Monday, December 26, 2016

2016 Wrap-Up Post: Songs, Poems, Writing, etc.

A 2016 wrap-up post, featuring some of the stuff I created or released that you may have missed:

1. I Wrote a Book
I've been working on this for a long time, so thanks so much to everyone who has already picked up a copy, and to Button Poetry for the signal boost. Here's the official blurb:

One part mixtape, one part disorientation guide, and one part career retrospective, this book brings together spoken word poems, song lyrics, and essays from the past decade of Guante’s work. From the exploration of toxic masculinity in "Ten Responses to the Phrase 'Man Up'," to the throwback humanist hip hop of "Matches," to a one-act play on the racial and cultural politics of Eminem, "A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry" is a practitioners eye-view of the intersections of hip hop, poetry, and social justice. Get it in-person or online here.

2. New Album: Guante & Katrah-Quey: "Post-Post-Race"
Katrah-Quey and I released an album all about race, racism, and solidarity, featuring a bunch of my favorite local voices. You can get the whole thing here, but here are a few highlights:

3. Sifu Hotman's "Matches" on Vinyl (Plus a B-Side with Tall Paul)
I'm very glad that we got to do a vinyl release for this song, which is both my most successful song (thanks to its being featured on Welcome to Night Vale) and one of my most personal, meaningful songs. Get it here. I'm also proud of the b-side, a remix of "Embrace the Sun" featuring Tall Paul:

4. 8 Million Views for "Ten Responses to the Phrase 'Man Up'" on Facebook
This was a great surprise to close out the year with: Button Poetry posted my poem (which is a few years old now) as Facebook video, and it took off. It's nice to see that the message of that particular piece is still resonating with so many people, especially this year. See the video, and read more about the poem, here.

5. A Handful of New Videos
Between my own page and Button Poetry's, we released a few new poems and a few updated versions of older ones, plus a couple of songs:

6. Some Writing and a New Zine Project
While most of my writing focus this year was on my book (and finishing grad school), I did post a couple of pieces:

7. I Finished Grad School
A few thoughts on what I did there and how it impacts my work moving forward, plus a link to one real-world resource that came out of my research: a list of 100+ spoken word poem videos for use by social justice educators.

8. TruArtSpeaks Contines to Grow
Under the leadership of Executive Director Tish Jones, it was another great year for TruArtSpeaks; I'm both honored to have been able to be part of that and excited about this coming year. The Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series starts up again in January!

9. Shows, Connections, and Reasons to Be Excited About 2017
This year was bad in a lot of ways, for a lot of people. I'm grateful for the opportunity to travel, to perform, and to work with people from so many different communities on issues that matter-- from the ArtChangeUS Design for Equity Conference, to the MN Campus Sexual Violence Prevention Summit, to opening for Marc Lamont Hill at the UMN, to Brave New Voices, to a bunch of college/university visits all over the country-- it's clear to me that as dire as the situation in this country might be, there are still a whole lot of bold, brilliant people doing the work. As I think about 2017, I'm trying to figure out how best to use whatever resources I have to support those people.

I'm excited about local politics-- 2017 is going to be a huge year in Minneapolis with regards to city council races. I'm excited about Jillia, Jeremiah, Andrea, Erica, Phillipe, and all of the sharp, community-minded people running for seats; I'll be posting more about this as the caucuses approach. But even if you're not in Minneapolis-- this is going to be a BIG year for local politics in general-- that's the level at which so many battles are going to be fought, and we can win them. Get involved.

Related to that, I'm excited about the potential for artists to meaningfully plug into movement-building work, now more than ever. Will be sharing thoughts and resources (beyond what I've already written) very soon.

My excitement is not to say that things aren't scary, or that people aren't going to be hurt by what's going on in this country. Our fear is valid. But so is our courage. I'm excited to see more and more people start to realize that there is no "neutral," that change starts with us, that plugging into activist organizations and getting involved is a key first step in creating the world in which we want to live, no matter who is in office. It's going to be a tough year, but I believe in the power of this movement.

Finally, as for me, I've got a new music video coming out right away this January. I'm also booking for both Spring and Fall 2017. Also working on some new projects. Just want to say thank you for reading and connecting. Let's keep building.

Friday, December 09, 2016

For People Who Want to "Do" Something But Don't Know What to Do (Downloadable Zine + Text)

(updated June 2018; if you're interested, my TEDx Talk also draws from the ideas in this post)

Design by Liv Novotny; words by Guante
I shared my post-election thoughts a while back, and here's something a little more substantial. As an artist who routinely gets up in front of hundreds of people and talks about activism and power, and as someone who also has lots of friends who do that same thing, in some way or another, I've been trying to think more critically about how we USE that platform.

Because talking about issues is good and important, but so many of those performances or conversations end with "talk is not enough; go do something." And for those of us who have had a political education, we know what that means. We may still struggle with the specifics, or experience anxiety about not doing enough, etc., but it's a statement that makes sense.

