Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 Wrap-Up Post: Songs, Poems, Videos, and Writing You May Have Missed

Once again, not a great year, in terms of the world. But I was able to be part of some cool stuff, and am endlessly grateful for everyone who helped make that possible. Here's a quick recap (and you can find my other end-of-year recaps here) of some of the stuff of mine that people may have missed:

1. Button Poetry Re-Released My Book
Thanks again to everyone who has picked this up, read it, used it in classes, etc. Still blown away by the response. You can still get it here, and an audio version is on the way!

2. Guante & Big Cats: War Balloons
Proud of this album. Ever-grateful to Big Cats, Lydia Liza, and Tony the Scribe for helping to make it happen. If you missed it, I think it's some of my best work. You can listen to the whole thing here, and consider buying it if you like it:

Oh and for people new to our music (since this is the first project we've released in years), here's a retrospective mix featuring some of our best older songs too. You can also order a t-shirt featuring some cool designs juxtaposed with my lyrics.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Poem of the Month: "Alien Suite" by Safia Elhillo (Plus a #BeHeard19 Announcement!)

"Where I'm from is where I'm from and not where I was put."

I'm highlighting some older poems that are personal favorites of mine (although this particular entry was a suggestion from poet Fatima Camara-- thanks!); 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.

We could talk about how this poem is actually a series of poems, performed back-to-back without breaks. But whether we hear this as a series, or as one poem that features multiple movements, I think the more important thing is the overall effect.

As a poet, you can show up and just read your ten best poems, sure; or you can be intentional with how you put those poems into conversation with one another. You can structure how you want your 15 minutes (or 5, or 30, or whatever) to move, to flow, to breathe. You can juxtapose ideas and techniques so that the set as a whole becomes even more powerful than the sum of its parts. This process is an integral part of writing a book, but can definitely apply to live performance too.

It's maybe worth pausing for a second to ask whether hearing an entire set, with none of the witty banter or joking between the poems that are so common in spoken word spaces, is jarring. A followup could be whether that "jarring" is constructive or distracting. I think a lot of us would probably agree that with this poem, it's constructive-- it gives the poem(s) a tension and energy that undergirds the emotions and ideas being grappled with.

In general, and at the risk of saying something super obvious, I think banter-between-poems is good when it's good and bad when it's bad. Sometimes, pausing between poems to talk can frame or contextualize poems in a powerful way. Sometimes it can cultivate intimacy with the audience. Sometimes it can give the audience a moment to breathe, and give a set a kind of rhythm that draws focus to the poems. Other times, of course, it can be super annoying.

I think this video shows the power of letting the poetry speak for itself, of breaking outside the mold of what a spoken word set is supposed to look/sound like, and of subverting the audience's expectations. There are a million other things to explore regarding the fantastic line-by-line writing on display here, not to mention the actual substance/ideas the poem(s) explores--  but I'll leave it there for now. Feel free to add more thoughts in the comments.

  • Find more from Safia Elhillo (including booking info, social media links, and more) here.
  • My full list of poem commentary/essays here.

AN ADDITIONAL NOTE: Sign Up For #BeHeard19 Here:
That's the last poem-of-the-month for 2018. In January, the 2019 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series kicks off. If you're a MN poet between 13 and 19, and want a space to share your work and build community with other youth poets, check it out. You can sign up here if you want to slam.

And whether or not you slam, or are eligible to slam, these are always really fantastic shows. Mark your calendars to check out a bout or two (or all of them!) and support young people speaking for themselves.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

New Merch Available

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 09, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Pressure on the Wound: Why I Vote

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

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!

Monday, September 03, 2018

Guante & Big Cats: "You Say 'Millionaire' Like It's a Good Thing" (REMIX)

For Labor Day, wanted to make another song from the new album (specifically, this song) available. If you already pre-ordered, you can download it now; if you didn't, pre-order now and you get this song (and another) right away. The lyrics are also available in that link.

Thanks to everyone who has already pre-ordered. Pre-ordering is one of the single best ways to support artists you like; it is definitely appreciated, and we're excited to share the whole album with you.

The new Guante & Big Cats album, "War Balloons," is out on September 18. The release show will be September 21 (get tickets now!). In case you missed it, another song from the project is available now: "Fight or Flight," and features this beautiful design by the incredible Frizz Kid:

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Guante & Big Cats: WAR BALLOONS (Album Announcement)

Our first new music in five years. Pre-orders are live now, and if you pre-order, you get the first song on the album, "Fight or Flight," immediately. The lyrics are available at that link too.

Update: here's a free sampler mix of some of our best work from previous projects!

Excited to share this with everyone. We're having a release party on Friday, September 21 at the U of MN's Whole Music Club. Here's the cover and official blurb:

"War Balloons" is Guante and Big Cats' first collaborative project since 2012's "You Better Weaponize." Since that time, emcee Guante has become one of the leading voices in the spoken word movement, performing at the United Nations, giving a TEDx talk, and touring the country working with young people around issues of gender violence prevention, identity, and agency. Producer Big Cats has become one of the most respected beatmakers in the country, with work appearing on both solo and collaborative projects, as well as in media for CNN, The Golden State Warriors, PBS, TakeAction MN, and beyond.

