Were labels created to divide us? Check out Prince EA‘s video above and think about if we worry too much about what's "black" and "white."
Let us know what you think in the comments below
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I am of the opinion that Amir Sulaiman is the greatest living poet. I don't weep in public and I barely weep in private. However, the first time I saw Amir Sulaiman perform, I burst into tears. Amir is a mountain that moves rivers, instead of the other way around.
With April being National Poetry Month, it's only necessary to reflect back on some of his most amazing moments:
When he tackled one of the most avoided elements of our trauma by reminding the survivor of their beauty...
When he straight up Larry-Fishburne-in-School-Daze-ed us, like "WAAAAAKE UUUUUP!"
But then he became "Danger..."
...reminding us that the night is always darkest before the sun is bright.
...and so ultimately, as a people, WE MUST WIN.
What's your favorite Amir Sulaiman poem? Let us know in the comments below!
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Since April is National Poetry Month, allow these 21 spoken word artists to help you celebrate with their brilliant performance poetry.
1. Zora Howard
2. Gabriel Ramirez
3. Aja Monet
4. Alysia Harris
5. Rudy Francisco
6. Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad
7. Danez Smith
8. Safia Elhillo
9. Aziza Barnes
10. Joshua Bennett
11. Sabine Quetant
12. Shyla Hardwick
13. Julian Randall
14. Kai Davis
15. Aaron Samuels
16. Ariana Brown
17. Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
19. Mahogany L. Browne
20. Nate Marshall
21. Ebony Stewart
Yaaaasss! Who else would you add to this list?
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When the word 'poetry' emerges in conversation, most people immediately refer to whatever they were exposed to in secondary school. The usual suspects come to mind: Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou — the list goes on. When it comes to performance poetry, well that’s a different story. There was a time when the term was unheard of, unless you knew whose basement to be in at a particular time, on a night not explicitly pronounced. Slowly but surely, the act of reading poems aloud in front of people started picking up speed and transitioned from basements to center stage. Poets went from spitting in basements to reciting in the streets, bars, cafes, on Broadway, on TV, in films and now on the internet. Granted, I’ve bypassed a lot of the history, important names and locations that are attached to this art form only to get to this particular point in time. Performance poetry was once something that was confined to a mere few in secret, and is now accessible to everyone via the internet — and it's going viral! Just ask the folks at Button Poetry.
YouTube houses many of these performances. There are a plethora of channels that are dedicated to providing the highest quality videos of your favorite spoken word poems, and they do a darn good job of it. But there is one brand in particular that has recently been the number-one provider of these videos and has become somewhat synonymous with the idea of performance poetry.
Fellow poet and the Assistant Director of Button Poetry, Dylan Garity, speaks with Blavity's Creative Society about reaching millions of viewers, HBO Def Jam Poetry comparisons and upcoming projects.
Blavity: Some of our readers might not be familiar with Button so if you could, would you mind telling us what Button Poetry is, who’s part of it, and what the goal is for the company?
Dylan Garity: Button Poetry is a multimedia poetry production and distribution organization based out of Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota. To steal from our mission statement, our goal is to showcase the power and diversity of voices in performance poetry. By broadcasting the best and brightest performance poets of today, we hope to broaden poetry’s audience, to expand its reach and develop a greater level of cultural appreciation for the art form.
Sam Cook is the Executive Director of Button Poetry, and I’m the Assistant Director. About 10-20 other folks work with us on a relatively regular basis, filming around the country, editing, working on our website, managing social media, working with our books and our book contest, etc.
B: Congratulations on all the success. Button hasn’t been around that long and you’ve managed to gather a very large and dedicated fan base. Did you ever think it would get this big this fast?
DG: We always believed in the potential for poetry videos — and performance poetry in general — to have bigger, more consistent audiences, but it definitely happened faster and to a greater degree than we expected. Button officially was founded in 2011, and at the time our primary goal was to host audio-recording parties and accept audio submissions, and make collaborative poetry albums that poets from around the Midwest could go and share at their own venues (Here’s a link to the unlisted first-ever video on Button, which was a call for those submissions). So relatively small potatoes, though a project that I still think was really cool.