For a lot of people, however, I'm wondering if "go do something" is a little too abstract. Especially for young people, or people with no prior activist experience, or people who are isolated due to identity or geography-- how can we make "go do something" really mean something concrete and specific? How can we use the platforms that we have access to to cultivate a culture of organizing, to promote activism not just as some weird hobby that a few hippies do, but as something that everyone can and should and must do?

That's the impulse behind this zine project (text by me, design by Liv Novotny). It's nothing revolutionary; just sharing what I've learned about action, power, and change, while highlighting concrete action points and plugging people in to existing networks. The image at the top of this post links to a PDF of the entire document (which needs to be cut and folded a particular way to become a book, which I'm sure you can figure out). The basic text is included below as well.

Monday, December 05, 2016

A Million Views for "Ten Responses to the Phrase 'Man Up' " in Two Days

(edit: ten million now)

On Friday, Button Poetry posted their footage of my poem "Ten Responses to the Phrase 'Man Up' on Facebook video, and it reached a million views in just two days (the original version on YouTube is almost up to a million as well, but was posted three years ago; there's also this version, with the full text as well, on my own page, which I think is the highest quality audio/video).

Obviously, numbers don't mean everything. But it is cool to see a poem with a message like this resonate with so many people. I doubt that a million views means a million people watched, but one number that does matter to me is those 25k shares. I figured I'd use this opportunity to both say thank you for all of the shares and reposts, but also to share a couple of thoughts on the poem itself:

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Post-Election Thoughts and Resources

First of all, I think it's worth noting that whatever emotional response you might have to this is valid. I'm not trying to push anyone right into "this doesn't matter; let's just get to work" mode. Similarly, I like the twist on the classic Joe Hill quote "don't mourn; organize." It's possible to do both. It can be necessary to do both.

In that spirit, just wanted to share a few links/thoughts that have been helpful for me; maybe they can be helpful to you too.

1. Space to Support Each Other: First of all, a timely thing: since I know a lot of UMN students, I'm sharing a link to this space for dialogue, processing, and community-oriented self-care today, for anyone who might need it.

2. This interview with Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture on Twitter):
"[We] have to think and imagine bigger and understand that these things take a long time and we’re not going to end things in this moment, we’re not going to rebuild the entire world in seconds, and that we’re part of a long struggle." - Mariame Kaba

3. Real talk from Jay Smooth:
"I don't know if we will survive; I don't know that we'll be okay. But what I know, is that we will resist."

4. A Note on the MN Activist Project:
I put together this database of local activist organizations a few years back; it feels like it's time for a major update. If you have notes for me, get in touch. Either way, I'm going to work on adding to this and making it as useful as it can be. A focus on local struggles is going to be an important tactic for the next four years.

I'm also adding this link, to a big bank of resources regarding legal matters, health stuff, etc. that could be affected in the next few years.

Again-- I wouldn't dream of telling people how to process, or how to grieve, but it is worth noting that change comes from organized movements; now is a great time to get involved. Whether that involvement is showing up and working, supporting that work through donations, signal-boosting and leveraging networks, or something else, it's key.

5. My Thoughts:
I don't think it's helpful to just tell people to "relax." Or, really, to tell people to do people anything. Let's listen. Let's be there for each other. Especially today. Check in on your people. If it is helpful for you to vision/brainstorm about activist plans, do that. If it is helpful to use this as an opportunity to more fully commit to a particular cause or movement, do that. If it is helpful to just hang out with friends or read a book alone, do that.

This matters. It's bad. But I'm reminding myself that everything that we (and I'm thinking about the "we" who cares about equity and justice and empathy) told ourselves we'd have to do under a Clinton presidency is still the work that has to get done under a Trump one. It might be tougher now, and there might be other things that come up that will demand our attention, but again-- I believe in this movement. I believe in us.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

New Video for "Action" Up at Button Poetry + Some Connections

Thanks again to Button for the signal boost-- but especially for posting this poem, right now, in this climate/context. A few notes:

1. You can find the full text here, and this poem is also included in my new book, available online through Button or in person.

2. This is one of those poems that is about a specific topic, but has more going on underneath too. On one level, it's about men's responsibility to talk to other men about gender violence and sexual assault preemptively and proactively. This is not to say that men are always the perpetrators, or that men can't be victims, or that sexual assault only occurs along the gender binary-- none of that is true. It is just to say that statistically, it's important that men bring these conversations into spaces to which we have disproportionate access.

But on another level, this is a poem that attempts to think critically about the concept of allyship, or a framework that only allows for heroes and villains. It's about how much anti-oppression work of any kind is about relationships and the community/culture we build through both our actions and inaction. I hope that we can read/hear this poem in that context as well-- especially with everything going on in the world right now-- the election (my thoughts on that here), #NoDAPL, the continuing struggles against mass incarceration and police violence, and a whole host of other issues. What does it mean to challenge ourselves to do more than just "be" on the right side of an issue?

*EDIT: a handful of post-election resources relevant to this conversation*

3. I got to perform this poem at the United Nations last year, which I think is testament less to the poem or to me, and more to the work that so many have been doing-- on campuses, in communities, on social media, and everywhere else, to fundamentally move the conversation around sexual assault forward. In MN alone, I have to shout out SVC, the Aurora CenterMNCASA, and everyone doing that work.