Something else that happened between 2012 and 2018: Donald Trump. The songs on "War Balloons" are unapologetically political, but their politics are grounded in narrative and world-building, as opposed to platitudes and sloganeering. "Dog People" looks at the culture of white working-class resentment and the scapegoating (of immigrants, feminists, and other working people) that results from it. "You Say Millionaire Like It's a Good Thing" is a blistering remix of an older Guante song framing the uninhibited accumulation of wealth as a legitimate moral failing. In between, there are polar bears, superheroes, star-crossed lovers, and all of the visionary, just-this-side-of-magical-realism imagery that the duo's older work displays. 

Influenced by equal parts Bruce Springsteen, Public Enemy, and adrienne maree brown's "Emergent Strategy," this is a project called into existence by necessity. As Guante recently tweeted: "screaming at this hellscape is not enough to change it, but changing it probably won't happen without the screaming."

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Poem of the Month: "Field Trip to the Museum of Human History" by Franny Choi

Dry-mouthed, we came upon a contraption
of chain and bolt, an ancient torture instrument
the guide called “handcuffs.”

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.

Monday, July 30, 2018

New Video: "Police Make the Best Poets"

New video up via Button Poetry. This poem is in my book, which is available now.

This is a poem about dominant narratives and counter-narratives. To quote MPD150:

As the bodycam footage in the Thurman Blevins case is released (which we won't share here, since enough people are sharing the footage via news networks and we don't want to re-traumatize people), we can see the official narrative starting to take shape.

Our challenge is to not lose sight of the context around that narrative. Police, politicians, and media will almost always zoom in on the specific details of a given case; this is understandable (and of course, we can't lose sight of the real human being and family at the center of this), but it's also a tactic that keeps us from talking about the bigger picture.

The MPD150 report exists, in part, to provide some of that bigger picture and historical context. Explicit instances of police violence are part of a larger system of violence; it isn't just about how individual officers act in individual moments; it's about the larger system/culture that led to those moments in the first place. What relationships between the police and that neighborhood existed before that moment? What kinds of mindsets did the police enter into that moment with? What sorts of resources and alternatives are missing from the picture? These aren't always easy questions, but they're worth asking.

This is all also in the context of just the last couple years here in Minneapolis-- from Thurman Blevins, to the ketamine scandal, to the Justine Ruszczyk lawsuit, to the occupation of the 4th precinct after the killing of Jamar Clark, to debates about mayoral vs. city council oversight, to ongoing, deeper questions about punishment vs. prevention and what we choose to invest in. Aside from the MPD150 report linked to above and this FAQs on police abolition, I'd also recommend this overview by Unicorn Riot. Knowing what's happening is a necessary first step.

For people interested, MPD150 is organizing a big interactive exhibit this fall, in collaboration with some amazing artists, to bring the report to life. If you'd like to support that, you can donate here. Look out for more details on that soon. Full text of the poem:

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Poem of the Month: “Curanderismo” by Ariana Brown

And they call us dirty/ as if being covered in the earth is wrong/ as if the dirt has ever held our throats and threatened to kill our mothers...

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.

In the US, the dominant conversations about racism and xenophobia don't always leave enough room to discuss history. Our "diversity" trainings maybe teach us how to sound less racist, or be more open-minded about "tolerating" other people, but they don't generally discuss the web of policy, power, and history upon which this country (and not only this country) is built.

And we can’t really talk about racism, colorism, or xenophobia without first talking about colonization. The narrative that “we are a nation of immigrants” may often be invoked with good intentions (especially at this particular historical moment), but it also erases the history of millions of people who were already here—and who remain here. This poem is a history lesson, but also illuminates how that history is still with us. “If you are alive, you are descended from a people who refused to die.”

I think a lot about “the work” that a poem is doing. It’s not just what a poem is about, or how well-written it is; it’s about who wrote it, who it is for, who is listening to it, and the space that it takes up in the world (and in the larger collective conversation). This poem does work-- both on a historical, counter-narrative level, and also on a deeply personal level. A line like "the western world would have you believe that only what is written is true/ we never really lose our ancestors/ do you feel them in the room with you now?" so deftly intertwines the personal and the political, the universal and the specific-- and that, on some fundamental level, at least for me, is what poetry is all about.

Further Reading:
  • Find more from Ariana Brown (including more poems) here.
  • Book Ariana Brown at your college/conference/etc. here.
  • Full list of my poem commentary/analysis essays.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

New Poem: "A Pragmatist's Guide to Magic" + Consolidated List of Activist Resources

"This is my disillusionment. Not the absence of hope; the absence of illusion."

I'm always grateful for the signal-boosts that I get from Button, but I am especially grateful for this one. This is a poem that I've been working on for years, through multiple drafts, through my own growth and shifting consciousness. I'm not sure that it would ever win a slam or get published in a big journal, but I know it's one of the most important things that I've written, for myself.