B: It seems like Button Poetry videos are making a habit of going viral. Do you remember the first poem on the channel that went viral? What was that like for the company?
DG: The first thing to go “viral” was Denice Frohman’s “Dear Straight People,” filmed at the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam. It happened about a month after the video went up, and I remember standing around a screen with Sam and some other folks just watching the view count shoot up exponentially, marveling at it and immediately talking about what it might mean for videos in the future. It was the first tangible proof for us of what we’d always believed might be possible, though again, we had no idea how far it would go.
B: A lot of the footage you capture is from national poetry slam competitions. At these competitions there are hundreds and hundreds of poets from all over the world, reciting some of the most important, breathtaking pieces of work anyone has ever heard. How on earth do you pick which poems do and do not get posted? I know it has to be difficult.
DG: At this point, we try to get as many people involved in the process as possible. An important philosophy for us is that showcasing diversity isn’t just about who and what is on the screen, but who and what’s behind the screen, in both the creation and curation processes. Now that we tend to film most if not all poems when we’re at the big national tournaments, which can easily be hundreds of pieces in just a few days, we often end up posting only about 10% of what we get on camera. We pare down that original footage in a number of steps, so no one person or group of people are having to consider all of those hundreds at once.
B: A lot of times in music there’s a backlash from the go-hard musicians and fans when the underground scene starts to go mainstream. There’s a sense of culture and integrity they feel has been desecrated when certain songs or artists hit the radio, for example. The same can be said about poetry. It was something that was a very underground, unique experience that was meant to be heard live, and now anyone can watch it if they are near a screen. What are your thoughts on performance poetry being so accessible now and what that does for the culture?
DG: I think there are definitely positives and negatives to it. The biggest potential negative I see is a potential homogenization of writing style among young people; while we have wildly varying styles of writing and performance on the channel, a lot of the stuff that goes the most viral has some strong similarities, and I hope that young or new writers who are watching our videos take the time to watch and read more than just the ones at the 'top.'
At the same time, we’re really starting to see, and not just because of Button, poetry and performance poetry filter into popular culture in some pretty unprecedented ways. Poets collaborating with major musicians, being featured on The Late Show and PBS, on Buzzfeed and dozens of other internet platforms. At the end of the day, the positive of this kind of beautiful and necessary work reaching tens and hundreds of millions of people who it couldn’t have before outweighs everything else.
B: The exposure you provide for performance poetry is at such a grand scale some people I know say Button is this generation's HBO Def Jam Poetry. Would you take that as a compliment or would you rather be put in a different lane?
DG: I would absolutely take that as a compliment. Many of us who work with Button came up watching Def Poetry on HBO, and it so heavily influenced and continues to influence a whole generation of poets whose work might not exist without it. I don’t think we do the exact same thing — one major difference being that we’re an artist-run organization broadcasting other artists. I hope that we’ll continue to expand and reach more and more people, but hearing that comparison is truly exciting and flattering, and I hope we can live up to it.
B: You guys don’t just record poems. You’re publishing books now, too! What else are you up to? Any upcoming projects we should know about?
DG: Actually, we’ve been publishing books almost as long as we’ve been doing video! We ran our first chapbook contest in the summer of 2012, which led to our first book, Aziza Barnes’s brilliant me Aunt Jemima and the nailgun. We have forthcoming books from Jacqui Germain and Hanif Abdurraqib — and some more to be announced soon. The rest of our current library can be found here.
In terms of other projects, we’re working on expanding more heavily into audio this year, and also will soon be offering a subscription service with deals and additional content beyond just what’s on the Button channel. Follow us on social media or our mailing list to keep up to date about all of that.
B: Between you and I — and you can tell me because we’re cool — what's your favorite poem?