Please feel free to share. A couple other resources:
  • I put together a list of poems on consent and rape culture as part of an even larger list here.
  • Another relevant poem of mine up at Button: "Consent at 10,000 Feet." 
  • You can find my booking info (for performances, workshops, conferences, etc.) here.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

One Last Post on the 2016 Election

Just voted. Three quick thoughts:

1. If you live in a state with early voting (like MN), do that. Aside from just the convenience of picking which day is easier for you, it makes the line shorter for other people on election day. Here's a link to MPLS sites, just as an example; if you're somewhere else, google it.

2. Knowing the general audience who reads my work, I think it's worth sharing: yes, voting matters. No, it can't take the place of organizing. No, it won't magically stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, police violence, poverty, or climate change. Yes, candidates are imperfect. Yes, we need to think beyond election day. All of that is true, and voting still matters. It's a power bottleneck that allows us to help decide whether that post-election day organizing will be offensive or defensive in nature. That's the key for me, more than any other argument. And especially in down-ballot races and referenda, it can have a real impact on people's lives.

So yeah. Please vote (if you're able). Then, of course, we get back to work on 11/9 no matter what the outcome is.

3. I'm not really interested in telling people for whom to vote (aside from the obvious one: not Trump), but I did share my own thought process regarding Dems vs. Greens (and the larger issues that are part of that debate), in case anyone is interested.

Clearly, I've been talking about this, and everyone has been talking about this, so there's probably nothing revelatory in here. I just think it's worth pushing back against the assumption that voting doesn't matter, or that election time has to be a time when everyone tunes out of movement-building work to focus solely on voting. If anything, I see people more plugged-in, and paying more attention, right now. The key is harnessing that energy. 2017 can be a spectacular, transformative year when it comes to movement-building and people-powered activism. But that work is on us, not our politicians.

Finally, a word from Tish Jones:

Friday, October 21, 2016

Guante's New Book Is Available NOW

at the Twin Cities Book Festival
One part mixtape, one part disorientation guide, and one part career retrospective, this book brings together spoken word poems, song lyrics, and essays from the past decade of Guante’s work. From the exploration of toxic masculinity in "Ten Responses to the Phrase 'Man Up'," to the throwback humanist hip hop of "Matches," to a one-act play on the racial and cultural politics of Eminem, "A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry" is a practitioners eye-view of the intersections of hip hop, poetry, and social justice.

***UPDATE for 2018: Button Poetry is officially re-releasing my debut book (the one this post is about). You can get it here.***

Read the full intro chapter: 
"Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Spoken Word and Slam Poetry"

Thanks to everyone who has already picked up a copy!

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

On College Republicans, "Build the Wall," and Anti-Immigrant Bullying

image via Navigate MN
Very brief background for those who don't already know: at the University of MN, student orgs each get to paint a panel on a long wall to promote what they do. This year, the College Republicans' panel included the phrase "Build the Wall." This made a lot of people angry. Someone painted over the panel. Navigate MN, along with La Raza and others, organized a powerful open mic-style action that allowed student activists, multicultural Greek leaders, community members and others to share their stories and stand in solidarity with each other. La Raza and the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (along with the Gender and Sexuality Center and Women's Center) each held open forums/processing spaces for further conversation and strategizing. President Kaler released a statement expressing grave concern about, yeah, the vandalization of the panel (as opposed to what the panel actually said). Finally, the school's conservative alternative newspaper printed one of the most bizarre op-eds I've ever read in a conservative student paper (which is really saying something) comparing the vandalization of the panel to rape culture.

Mostly, I just wanted to use this space to link to the various organizations doing good work around these issues (links included below), but I'll share a couple of brief thoughts too:

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Guante's New Book: Preorder Info, Release Events, and The First Chapter Available Now!

I wrote a book. It shares the title of my sampler album, "A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry," and features spoken word poems, song lyrics, and essays on art, activism, media, and more. Part mixtape, part disorientation guide, and part career retrospective, the book represents the work that I have been refining and performing over the past decade or so. It also includes a foreword by the incredible Saymoukda Vongsay. The official release date is October 4, 2016. A few notes:

1. Order the Book through Button Poetry
Here is a link to order the book online. Especially for people outside of the Twin Cities area, who may not be able to attend any release events, this is the best way to get it. The books are signed, and come with a copy of my sampler album of the same name, which contains my favorite songs that I've recorded.

2. Come to a Release Event
I wanted to do something different for the book's physical release. Rather than throw one big me-centric event, I thought I'd support a handful of events that are already happening, and have a "release month" instead. Come to any one of these events to pick up a copy:
  • October 3: Button Poetry Live at Camp Bar in St. Paul; 7pm doors, 8pm event. 18+.
  • October 15: The Twin Cities Book Festival at the MN State Fairgrounds; I'll be at a table there the whole time (10am - 5pm). Free, all ages.
  • October 20: TruArtSpeaks' ReVerb Open Mic at Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul; 6-8pm. Free, all ages.
  • October 28: I'll be performing at the Overcoming Racism Conference at Metro State University.
  • November 4: "Page.Stage.Engage" at the UMN Whole Music Club; 7:30pm doors, 8pm show. Free, all ages. More details TBA.

