Friends, I've made it - made it to a Youtube video
that comes with an "explicit language" warning. It's a dream I never knew I had. I couldn't have done it without you. You can watch the video below. It's one of the poems I read for last month's Lit Slam. And I'm mostly kidding about the "explicit language" thing -
I'm proud of that night's reading for many more reasons than that. If you haven't already, check out what I wrote about it: "What I learned from my first lit slam."My next reading is coming up tomorrow night in Berkeley. I'll be helping Lyrics & Dirges celebrate their second anniversary by sharing some poems, along with
Justin Chin, Javier O. Huerta, Tim Kahl, and one of my favorite local literary heroes, Nic Alea. Lyrics & Dirges is a reading series that aims to "spotlight the diverse literary community" of the Bay Area, so as always, this is a dynamic line-up of readers, and I'm really looking forward to being part of it. The show is hosted by Sharon Coleman, and it takes place at Pegasus Books in downtown Berkeley, at 7:30 pm. Wheelchair accessible, refreshments served. Visit the website for more details. Advertisement over. Now, I sell myself in video form:
The concept of change from within
continues to touch my writing these days. And I'm thinking not just about change from within my own body, but also from within the communities who need it most. So often, we see it happen the opposite
way – change taking place as outsiders see fit, without consideration of the community's voices
speaking to what's best for their own lives. And usually, this kind of change follows certain patterns. Out with the liquor stores, and in with the wine bars. Out with the graffiti, in with the art galleries. And, of course, out with the low-income people of color, and in with those who can afford to live in the more expensive, new and "improved" version of the neighborhood. At the July Lit Slam, the stupendous featured poet, Danez Smith
, read a poem he'd written from the perspective of a prostitute witnessing gentrification in her neighborhood. "My pussy got a Whole Foods," he read. The poem was a comically clever, making me laugh and making me reflect on the neighborhood where I grew up. It's still Whole Foods-free, and without gentrification, that land is sort of sacred ground.
And I know it may seem somewhat strange, to celebrate the preservation of conditions that are awful in so many ways. I'm from Stockton, California, a place that usually goes unrecognized unless it's at the top of a list measuring something like rates of crime, or unemployment, or overall misery
. The parks near my old house host more drug deals and gun fights than picnics or barbeques. Recently, Stockton has made international news
for the way it's worsened in the economic downturn. The news doesn't seem to indicate that Stockton will improve any time soon.
So as I watch, I wonder where things will go from here. Will Stockton communities continue to experience award-winning misery? Or will they see positive change, as some believe
? If so, my hope is for the people of Stockton to be able to feel safe and thrive, rather than being displaced by some new wave of privileged folk who decide that change is worth it because they've moved in.
You know me – I find hope in poetry, in the telling of stories from the voices of the people. So With Our Words
, a Stockton-based organization promoting youth development and leadership through literary and creative arts, is on my radar. Here's a video of Stockton youth competing in a poetry slam, with a piece that draws attention to the measures some take to find hope for change under dreary conditions.
In elementary school, they have you write an essay on what you did over the summer. I don't know why nobody has you write one on your first lit slam
what I call learning outside the classroom (Seriously, check out The Lit Slam
. I'll definitely be going back for more). So here's my essay.
My First Lit Slam
At my first lit slam, I learned
the importance of things like volume and clarity. Not just so the audience could hear me, but so I could hear myself. So I could find a spot at the back of the room and pretend I was standing there watching, in awe of the bravery on stage, because that's where I'd usually be at a poetry slam. I learned to look at my own foolish bravery as something beautiful.
At my first lit slam, I learned that I suck at competition. Because isn't the whole point to be better than the other competitors? I tried rooting against them, to see how that felt. When one guy took to the stage with a particularly confident stage presence, I let the intimidation sink in my stomach and thought, God, I hope he sucks.
And I don't know if it was the guilt of thinking such a mean thing or the troubling eloquence of his poem's first line, but I took it back immediately. And I cheered for him, as if he wasn't just the competition, but also the bearer of damn good poetry, because he was. At my first lit slam, I learned that some people are brave enough to love me ugly. That after the shimmer of gloss has faded to the flat, dark brown of my lips, some are strong enough to name my beauty in the vulnerability of speaking my truth. The kind of truth that hurts a little on the way out. At my first lit slam, I learned to make it to the final round. And to come in last place among the first places. And, even without any bullshit like "everybody's a winner," I learned
how it can truly be an honor to lose, standing among such exhilarating talent. At my first lit slam, I learned why people take part in the madness of competitive performance poetry. Not to try to be better than everyone else, but to try to be the best version of myself. I learned to push for more. I learned to want more. And I learned how to get what I want.
It's almost eerie, the way I can revisit Audre Lorde's work again and again, and always find that she seems to be speaking directly to the questions I'm grappling with at the moment. It's one of the reasons I count her as one of my mentors, in spite of the fact that this mentorship began long after she passed away.
Have you ever had a mentor like that? Here's a passage I came across while
rereading her work for school. From her essay "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power:"For as we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like their only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within.
These are meaningful words, and timely, for everything I've been exploring lately about getting in touch with my feelings
and creating change from within
. Thanks for the affirmation, Audre.
So. On with the newness. Here's one change that's happening for me: I'm no longer part of the Matrices Press anthology I was helping put together to gather voices that challenge oppression and silencing. Since I'm feeling open to change, it feels right to move on. Hopefully soon I'll be able to focus on my own project in support of my vision for lifting silenced voices. Big thanks to all of the talented writers who submitted their work! If you'd like to keep up on what's next for Matrices, visit the website
And something new that I'm trying: tonight I'm going to try participating in a special show called The Lit Slam. The Lit Slam is a monthly performance poetry event based on competition for a shot at publication in an annual print journal.
I've never competed in a poetry slam before, and I'm a little nervous about going up against some seasoned pros, but I am on the lookout for submission opportunities
, and since I'm trying new things, I thought I might as well. The last time I participated in a writers' competition, Portuguese Artists Colony, it turned out pretty well for me
. And if nothing else, I know that tonight I'll have fun, which is really my main goal.
This month's feature is slam champion Danez Smith
. I've just spent way too much time on Youtube falling in love with his poetry. I'll never get that time back, but it was so worth it. Here's one of his pieces. If you want to hear him read live, come out to Viracocha
tonight at 8 pm, and for more about The Lit Slam, see their website