Wednesday, July 25, 2012

National Poetry Slam 2012 and a new video for "Smalltalk"

L-R: Kait Rokowski, coach Sam Cook, Guante, Shane Hawley, Khary Jackson and Hieu Nguyen.

After taking a year off, I'm going back to the National Poetry Slam (NPS) this August as part of the first ever united Twin Cities team. It'll be my sixth time going in five years. As part of the St. Paul team, we won twice. This is one of the strongest teams our scene has ever put together, and we'll be trying to bring a third National Poetry Slam title back to the Twin Cities. Whatever happens, I'm incredibly proud of the work we've produced this year.

On a related note, I got a grant this past year from the Minnesota State Arts Board to film a special performance and release the videos online for free. There's a BUNCH more coming (both poetry stuff and music stuff), but here's a special sneak preview, courtesy of Unique Techniques. This is my token "what it's like to be me" poem, SMALLTALK. It's one of the weirder poems I have, but it's 100% from the heart. If you're an artist, you can probably relate:


by Guante

When my girlfriend’s parents ask me what I do for a living…

I pull a straight razor out of my back pocket. I don’t tell ‘em I’m a poet; I sure as hell don’t tell ‘em I’m a rapper. I just pull a straight razor out of my back pocket.

And sure: I could lie, I could say that I’m a pilot or a handsome man or a teacher or the change that I want to see in the world or a pipe-smoking grad student. I could go on and on about all the locked doors I can open, or the exotic locales that have crawled up my nose, or the blinding glossiness of my resume paper. I could give them joyful heart attacks; I could Santa Claus their systems.

But I don’t. I pull a straight razor out of my back pocket.

And yeah: this is overly dramatic. But I’ve never been very good at smalltalk. I’m always too busy wondering where interesting scars come from. Too busy asking myself how many poorly aimed arrows and casual brushes of skin and drownings and split seconds of eye contact over the past ten thousand years have constructed this moment. Too busy imagining the soundtrack to my life dominated by smiling, adult contemporary alterna-rockers, and saying no; give me hip hop dressed in leather, knuckles cracking. Give me whatever the opposite of novocaine is, let it pulse beneath my skin and make every cut and lick and bruise unbearably magnificent.

Because we could talk about the weather, we could deaden our colors and round our jagged corners so that we may fit more precisely in our own carry-on luggage; I could rattle off a string of pop culture references and we'd all have a good laugh, but I don’t; I pull a straight razor out of my back pocket.

And just as her father begins to say “so, you’re a barber?” I SLICE MY LITTLE FINGER OFF.

They jump back, instantly, like characters in a poorly edited student film, their lines caught between their teeth, their eyes staring straight into the camera. Levitating with pain, I pick my discarded digit up from the Olive Garden floor, and with the black sharpie I always keep in my other back pocket, I write my name on it, and I say:

“Give me ten dollars and I’ll let you keep this. Not the finger. The moment. Give me ten dollars as tribute to the truth that we once stood here, that I did something worth remembering, that you on this day witnessed something larger than traffic, or stormclouds or time passing. For the price of a fancy breakfast, press your fingers to the wet cement of my tombstone. Stand in the background of my iconography. It’s only ten dollars; tell my bones they’ve done a good job keeping me upright—tell yourself, that this day did not blur by, that this journal entry would be more than an absent-minded doodle. For ten dollars I will carve my initials in your brainstem.

“What do I do for a living? I am an artist. I am a turtle without a shell, and I have the scars to prove it. I am pulling myself from the magician’s hat night after night and I have the scars to prove it. I am leaving fragments of my body in every dusty corner of this country and I have the scars to prove it. Give me ten dollars, and I’ll show you everything.”

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