1. In the performance of “twerking as a radical form of healing” there are 2 parts, but in the poem of that same title that we have published there are not these 2 parts, is the performance of the poem 2 poems combined together or does there exist a performance version of the poem and “page” version of the poem?
I wrote what is the 2nd the intention of that being the poem. Its part of a whole series of twerking poems that I worked on during a 30-30 writing challenge last April. The 1st was written probably 10 mins before it was captured on film. I was competing at the Midwest Regional Poetry Slam, Rustbelt, and a young poet named Renee Schminkey (holla at their work) went on stage and performed a poem that rocked me to my core. Some might say I was triggered, but I think we have too many negative connotations attached to that term for what I experienced. I was moved, I was unstable, I was clueless of what to do with my body but write. So I wrote. What came out was this litany, the smoothest form of writing my body knows vent with, and it was pretty connected to what had already wrote, I said ‘screw it, let’s read of this scrappy piece of paper’. I like the idea of poets in a reading/slam being able to talk to each other, whether to rebut or to echo and commune. It’s part of the live poetry space that advantages that particular space over the writing/lit journal space. It gives us the ability to be in the moment, to create a call and response, a chorus of instant literature.
2. If the performance is 2 poems combined why did you decide to combine the poems? What was the effect on the audience that you hoped to achieve in combining the 2 poems?
Or, if the performance is simply another version of the poem why have you chosen to have 2 different versions of the same poem? Do you feel that one is more effective for performance and one more effective for the page?
To be honest, I did both poems because I think the 3 mins allotted to poets in a slam is too much time. Most of my poems are about a minute and a half long, so I always end up pairing 2 poems that are in conversation as part of the same performance. I don’t know why I didn’t bring that first section from the video away from that performance. I don’t have the text anywhere for myself & I haven’t performed it elsewhere since. Maybe it was only meant to happen then. It kinda sexy to think that a poem can live in a certain amount of time, that in that one moment it served its purpose and can now rest in honor.
Yeah, lets go with that. Let’s let poem tell us how long they want to be a part of the world and it what way they want to come.
3. The phrases “page” poetry and “stage” poetry are often heard and are often spoken as if they are 2 separate types of poetry, do you think this dichotomy even exists and do you think that there really are any differences that would warrant these delineations?
A poem is a poem is a damn poem. A good poem, in my mind, has a life both on the page and in the air. Now, I think what we are trying to say when we talk about stage and page poems is something about accessibility. The stage is immediate, I can’t ask every performer to rewind their poems as I’m listening to it, so the challenge with performing work is preparing something that can be consumed in the moment, that the audience can digest within the span of a few minutes. We work that performs better on page, we can hid things, we can play with structure and shape in ways performance does not allow, so the poem, depending on how much it relays on it’s written construction, might not be accessible in live performance the same way it might be on page where it can be read, re-read, marked up and broken down. But in the end, we must ask the same questions of the poem whether we encounter it via mouth to mic or eye to book: oDes it move me? What does this poet want me to know or feel? Do they succeed?
4. When you write a poem that you eventually perform do you always know from the start that it will be a performance poem? Does this knowledge dictate anything in regards to your creative process?
See, this assumes a binary in the work. When I go into the writing process, my job is to write, to let the poem tell me what it wants to be and listen as best as possible. When I’m done with it, the poem will let me know whether it wants to be performed or not, but first I have to let the poem be itself. And what the fux is a performance poem? If Phillis Wheatley stands up in a room and says in a whisper ‘Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land’, is she not performing? What differentiates the performance of a poem from the reading of it? ‘Page’ Poets (stop calling yourself that!) have been getting away with lackluster readings for a while now. Give that joint some life like it deserves!
And ‘Performance’ Poets (stop calling yourself that!) need not think that the writing has nothing to do with the poem itself. Yes, the music & body of the poem might lend itself to one side of this tired argument or the other, but a poem deserves to have a life on and off of the page. A poem will let you know what it is trying to be, how it wants to be pronounced.
5. Your line breaks are clearly well considered, but these breaks do not exactly match pauses or breathes in your performance (which is no way indicating that the line breaks do not work well, because they do). Do you consider the line break when you are writing a piece that you know or think you might perform and then does that break have any effect on your performance?
I try to value as many breaks in the poem as I can, but a break to me is not that long of a stop musically. I think of a poem like a good 45: side A being the written version, the music that manifest itself in the mind when the poem is consumed through the eye and side B is the music that comes out when the poem is read out loud and the body & spirit are taken over by the words and the memories they unearth.
6. What does it mean to perform a poem? Can any poem be performed? Should all poems be performed?
- I want to answer this 2 days. One is to be a smart ass and say you read it aloud. The other way I wanna answer that is that you perform it by allowing the poem to meet its cousin theatre, and you listen to the music, the character, the heart of the poem and offer up your voice and your body to the poem as a vessel.