It's also part of a series of poems really digging into the idea of what activism is-- not just what it is on an intellectual level, but what it looks like, and how we can all use the power we have to do right by each other. That series also includes Quicksand, Thoughts and Prayers, and some new pieces that aren't online yet.

I wanted to use this post not only to share the poem, but to consolidate some of the posts that I've been making lately sharing resources and strategies for people who are interested in getting involved in activist work. Because now is the time. I hope you can find something useful in these:

For People Who Want to "Do" Something But Don't Know What to Do
This is a piece I wrote sharing some of the basics of how everyday people can use the power that we have to make a difference. It also features a big list of cool Twin Cities-area activist organizations. It's built around the phrase: "Just because you don't have the power to run out the front door and magically 'fix' everything, it doesn't mean that you don't have power."

My TEDx Talk: Five Things Art Taught Me About Activism
Despite the title, this is not just for artists. This is a talk about how the questions that artists ask often mirror the questions that emerging/aspiring activists ask. The steps that artists take from idea, to concept, to art often mirror the steps that activists take from value, to principle, to action. If you're looking to dive in, but don't know where to start, this is for you.

For People Who Aren't Usually "Political" but Know that Something Very Wrong is Happening Right Now
This piece is more specifically about the family separation crisis that has been in the news this past month. It shares links to good local organizations, plus a few potential action steps.

Beyond the Benefit: Ten Ways Artists Can Help Build and Support Movements
While the previous three links are for everyone, this one is focused on artists-- especially musicians, MCs, and other performers. Because one powerful thing we can do is take spaces that are not activist spaces, and *make* them activist spaces. Burst the bubbles.

A Few Thoughts on "Political" Poetry and How Artists Can Respond to the Present Moment
Another post about agency and action, this time zooming in on poets specifically. Let's make some noise.

A Few Thoughts and Links RE: The Ongoing Fight for Reproductive Justice
Using my blog time machine to insert a post from May 2019 into a post from June 2018. More resources, more ideas for taking action.

MN Database:, a snapshot of some of the organizations already doing powerful work where I'm at (the Twin Cities); there may be similar databases where you live. Or creating one could be a project.

This one isn't mine, but I wanted to share this moving, important piece from Kelly Hayes called Saturday Afternoon Thoughts on the Apocalypse. A relevant quote: Václav Havel once said that “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.” I live in that certainty every day. Because while these death-making systems exist both outside and inside of us, so do our dreams, so long as we are fighting for them. And my dreams are worth fighting for. I bet yours are too.

Finally, a quote; this is from Tony Kushner, by way of Mariame Kaba:
I do not believe the wicked always win. I believe our despair is a lie we are telling ourselves. In many other periods of history, people, ordinary citizens, routinely set aside hours, days, time in their lives for doing the work of politics, some of which is glam and revolutionary and some of which is dull and electoral and tedious and not especially pure – and the world changed because of the work they did. That's what we're starting now. It requires setting aside the time to do it, and then doing it. Not any single one of us has to or possibly can save the world, but together in some sort of concert, in even not-especially-coordinated concert, with all of us working where we see work to be done, the world will change. And we have to do it by showing up places, our bodies in places, turn off the fucking computers, leave the Web and the Net – and show up, our bodies at meetings and demos and rallies and leafletting corners. 
Because this is a moment in history that needs us to begin, each of us every day at her or his own pace, slowly and surely rediscovering how to be politically active, how to organize our disparate energies into effective group action – and I choose to believe we will do what is required. Act. Organize. Assemble. Oppose. Resist. Find a place a cause a group a friend and start, today, now now now, continue continue continue. (source)

Feel free to add more in the comments! Here's the full text of the poem:

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Few Thoughts on "Political" Poetry and How Artists Can Respond to the Present Moment

An image released by border patrol showing the McAllen, Texas detention facility; source.

This whole post is a writing prompt.

First, some background, since while everyone on my social media is already talking about this, I know that isn't the case everywhere. And this is an issue we all need to know about:
  • Inside look at Border Patrol facility in Texas housing hundreds of children (CBS)
  • Trump Again Falsely Blames Democrats for His Separation Tactic (NYT)
  • ‘America is better than this’: What a doctor saw in a Texas shelter for migrant children (Washington Post)
  • Trump and the Baby Snatchers (NYT)
  • Alida Garcia's Twitter thread sharing organizations to donate to and ways to get involved.
  • More links and action ideas in my post from last month
  • "A thread of things we can do."
These are policies that demand a response. And because one thing I've learned from organizers is "know your lane and identify what power you have in it," I wanted to zoom in and share a few thoughts specifically about what that response might look like when it comes from poets, MCs, musicians, and other writers. As always, nothing here is prescriptive, or will apply the same way to every individual. But for those who are interested in how artists (especially poets) might respond to the present moment, I wanted to at least spark some dialogue:

A Few Thoughts on Writing "Political" Poetry
I want to be precise with that phrase: "political" poetry. There's a much longer post one could write about that label and how it gets applied to all kinds of poetry, how the act of creation can be inherently political, and how the identities that we hold impact how audiences hear our work as "political" or not. For this post, I'm talking about poems that intentionally, explicitly engage with specific political issues. 