3. Bring Me to Your City, College, or University
If you'd like to bring my book tour to your city, college, university, library, book store, or wherever, thank you. I'm available for performances, interactive workshops, keynotes and more. Here is my booking information

This wasn't originally in the book, but I added it as a kind of intro chapter to frame everything else. As spoken word (at least the kind driven by poetry slams, viral videos, etc.) continues to get more and more popular, it struck me as strange that a piece like this didn't already exist somewhere. Obviously, not everyone is going to agree with everything in this, but I think it's a useful starting point for a broader conversation.

On a personal level, it feels good to have this project done; it's been years in the making. It is more of a retrospective than a collection of new work (though there is some new stuff in it); but I think there is value in that, especially for those of us who are on the indie/DIY side of the arts world. Aside from the poems, lyrics, and essays, the book also contains a big bank of discussion questions and writing prompts, and my hope is that it can be useful for educators in multiple contexts. I also wanted to have the book to increase accessibility to my work, since I work in a primarily audio/visual medium. As always, thank you for reading and thank you for the support.

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Spoken Word and Slam Poetry (aka the first chapter of my new book!)

Friday, September 02, 2016

A Back-To-School Intro to Spoken Word and Slam Poetry in the Twin Cities

***UPDATED 9/10/19***

First off, here is a list of local spoken word events, open mics, and poetry slams that I put together. As always, a quick disclaimer: that list, and what follows here, are not guides to every spoken word-oriented event or organization in our community. Just a few that I'd recommend. Feel free to recommend more!

The Twin Cities has one of the most vibrant spoken word scenes in the country, and whether you're new here or grew up here, here are a few highlights that should be on your radar:

TruArtSpeaks, Be Heard, and the ReVerb Open Mic
This is an organization that I work with, so I'm a little biased, but I also know that we do good work. Be Heard is the annual youth (13-19) poetry slam series; last year was huge, and this year should be even bigger, so watch out for news on that. The ReVerb open mic was highlighted as the Best Open Mic in the Twin Cities by City Pages in 2015. It takes place every Thursday at Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul, 6-8pm, and is free and all-ages. It's a unique, intimate space, and the event is built around dialogue and community-building-- all great factors for anyone who is just getting started, or is maybe a little nervous. There's also a free writing workshop at 4:30pm every first Thursday of the month.

Button Poetry and Button Poetry LIVE
If you've ever seen a viral poetry slam video online, the odds are very good that it was a Button Poetry video. With over a million subscribers and 200 million+ views, they've become the premier source for spoken word video on the internet. They're also based in the Twin Cities. What's more, Button hosts a monthly poetry slam every first Monday of the month (at the Park Square Theater in Saint Paul) that is open to anyone (18+) willing to have their work judged by strangers (though please note, not everyone who signs up is guaranteed a slot to perform). Featuring big-name national featured poets, Button Poetry Live is consistently one of the best shows in town; they also put on some great non-slam spoken word shows (often at Icehouse or Honey, both clubs in Minneapolis). Check out their calendar here.

College Poetry Slams and Spoken Word Organizations
For a lot of college students, the easiest place to plug in is with your on-campus organization. Here are some links to the ones that I know, though I'm sure that there are others too. Keep in mind that student orgs don't always update their social media as regularly as they could; you may have to do a little digging of your own to find out when the next events are:
  • Hamline Poetry Slam
  • Macalester Poetry Slam
  • SPEAK Poetry at the University of MN
  • There are or have been spoken word groups at MCTC, Augsburg, Metro State, St. Kate's, St. Thomas, Carleton, and other schools (not to mention high schools); I don't have info for them currently, but it may be a matter of searching around and/or starting one yourself.

Equilibrium at the Loft Literary Center
The most powerful spoken word shows that I've attended have been part of the EQ series, which brings together national and local spoken word artists of color. They did a "supershow" last year, and it was incredible-- you can watch the whole thing (including Patricia Smith, Ed Bok Lee, Danez Smith, myself and many more) here. The Loft also offers classes on a wide range of writing topics, if you're looking to sharpen your craft.

Storytelling Stages
If you're familiar with stuff like the Moth, there are a couple of organizations in town doing storytelling readings and/or competitions. Check out Story Slam, Rockstar Storytellers, Story Arts of MN, and Story Club Minneapolis.

More Resources and Opportunities
There's so much more; these are just a few personal highlights. But a few other things to mention:
  • Other Events: check out the full(er) list of local spoken word events here-- the Free Black Table (organized by Black Table Arts), Eclectica (organized by The Avant Garde), the New Sh!t Show and OutSpoken (both organized by Wordsprout) and so much more are happening regularly, and new things, or one-time things, pop up all the time.
  • There are also spoken word collectives like Speakers of the Sun, Palabristas, and more; keep an eye out for their events.
  • I've gathered together a bunch of resources for aspiring spoken word artists here, including my video series sharing tips, tools, and tactics that have been useful to me.