DG: I’m gonna cheat and not choose anything from Button. The poem that’s struck me more than any other over the last couple years is Ross Gay’s “A Small Needful Fact.” It’s so powerful, so concise yet lyrical, vital and timely, yet also timeless.
B: What can people who love Button do to help you keep doing what you do?
DG: Watch and share videos. Attend poetry shows. Read books. Write and encourage young writers and help make poetry and performance poetry basic parts of American — and international — culture, just things that average people read and watch and listen to and experience every day.
In terms of the organization more directly, we’d encourage folks to check out the books from our amazing authors at the Button Store, and as mentioned earlier, we’re launching a subscription service soon so folks can offer direct support to Button long-term and access additional content and deals.
B: Do have any advice for those who are starting out with their own projects that they want to build into something great?
DG: It’s gonna be tough. We’ve worked really hard and also gotten really lucky at points, and it’s still really tough. Form a clear idea of what you want to do and make concrete plans for how to get there — advice I would give to our past selves a hundred times over — but also don’t get too bogged down in the details from the start or you’ll never get moving. As evidenced by what I’ve said about how we started, your initial project might morph into something entirely different than what you conceived of, and that can be a beautiful thing.
We know what Dylan's favorite poem is, now let us know what poem you're really feeling right now. Leave a comment or let us know on Facebook or Twitter!
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Every year, hundreds of poets from around the country vigorously write, practice and slam for an entire season to earn a spot on regional teams with hopes of competing at the National Poetry Slam. This year, instead of sending a team to compete at nationals, The Philly Pigeon has decided to send their top five poets on a writing retreat. (Applications are open until April 30, 2016).
We had a chat with Jacob Winterstein, Jasmine Combs and Kai Davis of The Philly Pigeon to discuss Iverson, craftsmanship and other pertinent questions.
Blavity: This seems very left field from what the poetry slam community is used to. Why did The Philly Pigeon decide to go in a different direction this year?
Jacob Winterstein: It’s not totally out of left field. I believe Louder Arts used to rotate between a slam year in which they sent a team to NPS and a fellowship year in which they gave top finishers from grand slam some creative and professional support over the course of a year. Jadon Woodward won Louder Arts one year and then moved to Philly, and I learned about the fellowship experience from him. NPS provides a really tangible goal by which to complete or polish poems. We’re excited to see what type of creativity gets spurned in a more open-ended environment. The pace of preparing for Nationals can be intense. We’re curious to see how a slower paced, more relaxed retreat brings people together and supports creation.
Jasmine Combs: I wouldn’t say that a retreat is “left field” from what the poetry slam community is used to, there are plenty of poets who participate in slam that also go to retreats and fellowships and such. I guess it isn’t typical for poets to slam for spots in a retreat, but I haven’t been in the community long enough to know if what we’re doing has never been done before. As someone who’s represented The Pigeon twice at nationals, I know that Jacob and I share similar feelings about the tension and stress of the competition that sometimes distracts from the community building and cultivation of art that is the true purpose of slam. We hope that this retreat will offer artists a chance to build together and really work on their craft in a stress-free environment. It will also provide our immediate community with some variety, for people who don’t want to go to nationals or those who want to do both (our sister slam The Fuze is still sending a team and the retreat will not coincide with nationals so poets could attend both if they want).
B: A few benefits of attending a National Slam are experience, networking and bragging rights. What are some things you’re hoping the poets that earn a spot to go on this retreat get out of this experience that they might not at a national slam?
Kai Davis: I’m interested in what a dialogue amongst different genres would look like in Philly. Personally, I think interacting with dancers, musicians and visual artists has made a profound impact on my writing, and I want to know what that would look like on a city-wide basis.
JW: An opportunity to build relationships with artists across genres. We’ll be inviting visual artists, dancers and musicians. We also hope that there will be a more organic process of collaboration at a retreat setting that is different from the pressure cooker of preparing for NPS.
B: Being on a slam team is an opportunity to collaborate and grow with like-minded artists who push your craft to be better for an entire summer. How different do you think the writing process for this year’s team is going to be compared to previous years?