Also, these are thoughts on one particular angle of that process. I'm not including some of the more general stuff that we often talk about in workshops (like the power of storytelling, or using concrete vs. abstract language, or thinking critically about structure, etc.), but you can find some of that here

1. Speak Up, but Speak with Intentionality
Fascism thrives on silence, on people seeing something awful, shrugging their shoulders, and assuming it'll all just work out. So yes, we need to speak up. We need to use whatever platforms we have to spread the word about what's happening. But just because silence is unacceptable, that doesn't mean that running around screaming is the answer. So research. Read. Listen first.

The next three points all kind of revolve around a deeper question of who should write about what in the first place. There are valid arguments to be made about how it can be problematic when, for example, white people write about racism, or men write about sexism-- just in general, no matter how "good" the writing is. That's maybe a longer post, but the point I'm trying to make here is largely a contextual one: when we're talking about creeping fascism, it's going to take as large a chorus as we can muster to push back; it's just that that speaking up process needs to be done carefully and intentionally. It's hard. It's very easy to do poorly. Figuring out how to do it well takes experience, and community, and critical self-reflection, but it is possible. The next few points offer a few thoughts on that.

2. What is Your Story to Tell? How Does it Connect?
Not every poem about war has to be from the perspective of a soldier. Not every poem about human trafficking has to be from the perspective of someone being trafficked. These may be the easiest entry points, and some writers can indeed speak from those perspectives because they have the life experience to back it up. But not everyone does-- and part of being a writer is figuring out how to speak up without speaking for or over others. What identities do you hold? What is your story? How does it connect to the issue you're writing about? It may or may not be an obvious connection.

This can be as simple as: rather than writing about what it's like in a camp set up for children separated from their parents at the border, you write about the moment you read that story in the newspaper-- where are you? What is your body's reaction? What does it make you think about? You still get to signal boost the information and spread the word, but you're telling your own story. And sure, a poem about reading the newspaper may not be super engaging; but that same basic framework can be pushed into more creative places.

3. Make Appropriate Connections
One reason why poetry is valuable is because it's a space where we can connect ideas and experiences that don't always get connected. That process of juxtaposition can highlight new truths about those ideas and experiences. For example, I wrote a poem about my family, Japanese internment, and the current refugee crisis; it's not a one-to-one, linear relationship between issues, but there are important historical and contextual connections we can make to help us understand what's going on.

While this relates to the previous point about figuring out how your story intersects with the issue you're writing about, it also highlights a potential danger: not every connection is appropriate. For example, a poem that compares being bullied for wearing glasses to slavery or the Holocaust would not be appropriate. That's an extreme example, but more subtle examples pop up all the time. The point here is that there's a way to make connections without saying "X is exactly like Y" or "I fully understand this horror because I experienced this other thing." When in doubt, ask others for feedback.

4. Find an Angle
Building on the previous two points, this is a note about how we approach the poem. A lot of poems are basically built around the phrase "here's what I think!" and while it is possible to work with that, a laundry list of thoughts isn't always the most effective start. How else might you approach a poem about a specific issue? How can you write about something from a fresh angle? What concept or structuring impulse might help the poem "stick" in people's heads?

Maybe it's about filling in some historical context that people don't know about. Maybe it's about zooming in on one specific detail of the larger story in order to comment on the bigger picture. Maybe it's about that aforementioned process of exploring how the issue affects you and your personal experience. Maybe it's about leaning into magical realism, satire, or hyperbole to challenge people to see an issue in a new light. Maybe it's an open letter (especially to someone the audience doesn't already expect). Maybe it's a poem that incorporates a specific call to action.

5. Think About What the Audience Walks Away With
This may be a controversial point, but I think it's at least worth considering. Of course, you never have to think about what the audience walks away from a poem with, but with political poetry, you might want to. This is not to say that every poem has to be inspirational. This is not to say that every poem has to have one specific action item at the end. It's a broader call for more intentionality.

For example, someone could write a poem about how the phrase "tearing children from their parents is unAmerican" is actually ahistorical, since this country has done just that at many points throughout history. But there's a difference between a poem that makes that point in order to show how smart the poet is, and a poem that makes that point in order to deepen the audience's commitment to doing something about that.

Another example: someone could write a poem about fascism and authoritarianism, and how they're creeping further and further into US culture, policy, and politics. That could be the whole poem-- "fascism is here and it's bad." But there's an opportunity there to push the audience further. The poem could be "fascism is here, it's bad, and here's what we can do about it." The poem could be "fascism is here, it's bad, and I'm thankful to the thousands of activists who are pushing back every day."

Art can be anthemic without being corny. It can cultivate hope without having a neatly-wrapped happy ending. It can call us to action without presenting platitudes and easy answers. That's all part of the challenge: art can inform, but it can also mobilize. Both are good, but the latter has a special power.