As I've been saying, this is all just the tip of the iceberg. For anyone reading this, feel free to leave links to other spoken word events or resources in the comments. But I hope this can be a start. Spoken word is a democratic, participatory culture, so if you're interested in poetry and/or performance, I hope you can find a place to plug in and get involved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

New Book Coming Soon, New Videos, Summer Updates

There will be an "official" announcement once all of the details get sorted, but my book is done. It's a collection of pretty much all of the poems that I've been performing over the past five years, plus all of the lyrics from my sampler project, plus a bunch of essays from this blog and elsewhere, plus notes and commentary on everything.

It's definitely a book that highlights process as much as product.

I hope to be able to announce the release date, ordering info, and all that stuff soon.

In the meantime, I've been posting videos from last year's "Page.Stage.Engage" event at the U of MN (which we'll be doing again this year; stay tuned for details). Check out poems from members of the 2015 Be Heard MN youth poetry slam series here: Duncan, Julie, Armand (and more to come), and be sure to check out TruArtSpeaks for info on next year's series.

Also have a new song up on Soundcloud (though it's also been out for a minute because it's on this album): Venom featuring Lucien Parker:

Also, a couple of "in case you missed it" links to stuff I've written recently:

1. My thoughts on the 2016 election and voting in general

2. "Beyond the Benefit: Ten Ways Artists Can Support Social Movements"

3. A collection of links to organizations, reading, and more info about ongoing #BlackLivesMatter protests, here in the Twin Cities and beyond.

Finally, my Fall booking season has already started, with work at summer trainings and orientation programs at a couple of different colleges. If you want to bring me to your school or city, please get in touch. Info here. I'll also be performing at the big 15Now benefit show this Friday, along with POS, Khem Clan, and others. As always, a million other things happening; keep in touch on Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My Thought Process Regarding the 2016 Election

Wanted to put this here so I didn't have to re-type it in every argument, but even more so for friends and youth I work with who might be feeling frustrated or powerless when it comes to the upcoming election. The short version of this isn't anything too surprising: real change comes from organized movements, and it makes sense to vote for Clinton in swing states in order to be able to continue that movement-building process. But I did want to share my reasoning, plus some links for further reading.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Beyond the Benefit: Ten Ways Artists Can Help Build and Support Movements

(updated June 2018)

On a personal level, things are stressful right now. I know I'm not alone in that. A lot of us are trying to figure out how to best use whatever power, resources, or skills that we have to help make a difference. So I'm thinking about the artist's role in helping to build a mass movement.

Of course, building a mass movement is everyone's job, and everyone has to figure out how best to leverage their strengths, passions, resources, access, etc. to contribute to the larger struggle. I think of teachers shifting their lesson plans in order to talk about current events. I think of religious leaders doing the same thing during their sermons. I think of workers organizing anti-oppression committees or even just book clubs in their workplaces. I think of athletes wearing #blacklivesmatter shirts and refusing to be silent. I think of online communities. I think of students. I think of young people. Everyone has some kind of power or access to space that can help this movement grow.

When it comes to artists, this conversation usually begins and ends with our art. People talk about the power of narrative and framing, the power to make the abstract concrete, the power to touch people on an emotional level and transcend petty campaign politics. And I'm with that. But that's not the conversation that I want to have here. Because I believe that as artists, we have more to offer than our art.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Few Resources, Links, and Readings Regarding Ongoing #BlackLivesMatter Protests

Like a lot of people in my community, I was out this past weekend at a couple of different actions/protests regarding the killing of Philando Castile (and others across the country). Rather than write my own big think-piece here, I thought a better use of this platform would be to collect a bunch of the links and resources that have been helpful to me over the past week (I also did this back in 2014, but it's time for an update). I'm framing this around the question "BUT WHAT CAN I DO?" which has come up a lot recently.

I think it's important to note that there's no easy answer to that question. I want to say "organize." I also want to say, though, that at different times, "doing something" will look different. It might be calling a jail to check on arrested protestors. It might be just showing up to whatever action is happening and standing in solidarity. It might be donating money to a bail fund, or dropping off supplies at an occupation, or filming a police encounter, or going to a meeting, or being there for a friend, or organizing a healing space or benefit concert, or a million other things. It doesn't mean, however, sitting back and criticizing what's going on when you have no skin in the game. It doesn't mean emailing your one Black friend and asking them what to do (they probably have enough on their mind right now). And it certainly doesn't mean business-as-usual. There's always something that can be done, even if that "something" isn't a big red button that fixes everything right away.

So here are a few starting points. Feel free to add more thoughts in the comments.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Finished Grad School - Now Booking for Any/All Future Dates

So I've been in grad school for the past two years. It was an interdisciplinary Masters program at the U of MN (Master of Liberal Studies) that let me focus my research on how arts approaches (especially through a spoken word lens) can make social justice education programs and curricula more critical and participant-centered. This topic allowed me to weave together disciplines like theater, public policy, journalism, curriculum & instruction, gender & women's studies, and more, and it's helped me focus and sharpen the work that I've already been doing: traveling to colleges and conferences, using spoken word as a jumping-off point for deeper conversations about identity, power, and agency.