JW: No idea. Excited to find out. This is an experiment and we hope that the spirit of experimentation is infused into the retreat.
KD: I think people will be able to write more openly because there are no consequences or quantifiable point systems swaying or stifling people’s writing process.
JC: I think there’s just going to be less pressure.
B: Will The Philly Pigeon ever compete at a National Slam again?
KD: I would imagine, but I can’t say definitively.
JC: I think it would be cool to do every other year, but who knows...we’ll see how this one goes first before we decide.
B: If you had to give yourself advice on how to be a better writer what would it be?
JW: I tell myself to make more time for it.
KD: Go to the museum, the movies, to plays, concerts whenever I can.
JC: Read more books.
B: A retreat to me sounds like a relaxing getaway surrounded by trees and hot chocolate, but that’s me. What is your ideal creative environment?
JW: When I’m in nature I write about the city. When I’m in the city I write about nature.
KD: I write best when I’m supposed to be doing something else, so that could be anywhere at any time really.
B: How important is it to take time out of your busy schedule to write poems?
JC: It’s very important depending on your process. For me, I don’t need to schedule time to write because there’s no schedule of when a poem is going to come to me. I just write them as they come or I store them mentally until they’re ready to be written.
B: For someone who has never been, how would you describe a night at The Philly Pigeon?
JW: We have fun. We play music, we dance, we joke, we share what we’re grateful for. We meet new people. We also can be serious and tender. Our audience listens so hard. So deeply. They want to be entertained like anyone wants to be entertained, but they will also really focus and give you their full and undivided attention. The venue is always packed, the poets respond to that and bring their best and our audience is a beautiful, diverse representation of our amazing city.
KD: It’s always full of amazing energy. The crowd is more diverse than I’ve found at other venues across the country. The crowd is smart, but not pretentious. Fun-loving, but not obnoxious. It’s really the perfect balance.
JC: It’s really the best event in the city; great music, a diverse and energetic crowd that is always PACKED, new and familiar talent, fun and entertaining hosts. A lot of events can be hit or miss but The Pigeon is consistently a hit, I’ve never regretted spending $10 there.
B: What are 5 things you can’t write without?
JW: Peanut butter and jelly, mongooses, rugs, mongoose rugs, aromatherapy.
KD: That’s not really a thing for me. If I have a pen or internet access or a phone I can figure it out.
JC: I just need something to write with and something to write on. And quiet.
B: For artists who aren’t able to take some time off to work on their craft what advice could you give about how to balance real life and being creative?
JW: Schedule it like you would anything that is important to you. Move through guilt about not writing. It won’t serve you.
JC: You have to work with what you have. For me, being creative is a part of my real life. I’m in a poetry collective, I’m a part of The Pigeon, I’m an editor for literary magazines, I study poetry in college, there is no dichotomy. If your circumstances allow, make creativity a part of your real life.
B: What other artistic outlets in Philly should we be checking out as well?
JW: The Harvest, The Fuze, Penola Breed Love, Jus Words, Apiary Magazine, Bedfellows, PYPM.
KD: Definitely the Babel Poetry Collective.
JC: Babel Poetry Collective, I promise you will never see a poetry showcase as crisp and dynamic as our bi-annual production, Babylon.
B: I find a lot of the creatives I talk to are very proud of where they come from, so I like to play the game "IM SO FLY" but instead you say where you’re from.
JW: I’m So Philly
B: How Philly are you?
JW: I have an Allen Iverson tattoo. Not a tattoo of Allen Iverson but one of his tattoos, that he has, I have a copy on me.
KD: I’m So Philly
B: How Philly are you?
KD: I’m all about public tough love and behind the scenes gentleness. I also have a foul mouth.
JC: I’m So Philly
B: How Philly are you?
JC: Cheesesteak is my favorite food group.
Jacob Winterstein is a poet, host, teaching artist and event producer. He has traveled to 24 countries and always comes home to Philadelphia where he was born, raised and educated.