6. It Doesn't Have to Be a Poem
Just a quick final note that as artists, we can still use our platforms to talk about these issues even if we're not able to figure out a good way to talk about them in our actual artistic work. Get involved on the ground, show up, signal boost, perform at fundraisers, and make noise. A few expanded thoughts on that here.

Feel free to add more in the comments.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Poem of the Month: “Come Home” by Kevin Yang

Call me Hmong before you call me American/ because Hmong is the closest word I know to home...

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.

The first line of this poem is “Eight responses to the phrase ‘go back to where you came from,’” and Yang uses that setup to craft a narrative that is both deeply political and deeply personal. Specifically, there’s a moment in the poem where the phrase/question is turned back to its speaker: “Do you ever wonder where you come from?” That structure—starting with a kind of defensive humor and naturally transitioning into proud defiance, using the language itself as a fulcrum—gives this poem a powerful arc.

A lot of aspiring/emerging poets struggle with structure. This may be because of the stereotype of poetry as this kind of magical, pure, stream-of-consciousness expression. And sure, that can be powerful. But if you watch enough *good* spoken word, you’ll see how much intentionality goes into structure-- not "structure" in the same way that sonnets or haikus have specific rules/formats, but more like an organizing impulse. That may be as simple as giving a poem an introduction, middle, climax, and resolution (with intentional transitions between ideas), or something more complex and challenging that plays with formula and subverts audience expectations.

When talking about this broader idea of structure with students, we often ask questions like: Is there a reason the poem starts where it starts? Could it start somewhere else? Is there a reason the poem ends where it ends? Does it "earn" that ending based on what came before? How does the poem "move" from one stanza/idea/section to the next? What would the effect of rearranging some of those ideas be? When you say the poem out loud, does it "feel" right in terms of its flow and timing?

If you know Kevin Yang's work, you may also know how good he is at structuring poems. He’s also, for me, one of the best at taking on explicitly political issues and putting a human face on them. This is a poem about big issues like xenophobia, the refugee experience, and finding home, but it’s also a poem about small, specific moments-- the conversation with the elder, the wisdom of the mother, the hummingbird. As poets, we earn the "big stuff" via the care we put into writing the "little stuff," and Yang does that so well.

Further Reading:
  • Doualy Xaykaothao: To Be Midwestern and Hmong (The Atlantic)
  • Be sure to check out Kevin’s other poems online! He's one of my favorite poets, and has a ton of work that is especially useful for teachers/educators looking for poems to use in the classroom.
  • Full list of poem commentary/analysis essays

Saturday, May 26, 2018

For People Who Aren't Usually "Political" but Know that Something Very Wrong is Happening Right Now

This past week, news broke that the US government is "now systematically taking children as young as 53 weeks old away from their parents at the border, thanks to new directives issued by the Trump administration" (link).

There's always bad news in the world, yes. And we can argue all day about what constitutes "uniquely" bad news, or "major" shifts in already-harmful policy. We can (and should) talk about how immigration policy in particular has been a bipartisan travesty, and not solely a result of Trump. We can (and should) talk about how separating children from their families as a matter of law has happened before in this country.

But let's at least agree that this is bad. This is wrong. This is one of those "if you had been alive when (historical injustice) happened, what role would you have played?" moments. This is connected to larger trends. And we have a responsibility to do something about it. So what do we do?

I want to share a few links and resources here, partly informed by my TEDx Talk (which was about the power of taking big, overwhelming issues and "zooming in" on them to create specific actions), and partly by this quote from Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture on Twitter):

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?

I feel like that's a very elegant, practical way to think about this. Even for people who do organizing work every day, it can be overwhelming. For those us just getting involved, or who have never identified as an activist "or political" in any way, it can be frustrating to figure what you can actually do. I hope the following can be useful.

Links and Resources for More Information
"Raising awareness" on its own may not be enough to disrupt injustice, but that disruption isn't going to happen without it. Here are a few articles (some news, some analysis) looking at both the United States' very recent and relatively recent immigration policy; one simple action idea is to share one of these on Facebook and/or Twitter every day for the next week.

Parents, children ensnared in 'zero-tolerance' border prosecutions (Arizona Daily Star)
Alma Jacinto covered her eyes with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks. The 36-year-old from Guatemala was led out of the federal courtroom without an answer to the question that brought her to tears: When would she see her boys again? Jacinto wore a yellow bracelet on her left wrist, which defense lawyers said identifies parents who are arrested with their children and prosecuted in Operation Streamline, a fast-track program for illegal border crossers.

Border Patrol Kicked, Punched Migrant Children, Threatened Some with Sexual Abuse, ACLU Alleges (Newsweek)
Based on 30,000 pages of documents obtained through a records request, the report includes gruesome, detailed accusations of physical and mental abuse at the hands of officers.

Video: Chris Hayes on 'despicable' new Trump policy (MSNBC)
The United States government is now systematically taking children as young as 53 weeks old away from their parents at the border, thanks to new directives issued by the Trump administration.

