as an activist, I'm really interested in the power of language to reframe issues. It's important to write songs and poems that describe poverty, that tell our stories, and that call us to action toward economic justice; this song, however, was an attempt to do something a little more specific: to reframe the accumulation of wealth as something that is not just "an unfortunate side effect of the system," but rather as something that is *morally* reprehensible.

There are caveats; I'm reminded of Jay-Z's "If you grew up with holes in your zapatos/ you'd celebrate the minute you was having dough." The argument here isn't that all rich people are "bad" on an individual level (although many absolutely are!); it's that a system that makes it possible for the distribution of wealth to be so extremely, so obscenely skewed is flat-out wrong. It is directly responsible for the death and suffering of too many people.

And sure, we can have conversations about how wealth is relative, how even working class people in the US "have it better" than x, y, or z other group... but that's part of the point of the song too-- there's a point where that relativity fails. Maybe it's not at a million dollars exactly; but somewhere on the wealth spectrum, earning becomes hoarding. Need becomes greed. Here are some articles that go more in-depth; I hope they can be useful, especially as so many of us are watching the 2020 candidates navigate this issue:

Christopher Ingraham: "Wealth concentration returning to ‘levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,’ according to new research" (Washington Post): "American wealth is highly unevenly distributed, much more so than income. According to Zucman’s latest calculations, today the top 0.1 percent of the population has captured nearly 20 percent of the nation’s wealth, giving them a greater slice of the American pie than the bottom 80 percent of the population combined."

Farhad Manjoo: "Abolish Billionaires" (NYT): "But the adulation we heap upon billionaires obscures the plain moral quandary at the center of their wealth: Why should anyone have a billion dollars, why should anyone be proud to brandish their billions, when there is so much suffering in the world?"

Sophie Weiner: "AOC: A Society With Billionaires Cannot Be Moral" (Splinter): "'The question of marginal tax rates is a policy question but it’s also a moral question,' Ocasio-Cortez said. 'What kind of society do we want to live in? Are we comfortable with a society where someone can have a personal helipad while this city is experiencing the highest levels of poverty and homelessness since the Great Depression?'"

A.Q. Smith: "It's Basically Just Immoral To Be Rich" (Current Affairs): "It is not justifiable to retain vast wealth. This is because that wealth has the potential to help people who are suffering, and by not helping them you are letting them suffer. It does not make a difference whether you earned the vast wealth. The point is that you have it. And whether or not we should raise the tax rates, or cap CEO pay, or rearrange the economic system, we should all be able to acknowledge, before we discuss anything else, that it is immoral to be rich. That much is clear."

Charles Mathewes and Evan Sandsmark: "Being rich wrecks your soul. We used to know that." (Washington Post): "As stratospheric salaries became increasingly common, and as the stigma of wildly disproportionate pay faded, the moral hazards of wealth were largely forgotten. But it’s time to put the apologists for plutocracy back on the defensive, where they belong — not least for their own sake. After all, the Buddha, Aristotle, Jesus, the Koran, Jimmy Stewart, Pope Francis and now even science all agree: If you are wealthy and are reading this, give away your money as fast as you can."

Emmie Martin: "Here’s how much money you need to be happy, according to a new analysis by wealth experts" (CNBC): "'The lower a person's annual income falls below that benchmark, the unhappier he or she feels. But no matter how much more than $75,000 people make, they don't report any greater degree of happiness,' Time reported in 2010, citing a study from Princeton University conducted by economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman."

Jesus, in the Bible: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Friday, February 08, 2019

Profiled in City Pages' 2019 "People" Issue

This interview/profile by Erik Thompson (featuring this photo from Colin Michael Simmons) is a good snapshot of what I'm up to these days.

One additional shout out: if you're interested in all that stuff that happens at the intersection of poetry, social justice, youth voice, and movement-building, I hope this is on your radar: The 2019 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam series is happening right now, and heads into semifinals and finals next month.

Semifinals: March 9 at Metro State and March 16 at the Guthrie. Finals: March 30 at SteppingStone Theatre. All bouts start at 7pm, and they're some of the most exciting, emotionally charged, artistically dynamic events of the year. More info will be available via TruArtSpeaks.

As far as my own work goes, you can still catch my latest album here, my book here, and videos of my poems here. Thanks for tuning in.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

10 EXCERPTS FROM NEW YORK TIMES OP-EDS IN FICTIONAL REALITIES

(or “what happens when you understand conflict, but don’t understand power”)

1. “I condemned the destruction of Alderaan. Then I saw the longer video in which Princess Leia says some pretty mean stuff to Grand Moff Tarkin. In this outrage culture, it’s just so easy to ignore the larger context, and I apologize.”

2. “When we focus so much on the ‘wolfman’ terrorizing our village and eating our children, it implies that all men are wolves. We need to do a better job celebrating the men who aren’t werewolves, not just condemning the ones who are.”

3. “Dolores Umbridge tortured students. That’s no excuse for disrespect.”

4. “I don’t enjoy the hunger games. I think they’re ugly, violent spectacles. I just wonder, though, in our rush to make everything more ‘politically-correct,’ whether banning them would amount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

5. “I am part of the resistance inside The Nothing’s transdimensional cabal of existence-eaters.”

6. “While it’s certainly true that the phrase ‘there is no war in Ba Sing Se’ is propaganda meant to brainwash the populace into submission, one has to admit: it is peaceful here. Residents of Ba Sing Se aren’t constantly embroiled in debates about cultural appropriation or trigger warnings; it’s a place where things just work. The politics are moderate. The economy is roaring. The strangers are helpful.”

7. “This complete inability to see nuance, to put yourself in your rival’s shoes, to compromise: indeed, the people fighting the Nazgul are the real Nazgul.”

8. “I don't agree with Thanos murdering half the universe. But does that merit harassing him in the street, calling him names, having people trying to steal his glove? Imagine this happening to someone you agree with and see how you feel. Sure, Thanos is evil; but the Avengers are no angels themselves.”

9. “Who among us hasn’t, as an unruly youth, wiped out a village of sand people, or killed a few younglings while in the throes of teenage angst? Let boys be boys.”

10. “Count Dracula may be a blood-drinking murderer, but when these liberal college students pressure their universities to not invite him to campus for paid speaking engagements, they’re committing a different sort of murder-- the murder of our first amendment rights. Now, I’m no expert, I don’t have any ‘qualifications’ that merit a regular column read by millions of people, but I do know this: as my body is devoured by a swarm of giant bats, my last thought will be one word: civility, civility, civility.

(if this post doesn't make a lot of sense, here. are. three. pieces with some background)