I'm still working on a way to share all of that research and work here at my site; for now, check out one small piece of that project, my list of 100+ spoken word videos that might be useful to social justice educators.

In the meantime, I'm done with school. Forever. Which is wild. But that also means that I'm booking for Fall 2016 and beyond. If you want to bring me to your college or university, book me to perform, present, and/or facilitate workshops at your conference, or engage in a residency at your high school, please check out the UPDATED booking/info page on this website and get in touch.

If I were to present a pitch, it'd be that I've been involved with social justice education and facilitation for as long as I've been making art. So when I visit a space, I'm not really interested in just performing poems for 45 minutes and leaving. I want to think critically about how those kinds of spaces can be used in more dynamic and interactive ways. I want to facilitate workshops and skill-sharing sessions. I want to visit classes and explore how my work intersects with the work students are already doing. At conferences, I want to grapple with issues using narrative and metaphor in order to highlight different angles or frameworks for thinking about those issues. Mostly, I just want to connect. Feel free to get in touch, and/or forward this link on to anyone you know working in higher ed, community orgs, conference organizers, etc. Thanks!

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

"How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist" (New Video)

***EDIT: the video below is the NEWER version of this piece (the one that appears in my new book), posted on 2/12/17. The older one can still be found here.***

I could write a whole thing 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 get that this is a tough thing for some people to wrap their heads around. I also get that this particular poem might be a little tough to stomach as an intro to this concept, and might be better suited as a supplementary tool. So here are a few recommended links/readings:

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. For all the visual learners out there, here's the NYT's "The Faces of American Power," which lets us just look at the literal faces of people in positions of power in this country; hard to argue with that. Also, be sure to watch "13th" on Netflix! Feel free to add other good resources in the comments.

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.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Get a Brand New Song When You Pre-Order "Post-Post-Race," PLUS A New Video on Button Poetry

These updates aren't necessarily related; there's just a lot happening in my life right now. First off, I just made the pre-order live for the new Guante & Katrah-Quey album, "Post-Post-Race." If you preorder it, you get an instant download of my FAVORITE new song from the project: "Our Relationship is a Slowly Gentrifying Neighborhood" featuring the incredible Jayanthi Kyle!

And don't forget: our release show is coming up on Thursday, 3/3 at the Whole Music Club, and it's going to be something really special. All of the performers are also guests on the album, and they're all people I have endless respect for both as artists and as people who "walk the walk" when it comes to the issues that the album is tackling. Check out the Facebook event page here. It's free and all-ages too!

This would normally be a separate post because getting a poem up on Button's channel is a pretty big deal, but like I said, these are tumultuous times so I'm just going to put this here. They got footage of my poem "Small Talk" from Sierra DeMulder's book release show. This is a very personal poem I wrote about art, identity, and profound introversion.

If you missed it, I have ANOTHER new poem up at my own channel, brand new footage of "The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege," which is a great introduction to the themes explored on the new album.

Finally, a reminder that the Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam series is heading into semifinals this month-- 3/5 at the Loft Literary Center, and 3/12 at the MacPhail Center for Music. Finals are coming up too-- 3/26 at the Walker Art Center. All three of these shows are going to be amazing; I've said it before but it bears repeating: these young artists (all between 13 and 19) are mind-bogglingly talented, and deserve our support!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

New Video for the Poem Version of "The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege" PLUS the New Album's Tracklist

Brand new video for an older poem courtesy of Patrick Pegg. Full text after the jump. I usually like to let the poems or songs speak for themselves, but a few background points on this one:

1. I'm trying to walk a pretty fine line in this poem. The argument that hip hop is a rainbow-colored racial utopia isn't true. And the argument that white people have no place whatsoever in hip hop is an increasingly abstract, academic one. Both of these arguments, however, are easier to stand behind than what I'm trying to actually say. I think it's important to recognize the facts on-the-ground, while at the same time being careful not to excuse anyone or cop pleas; we have to understand the history of cultural imperialism, and we also have to know how that history interfaces with what is happening right now. The ending of the piece is intentionally layered/muddy.

2. White privilege as a symptom of white supremacy plays out in many different spaces. When I was more actively doing social justice education/facilitation stuff, a common argument among students was that white people lose their privilege when they become the minority, or visit another country, or whatever. Part of this poem is pushing back against that idea. Even in hip hop, a culture created by and still driven by people of color, white privilege plays out-- that's kind of a central message in this piece. It's also about pushing the "privilege framework" a little further and complicating the idea of "allyship." The key line in the poem, for me, "what is the difference between acknowledging your privilege and acting on that acknowledgement?"

3. My perspective in this poem is also complex-- I'm speaking as a white MC, while also speaking as a mixed-race, white-presenting MC; beyond that, I'm speaking as a practitioner. While the racial identity stuff might get more attention in this poem, that last point is really important to me. I think it's important for practitioners (active, involved MCs, DJs, b-boys, b-girls, etc.) to be driving these conversations, not just think-piece writers and bloggers.