Treatment and rhetoric about undocumented children put the Trump administration in a new category on hard-line immigration policy (Washington Post)
In an NPR interview earlier this month, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was asked if using family separation as a “tough deterrent” to keep families from attempting to illegally immigrate into the United States was “cruel and heartless.” “I wouldn't put it quite that way. The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever,” he said.

Betsy DeVos Stirs Uproar By Saying Schools Can Call ICE On Undocumented Kids (HuffPo)
“Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status. Secretary DeVos is once again wrong,” said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns for the ACLU, in a statement. 

A BETRAYAL: The teenager told police all about his gang, MS-13. In return, he was slated for deportation and marked for death (ProPublica)
Confused, Henry told the agents he was already working with the police. He asked them to call Tony. Instead, after interrogating him, the ICE agents put him on a bus... He was headed to an ICE detention center full of young men suspected of being MS-13 members — the very same ones he had snitched on.

Who Is Already Doing This Work, and How Can We Support Them?
The answer to this question will be different in different communities, but I will use the Twin Cities as an example. If you're here too, hopefully you can check these organizations out. If you're not, a quick online search like "(your city or state) + immigrant rights organization" or something like that may turn up something.

From there, it may be a matter of showing up and getting directly involved, or showing up to an action organized by one of these groups (like this one from just a few days ago), or donating money, or organizing a fundraising event, or something else. But being plugged in, following these organizations on social media (now!), joining their email lists, etc. is an easy step.

The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee
MIRAC is the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee. It is an all-volunteer grassroots organization that organizes the immigrant community and their allies to struggle for legalization for all and equality in all aspects of life. We struggle for legalization, for a moratorium on raids and deportations, and for drivers licenses for all regardless of immigration status. MIRAC was formed in Spring 2006 out of the huge immigrant rights marches. We’ve organized many protests, marches and other activities for immigrant rights in Minnesota since then. (Twitter | Facebook | IG)

Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) is a nonprofit agency that provides immigration legal assistance to low-income immigrants and refugees in Minnesota. ILCM also works to educate Minnesota communities and professionals about immigration matters, and advocates for state and federal policies which respect the universal human rights of immigrants. (Twitter | Facebook | IG)

Navigate MN
Mission: NAVIGATE/ Unidos MN  is a millennial driven Latinx based organization that builds power for gender, racial and economic justice. Navigate MN envisions a visible Latinx community with clear vehicles and tools to build intergenerational economic, cultural and political wealth and like this contribute to the wellbeing and the prosperity of all Minnesotans, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, immigration status, dis/ability and gender identity. (Twitter | Facebook)

There are also national organizations like United We Dream, the ACLU, the Immigrant Defense ProjectAmnesty International, RAICES, and others. Please feel free to add others in the comments.

Voting, Contacting Our Reps, and Holding Our Leaders Accountable
The upcoming elections offer opportunities beyond simply casting a ballot. A few thoughts:

1. Contact Your Elected Representatives. Find them here. Demand to know what their specific action plans are to address this. Call, email, Tweet, show up to town halls, and everything else. Make noise, especially if one of your reps is a moderate or on-the-fence. In can be something as simple as:

Dear (your rep): I am gravely concerned about new developments in the Trump administration's immigration policy, especially the practice of separating children from their families. Please share what your plan is to address this.

Find more tips for contacting your reps here, here, and here.

2. Make Immigration Justice a Core Part of the 2018 Platform. Every politician running for office in the midterms should feel the pressure to come out strongly in favor of addressing this problem, abolishing ICE, and committing to the safety of these children and families. Let candidates know that in order to earn YOUR vote, they must have a clear, specific plan in place to address this injustice.

3. Vote. As I wrote above, the Democrats, and Obama in particular, don't have a great track record when it comes to immigration policy. That being said, I would also argue that Trump's normalization of hate, dehumanizing language, and policies designed to let ICE "off the leash" are something uniquely odious, and something very much worth fighting against now. Change is driven by grassroots movements, and my position is that while Democrats aren't perfect, they can be pressured by those movements in ways that Republicans can't. Voting for liberals won't change anything by itself, but it can help clear the way for the movement work that will change things. So mark your calendars for the 2018 midterms, tell everyone you know to do the same, and send a big damn message.

Plug In. Stay Engaged. Commit. 
There's a lot more to talk about here. We need to talk about direct action, underground railroads, and the disruption of business-as-usual. A sense of urgency is necessary. But this post is only meant to be a starting point-- learn more, get connected, and be ready to act. I think one thing that intimidates people about activism is feeling like they have to have all the answers and solve all the problems on their own. But this is going to be a collective effort. It's going to take ALL of us, plugging in where and when and however we can, combining our efforts to create change.