Jacob has represented Philadelphia at the National Poetry Slam, The Individual World Poetry Slam, the Red Bull Word Clash Poetry Competition, and is a winner of the Philadelphia Poet vs. MC Freestyle Competition.
He has taught poetry, performance and improvisational rapping, or freestyle, since 2006 at schools, universities, community centers and jails. He is the co-founder of The Philly Pigeon Poetry Slam, a Philadelphia Magazine Best of Philly 2012 winner and a Knight Foundation Arts Challenge 2013 winner.
He also is the co-director of Camp Bonfire, a summer camp for adults.
Kai Davis is a writer and performer from Philadelphia. She is also a Creative Writing and African American Studies student at Temple University. Her work has been featured at the San Francisco Opera House, The Kimmel Center, The Temple Performing Arts Center and on CNN. In 2011, she was awarded the title of National Brave New Voices Grand Slam Champion and in 2012, she was the second ranked Youth Speaks Individual Slam Poet in the nation.
Right now she spends most of her time working as the artistic director of the Babel Poetry Collective. When she is not directing, she tours colleges and universities across the country, performing and facilitating writing workshops.
Jasmine Combs is a writer, performer, and educator from Philadelphia. She is currently a senior at Temple University studying English with a focus in Creative Writing: Poetry. On campus, she is the Creative Editor of HYPHEN, Temple’s Undergraduate Literary and Arts Magazine and the Events Coordinator of Babel Poetry Collective. Off campus, Jasmine has competed in the 25th and 26th Annual National Poetry Slam, 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam, and this year she will represent Temple at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational.
She recently became an organizer for The Pigeon Presents: The Philadelphia Poetry Slam where she currently holds the 2015 Grand Slam Champion title and is the newest staff editor of The Fem Literary Magazine. In 2014, she published her first chapbook Universal Themes and her work has been featured on Apiary Magazine, SlamFind, Button Poetry and Blavity.
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At 2 a.m. I trolled the Internet in search of something to put me to sleep. Instead, I stumbled upon “Mrs. Hendrix,” a poem only two minutes and 29 seconds long that forced me to relive the past five years of my life.
I’ve always admired spoken-word artists. The thought of standing before a crowd of strangers and inviting them into your living room terrifies me. But that night I took a seat beside a girl named Lindsay Young and let her tell me how my life as a struggling music student and that of million-dollar, dirty-Sprite-drinking Future Hendrix were sadly not that different.
Wedged somewhere between codeine-laden lyrics and that Metro Boomin’ bass is the pain of someone on public display. Even if you dress it up and make it extremely real for us, an audience won’t hear anything out of place. We’ll just nod our heads to the beat and call it art.
But why is that? Isn’t art an expression of feelings or, at the very least, an imitation of reality? Despite my transparency about the isolation and self-esteem issues I face at times, all that those around me hear are catchy melodies, and, as Young put it so well,
“People call them beautiful before they call me damaged.”
And I can’t say I’m not guilty of turning a deaf ear to not-so-inconspicuous cries for help. It wasn’t until I began performing covers live and writing my own songs that I even took the time to wonder what thoughts race through artists’ minds as they create. I was so focused on how lines resonated with me and left me impatient for another project to be released for my consumption that I forgot that 'artist' isn’t just a word. An artist is a person who feels the pressures of life just like I do. The only difference is they are willing to share those feelings with an audience.
So here’s to the Future Hendrixes who drown themselves in dirty Sprite before filled stadiums, as well as the Lindsay Youngs who are brave enough to draw attention to it.
Jazz musician in a complicated romance with writing. Soft trap connoisseur and pop culture enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram...
"FootNotes For Kanye" is Jasmine Mans' newest piece since the release of her Black Boy Gold project two years ago. The New Jersey poet has been touring, educating and preparing new work all year. She makes a strong 2015 exit with a visual of the poem, shot in London, England, and is preparing more work for this coming year. Feel her wrath of emotions in the visual...