4. The title is confusing, yeah. I have a SONG called "The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege" too; plus the older version of this poem was called "Confessions of a White Rapper." I decided to use the former title for both the song and the poem-- partly because I just think it's more clever ("backpacker" being casual slang for underground hip hop fan, and the whole title riffing off Peggy McIntosh's "invisible knapsack metaphor), but also because I wasn't super comfortable with the old title-- didn't want it to push into "isn't it so novel and amazing that white kids rap?!" clickbait territory.

5. Finally, this poem isn't on the new album, but it is a great introduction to the ideas and themes explored on it. Reminder: the release show is 3/3 at the Whole Music Club in MPLS (free and all ages!), and here's something special: the full tracklist featuring song titles and guest vocalists:

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Just Announced: The POST-POST-RACE Album Release Show: March 3 at the UMN Whole Music Club

The brand new album features beats by Katrah-Quey and vocals by me and a bunch of my favorite artists (including Jayanthi Kyle, Lucien Parker, G.P. Jacob, Tish Jones, Tony the Scribe, See More Perspective, and Laresa Avent-- who are all performing at the show), all talking about race, racism, and solidarity.

More info coming. For now, here is the event page, and here are the first two singles:

A Prominent Anti-Feminist Visited My School; Here's What I Learned (Plus: A "Feminist FAQs" Handout)

First, I'm not going to say his name. He's a media personality, so Voldemorting him only works in his favor. Basically, a conservative student organization brought this guy to campus for a talk entitled "CALM DOWN!! Restoring Common Sense to Feminism." You can probably tell from the casual sexism and double exclamation points that the speakers weren't exactly titans of scholarship; one of them, however, has become quite famous, so there was some buzz around the event. There were also multiple protest actions.

Rather than write about the guy, or the woman who spoke with him, or the specifics of the actual talk, I wanted to share a few bigger-picture thoughts. I also want to thank Lindsey and Ryan, whose liveblog was helpful (and insightful and kind of hilarious too). Here are a few things on my mind this evening:

Friday, February 12, 2016

MN Poets Are Everywhere: The Late Show, the United Nations, Paris By Night, Viral Stardom, and Most Importantly, Right Here

Just a quick post shining some light on a bunch of MN poets making big moves. Some of them are from here, some are transplants (like me), some are college students here, but they all have a MN connection.

I don't at all mean this in a sour grapes sense, but our local media (generally) doesn't pay much attention to what we do in the poetry/spoken word community. Even when we have sold out shows and viral stardom, we're still an underground movement in a lot of ways. I think that is going to shift, but this post is a reminder that it really could shift sooner than later. A few examples of how powerful this community is:

1. Danez Smith on Stephen Colbert's Late Show along with Macklemore:

Danez, a graduate of Central High in St. Paul, is one of the top poets in the country right now, spoken word or otherwise. He deserves it too. His work is consistently breathtaking. Find more here.

2. Sierra DeMulder just published a new book through Andrews McMeel in collaboration with To Write Love On Her Arms

Sierra has been doing great work for years now, but her new book is coming out through a major publisher and is now in stores like Barnes & Noble across the country. What's more, the work is having a profound impact on a lot of people. Get it here. I performed at her release party a week ago and it was completely packed.

3. Twin Cities-based Button Poetry passes 100 Million Views on YouTube (and 10 million of those views are for Twin Cities-based poet Neil Hilborn)

As popular as Button Poetry has been getting lately, I think a lot of people still don't realize that they're based right here in MN. Neil's poem "OCD" (which Button hosts) is the one with over ten million views; I'm sharing this one instead; I've always really liked this piece, and I think part of that is because I don't really like the first minute or so of it. But its arc is so powerful; it ends in such a beautiful, important space. Button also kicked off a monthly poetry slam called Button Poetry Live at Camp Bar in St. Paul, which has been sold out every month since it started.

4. Bao Phi on Paris By Night

If you've never heard of Paris By Night, you may just have to take my word for it: it's a REALLY BIG DEAL. And Bao is one of my favorite poets ever. His book is one I still come back to, all the time.

5. Tish Jones was named the first-ever Brave New Voices Leadership Fellow + TruArtSpeaks and the Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam series taking off

This means she is now serving as the Festival Director for what promises to be the biggest Brave New Voices ever. More info here. Tish is also the Executive Director of MN-based TruArtSpeaks, which is currently wrapping up five incredibly successful preliminary bouts in the Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam series. Semifinals and Finals (3/26 at the Walker) are going to be huge this year.

6. Remember when I performed at the United Nations last year? 
I performed at the UN for the Barbershop Conference on gender equity last year.

If I'm going to shout myself out, I can also say that my work was featured on Welcome to Night Vale, Upworthy and a bunch of other places, and is used by educators all over the country in social justice trainings and educational spaces.

7. Everyone's Going Viral
I'll also shout out Bryan Thao Worra, Blythe Baird, Anna Binkovitz, Donte Collins, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Heid E. Erdrich, Keno Evol, Khary Jackson, and ALL of the other poets (my apologies-- I'm definitely leaving some out) who have been everywhere from Huffington Post to Afropunk to Everyday Feminism, to shout outs from celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Zooey Deschanel, to winning big awards, publication placements, and fellowships. It'd be too much to include all of it here, but the community continues to do fantastic work.