When you look at the large task before you, it can feel hopeless. So don't look at that. Look at a small, specific piece of it. Email this post, or one of the links in it, to five of your friends or family members. Go through all the social media links and follow the organizations doing this work. Look into who's running for what office where you live this fall. There's no one magic answer to this problem; there's just the work.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

New Video: "When They Look Right Through You"

This is an older poem (in my book, it's called "Cartpushers"), but it's probably one that not many people have actually heard. I'm happy to finally get quality footage of a decent performance. We ran with a different title for the video, hopefully something a bit more evocative. Two quick notes:

1. This poem is about the first job I ever had, and is dedicated to all the cartpushers, cashiers, drivers, servers, bartenders, and other service workers out there. For me, a fundamental pillar of spoken word is the idea that everyone has a story, and every story matters. So one of the most powerful things we can do is tell the stories that most people never choose to hear.

2. This poem also, for me, illustrates something I really appreciate about slam poetry as a style (which is, of course, a generalization, since a slam poem can be whatever you want it to be... I'm thinking more about tropes/formulas/common approaches): this isn't a poem that really "works" until you hear the last line. Everything else builds up to that. There aren't a ton of IG-ready quotes to share; it's really about the whole being more than the sum of its parts. I think spoken word is uniquely situated to build these little three-minute "experiences," and this poem falls into that tradition.

As always, I appreciate when people buy my book, but I also like to make the text available:

Friday, May 11, 2018

Poem of the Month: "Unforgettable" by Pages Matam, Elizabeth Acevedo, and G. Yamazawa

My name wasn’t given to me/ it was given to the rest of the country...

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.

I remember my first time seeing this poem, and really being struck by G.’s line: "In Japan, your last name comes first; there is an emphasis on family. But in America, your nickname comes first, 'cause there is an emphasis on accessibility." For me, that’s one of the most important functions of poetry: to call out what’s hiding in plain sight, to encourage all of us to think more critically, and more intentionally, about topics we’re not always encouraged to think deeply about. Everyone has a name; how much do you think about where yours came from? What does it mean to you? What does it express, and what does it not express? How do our names move with us as we move through the world? These are big questions.

The whole poem is a great example of using something “small” and personal (names) as an entry point to explore an issue that is much bigger. While all three poets approach that issue from different angles, with different experiences, the overall “thesis statement” of the poem is laser-focused. This is a useful thing for aspiring poets to remember: there’s a difference between a poem about a topic and a poem that has a specific thing to say about that topic. This is a poem that knows what it is, so to speak, and communicates its message all the more powerfully because of that.

Feel free to share any of your own thoughts or observations about the poem (or its topic) in the comments.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

New Interview + Some Book Recommendations

Looking for book recommendations? Here's one of my favorite interviews I've done, since I basically just got to shout out a bunch of my favorite writers: N.K. Jemisin, Danez Smith, Carmen Maria Machado, Ed Bok Lee, Patricia Smith, Bao Phi, Jeff Chang, Marjorie Liu, Emily St. John Mandel, Ruth Ozeki, and more!

Check it out.

Speaking of books, some cool news concerning my book coming soon. A sincere thanks to everyone who's picked up a copy.

Monday, April 23, 2018

New Poem: "Thoughts and Prayers"

This is a brand new poem; basically a "written the day of the performance" poem. It's kind of an experimental piece, in terms of how it work as a "poem," but addresses something that a lot of my work engages with in one way or another: power.

On that note, I also wanted to share this series of videos from Ricardo Levins Morales, that I would encourage every aspiring activist or organizer to watch.

I'll also refer people back to this post, which includes a ton of links, resources, and poems on the connections between violence (especially mass shootings) and how we talk about masculinity.

Full text of the poem below:

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Poems, Links, and Resources RE: The Connections Between Masculinity and Violence

In the spirit of this piece (sharing poems that might be useful entry points into conversations about white supremacy) and this piece (sharing poems reckoning with #MeToo, consent, and rape culture), I wanted to pull together some poems/videos, links, and resources for people looking to start more conversations about the relationship between violence (whether that's interpersonal/domestic violence, mass shootings, and beyond) and masculinity.

Because as the left focuses on gun control, and the right (disingenuously) focuses on mental health services, I think it's worth considering that there's something deeper going on. It's also worth considering that just because that "something" is a more complex problem than a single policy can fix, that doesn't mean that there's nothing we can do about it.

Reading Up: Articles and Essays
To find solutions, we first have to acknowledge the problem: there is something about the way we teach boys to be men (especially in a white, western, capitalist context) that encourages violence. When we only understand masculinity through the lenses of power, control, strength, and dominance, when our pop culture heroes are so often men (and so often violent men), when our views of "what it means to be a man" are shaped by racism and colonialism-- this all helps create a culture in which violence can be committed, normalized, and even rationalized, again and again. More:
  • Don’t Blame Mental Illness for Mass Shootings; Blame Men (Politico)
  • Men Are Responsible for Mass Shootings (Harper's Bazaar)
  • Boys To Men: Masculinity And The Next Mass Shooting (1A)
  • We will never address gun violence if we don’t address the root of the problem: masculinity (Feminist Current)
  • The Boys Are Not All Right (NYT)
  • Toxic white masculinity: The killer that haunts American life (Salon)
  • When We Talk About Police Shootings, We Need to Talk About Gender (Feministing)
  • Who Are The Majority Of Mass Shooters In The U.S.? (AJ+)

