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!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Poem of the Month: "Genderlect" by Donte Collins (Plus a Note About TruArtSpeaks)



"We aren't teaching our boys to be men; we are teaching them not to be women. And what does that say about women?"

I've been doing weekly write-ups of certain poems on Button Poetry's channel, but I also wanted to highlight some older poems that are personal favorites of mine, which I'll be doing once per month here. It's a way to shout out some good work, and also to highlight some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers.

First, I know this is an older poem from Donte, and they have a whole book of newer poems, as well as dozens of videos online. I also know that as poets, we don't always love drawing attention to our older work, but I wanted to highlight this poem for a couple of reasons.

First, even if Donte has grown as a writer and performer since this poem, this poem still has so much to offer. Using the Happy Meal toy imagery as a very small, concrete entry-point to a much deeper exploration of how we're socialized to internalize the gender binary is powerful. Moving from that into Disney princess imagery, into middle school bullying and sports imagery-- the poem is a waterfall of examples that support the poem's message. I've talked a lot about structure in this series, and this poem demonstrates the idea of a structural impulse-- not a strict, formulaic set of rules, but rather an intentionality around how an argument is constructed-- beautifully.

I know educators often use my poems (like this one and this one) in conversations about how masculine identities are formed and enforced, and how that so often connects to violence; I hope that Donte's poem (as well as others from this list I put together) can be added to the arsenal for those discussions. Because poems like these weave together personal narrative and concrete examples, they can be useful entry-points, something beyond a basic powerpoint presentation or whatever.

I also share this poem, however, because this video was taken at one of TruArtSpeaks' Be Heard poetry slams, and I wanted to give a shout out to TruArtSpeaks and how important that work is in the current climate. We're actually right in the middle of a campaign to raise $10k before October 15; ALL of that money goes directly into programming that ensures young people have opportunities to not only tell their stories and express themselves, but also to access high-quality mentorship and arts-educational opportunities. We run a free, all-ages open mic every week (Thursdays, 6-8pm at Golden Thyme Cafe), engage in dozens of school residencies every year, host all kinds of workshops and writing circles, organize the Be Heard series (every January-March), and more.

Donte was actually the first person this year to put up $1k for the rest of us to match. That generosity is a testament to the power of this work. Please consider joining the cypher and helping to power this work. You can donate here.


Monday, September 10, 2018

New Guante & Big Cats Retrospective Mix: "We Are Waking Up In Our Caskets" (Free Download)



With the new album, WAR BALLOONS, a week away, here's a free retrospective mix of songs pulling from the last decade of Guante & Big Cats' collaborative work. Perfect for a quick workout, hunting vampires, etc. Featuring:

Stories | Everything Burns | Welcome to the Border w/ Chastity Brown | No Capes | Gifted Youngsters w/ Lydia Liza | With Great Power | To Young Leaders | The National Anthem w/ Haley Bonar | The Hero | Asterisk

The new album is something else. Be sure to get your tickets to the release show (Friday, September 21) here!