- Yes, every poem can be performed. Douglas Kearney performs poems I wouldn’t even think of bringing to the performance process. Some poems just want you to work harder to figure it out.
- It’s not a question of if all poems should be performed, it’s if all poets should be performing (and some just shouldn’t.)
7. Did you start out writing poetry meant for performance? Or does your poetry just naturally lend itself to performance or to being performed? How has performing poetry affected your voice?
I don’t think I was writing performance poems intentionally. I think I started writing and performing was how I shared my work with people. I was 14. I didn’t know what a poetry journal was. I had only seen poems tucked into old, ratty English textbooks and on HBO late on Fridays. Sharing poems became more intentionally performing poems which did indeed lead to me writing for performance, giving into that shameful little binary (aren’t binaries gross?). It was working with Amaud Johnson, falling in love with Patricia Smith, learning from the work of Rachel McKibbens and other folks that taught me that 1. you can’t just perform and not pay attention to the page and 2. the poem has to stand on it’s on own feet (maybe 4, poems are quite the beast) meaning, if your poem is only good when you’re around, then your poem might not be good at all. You just might be an awesome actor. On the flip side of that, if your poem loses all it’s awe the second you try to give it breath (I’ve seen a lot of poems suffer from Bad Reader Disorder), then you might want to think about learning some basic performance skills.
8. What kind of advice would you offer to writers who might feel as if they have yet to find their voice?
Read everything. I didn’t know my own voice until I started to understand the voices of others. Read a mix of folks who you share some kind of history/experience (I found myself in Baldwin, in Lorde, in Morrison, in the Smiths – Patricia and Tracy K. - in Jericho Brown, in Saeed Jones) and those who you might not expect to find kinship in (for me, that was Olds, Faulkner, Ron Wallace, and Alexie). When you’ve read until your eyes need rest, then you can write. It’s amazing what the intake of art can do for the output. one of my mentors, Rafael Casal, told me to always take in 3 times for art than I am putting out, minimum. I hold that true. As we absorb art, we form opinions about it and when we come to our own creative space, we hopefully have a clearer idea about what we are interested in doing and the ways in which it can live.
9. What are things that make a poem really fantastic to you? And, what about a poetry reading?
I want poems that treat me like a good affair. I want them to be brutally honest in the same breathe that they lie to me. I want them to not be afraid to fail, and when they fail, I want them to do so with flare and passion. I want them to break me open, but I also want a poem that can build me up, that can make a mosaic out of rubble. I want a poem that knows what it’s doing when it gets in bed with me. I want poems with teeth and too much nail. I want poems that choke me a little. I want poems that know what they want out of me. I want poems that make me work for it. I want a poem that leaves me sweating and trying to settle my body. I want readings that give their full breath to the poem. I want readings that know when to whisper and when to moan. I want readers what are vessels for their work, that don’t scream when there is no need to scream, who down bore the glory out of their poems. I want a reading that makes me want to take the poem home.
but really, I love a sharp line, a good image and a good pulse to charge me through the
poem. that’s all.
10. I recently read that you have a collection forthcoming; can you talk a bit about your approach to putting a collection together? Did you know early on that you were writing a collection? Did you have an idea for a collection and then wrote the poems? Or did you look back at a bunch of poems and then deicide you had a collection? How did you order the poems? How does the collection differ, if at all, from the individual poem?
That was a lot of questions in 1 question, Dan. I started to put poems together for my senior thesis, but it was just that, some poems put together, a collection of the best poems I had at the time stuck together in some kind of order. What was born, or is still being birthed, is [insert] boy, my first full-length collection coming out fall 2014 from YesYes Books. I’m dumb hype for this book to enter the world. It explores the different types of boys that exist in my one little body, inserting identities that insect in my identity, but sectioning them for individual exploration (though, of course, they can’t seem to let go of each other). So there a blk boy poems, gay boy poems, rent boy poems, and all kinds of fun boys and sad boys talking to each other in the book. I also think the idea of the ‘boy’ is important to me. I have problems with the idea of ‘man’ sometimes, but the idea of boy, of the potential of grow, of the naïve and tender parts of the self are what hold me closer to the idea of myself as a boy, a grown one, but a boy still. Once I knew what I was trying to do with the book, the stories I wanted to tell and the pots I wanted to stir, I started to write poems for the purpose of being part of the collection, trying to fill the holes that needed to be filled, but also editing poems that already existed and releasing them if the pressure to cover everything at once. That is most glorious thing about writing a collection, that each poem is a part of a larger body, where as when we only see the individual poem, we look at that one tiny bone as the body itself. But the collection is able to be the bone, the blood, and eyes, and the breath. This collection is trying to rebuild this body I call home out of the little pieces of me scattered across the pages.