And as I've written before, national and international accolades are great, but I'm also proud of how much work is being done RIGHT HERE in the Twin Cities. A lot of poets who may not ever "go viral" are doing even more important work in schools, prisons, community centers, and beyond. Spoken word is a culture that encourages looking back as you look ahead, opening doors for others, and using your access to space to create more access for others. That's been happening in a big way lately. See for yourself; a few resources:

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Footage from #YesYesYes: An Evening of Poems and Songs About Consent and Healthy Sexuality (Ongoing)

On May 20, 2015, Chava Gabrielle and I gathered a bunch of poets we like for an event called #YesYesYes: An Evening of Poems and Songs About Consent and Healthy Sexuality.

It was a really beautiful event, and I'm happy to say that Line Break Media was able to film almost all of it. I will be posting new videos on my YouTube page, and then updating this post as they go live. If you see anything that resonates with you, feel free to share it, and/or this whole page. I think it's important to document this kind of work.

The videos here are from the event, but I've also put together a list of a dozen MORE poems about consent, healthy sexuality, and dismantling rape culture HERE (it's the second section). Hopefully, all of these poems can be useful for any advocates, educators, or activists out there.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sifu Hotman's "MATCHES" Now Available on 7" Vinyl! Plus a Remix of Our Song "Embrace the Sun" Featuring Tall Paul

Exciting news: you can get "Matches" on vinyl now!

If you don't know, SIFU HOTMAN is a side project featuring me, Dem Atlas, and Rube. We put out an album in 2014, while I was between projects and also kind of right before Dem signed to Rhymesayers. Luckily, it didn't fall between the cracks; our song "Matches" got featured on BBC Radio 6, and then as the "weather" on an episode of the wildly popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale, leading a whole bunch of people to discover the project.

Incidentally, "Matches" might also be my favorite song I've ever been part of, so it's been really beautiful to see so many people from around the world connect to it. The Sifu Hotman album is general just turned out so fresh; we're all known for doing weirder, outside-the-box stuff, so a whole project of boom bap throwback hip hop and punchlines is something I'm really proud of and happy we got to put out. And Rube, our producer and DJ, ALSO screen-printed all of the sleeves. They're gorgeous.

You can get the vinyl through our Bandcamp page. If you're in Europe, it might be cheaper to buy it through the UK label that's putting it out: AE ProductionsQuick note-- it is the radio edit on the single, in case that impacts whether or not you want it.

The single also features an exclusive remix of our song "Embrace the Sun" produced by MR. FANTASTIC and featuring a knockout guest verse from TALL PAUL. Been wanting to work with him for a minute, and his verse on this song is just bonkers. Even if you're not a vinyl head, you can still download this track (plus the instrumentals, and an a capella for any DJs out there)! Here's the new remix:

Sunday, January 03, 2016

New Video for My Poem "Handshakes," the #BeHeard16 Kickoff, Plus a Brand-New Poem: "Police Make the Best Poets"

Thanks to Patrick Pegg, I finally have a really good video version of a poem that I've been performing for years now-- "Handshakes." This was shot in front of a sold-out audience at our second annual "Page.Stage.Engage" show at the U of MN's Whole Music Club. We got a ton of footage from that show-- of me, Tish Jones, and various Be Heard MN youth poets, and it'll all be posted over the next few months.

I'll include the full text at the bottom of this post (something I'm going to be better about in 2016-- working on adding the text to all of my videos). It's not the deepest or most poetically challenging thing I've ever written, but it stays in my arsenal because it's an approachable entry point to some deeper discussions about identity, and because on a poetic level, it does the "talk about something big by talking about something small" thing that some of my favorite poetry does.

In other poetry news, I hope everyone knows about the 2016 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series! It really is kind of the coolest thing that happens all year in the Twin Cities, and if you haven't ever witnessed it, this year will be a great time to check it out. Prelims start in January. If you're 13-19 years old, you can actually sign up. But if you're not, I really want people to consider just showing up as audience members. These are some of the most incredible writers and performance artists in the state, youth or otherwise, and deserve your support.

Finally, here's a brand new poem I wrote after the Tamir Rice grand jury decision. I don't often post my poetry as text, but it seemed more appropriate than video for this one. Everyone needs to know about this case, and I'd also point people toward a local connection: the MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change anti-grand jury petition here. The ins-and-outs of the legal system aren't always the most attractive thing to talk about or organize around, but they are absolutely how racism continues to live and breathe in our communities, and knowing about them (and organizing to change them) is vital. This particular poem adds a media literacy lens, critiquing how police violence is so often presented by police and media as "isolated incidents" as opposed to trends and cultures, and the impact that this has on public opinion.

As always, feel free to share any or all of this with your networks. Every Facebook post, Tweet, Tumblr post, etc. is very much appreciated. Much more is on the way! Here's the full text of "Handshakes:"