Having a Deeper Conversation: Poem/Videos
My work is about using poems as entry points to dialogue, since poems and stories are able to put a human face on issues that are, for some people, too easy to intellectualize or think about in an abstract way. With the above articles as context, my hope is that these poems can be resources for educators (or just people who want to start more conversations) to jumpstart some reflection, soul-searching, and community-building:
  • nayyirah waheed (from salt.)
    • This is the only poem on this list that isn't a video, but it's such a perfect entry point, one that sums up this issue elegantly and precisely.
  • Rudy Francisco: The Heart and the Fist 
    • This is a newer poem that powerfully makes the connection between gun violence and masculinity. This poem doesn’t just make that connection, though; it challenges us to see both why that connection exists and why it doesn’t have to. The link includes both the video and some further thoughts/analysis from me on the poem.
  • FreeQuency: Masculinity So Fragile
    • This is full of great lines, but also some incredibly insightful analysis.
  • Elizabeth Acevedo: I use my poetry to confront the violence against women
    • This is a TEDx Talk, but includes multiple short poems. When the national conversation focuses on masculinity and mass shootings, it's important to keep a broader view of what "violence" means. It isn't always headline-grabbing. It isn't always reported. This conception of masculinity hurts people-- especially women, trans people and gender-nonconforming people-- every day.
  • Guante: Handshakes and Ten Responses to the Phrase "Man Up" 
    • I'm including both of these poems of mine here because they're both explicitly about how so-called "little things" (habits, word choices, small actions, etc.) both shape and are shaped by the larger culture. Especially when we think about masculinity-- our socialization starts so early, and is so insidious because those "little things," if we don't think critically about them, are so easy to never even understand as harmful.
  • Guante (NEW!): The Art of Taking the L
    • A poem, but also a link with a bunch MORE resources.
  • Donte Collins: Genderlect 
    • This is a great exploration of how the positive things we're taught to think about men are so often rooted in the negative things we're taught to think about women. Violence can take many forms-- mass shootings, domestic abuse, sexual assault, any beyond-- but it often starts in the same place
  • Sam Rush, Kwene, & Oompa of House Slam: My Masculinity
    • This piece could be a good introduction to talking about masculinity as a social construct, as opposed to something that is inherently/inextricably "male." 
  • Javon Johnson: Baby Brother
    • The connection between masculinity and violence includes more than just mass shootings. It's about the violence we inflict on the people to whom we are closest, regardless of gender. It's also about the violence we inflict on ourselves.
  • Alex Luu & Jessica Romoff: Masculinity
    • Like the previous poem, this piece explores the issue of masculinity's connection to violence through family relationships-- in this case, a father's effect on his household.

Next Steps and Other Resources
"What we do" about this is a big question, and will shift depending on who we are, where we are, and what kinds of resources and audiences we have access to. So while "having a conversation" is not the only work to be done, it is an important starting point, and I hope the links and poems above can be useful. What follows are some examples of where people are taking this work:

As always, I'm far less interested in writing authoritative think-pieces as I am in just sharing resources and creating space for dialogue. So if you have other poems for the list, other links to share, or just some thoughts, feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The 2018 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series FINALS: March 31 at SteppingStone Theatre

It's that time of year again. This is the SIXTH annual Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series presented by TruArtSpeaks, and we've already been through five fantastic prelims and two semis bouts. Finals, featuring 12 of the fiercest MN poets between the ages of 13 and 19, will be held on Saturday, March 31, at SteppingStone Theatre in Saint Paul. Get your tickets now!

Every year, Finals is breathtaking. If you want to support youth voice, and also just hear some moving poetry, you should be there.

For more on the series, check out this MN Monthly piece, as well as the latest TruArtSpeaks email newsletter, as well as this great MPR story featuring a few poems.

And here's the first of many poems we'll be sharing from this year's series; check out this piece from Muna Abdulahi:

Friday, February 16, 2018

"A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry" | Relaunch Details, Release Party Update, Plus New Videos

1. The Book:
This book is a collection of pretty much all of my best work over the past few years. I self-published it last year, and now it's being re-launched as an official Button Poetry publication (along with a new cover design courtesy of Nikki Clark). Here's the 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.

It's available for order now. The first 100 preorders are signed, and come with a special gift. The official release date is February 20.

2. The Re-Launch Party:
We'll be having a special performance on Sunday, February 25 at Icehouse in Minneapolis. I'll be reading some stuff from the book, along with some brand new work. I'll also be joined by Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay (who wrote the book's foreword) and singer/songwriting Lydia Liza, and the evening will be hosted by Dua. All three are personal favorites of mine, as artists and as people.

The event just goes from 7-9pm because early shows are awesome. The cover is $15, but that comes with a copy of the book. Tickets are available here.

3. Two New Videos!
These are both older poems of mine, but ones I'm proud of:

Thanks again to everyone who already bought the book the first time. This re-launch should expand the book's reach, but I'm definitely grateful to everyone who's already been plugged in.