(edit: ten million now)

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

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

1. The poem is in my book. If you like it, you will very likely enjoy the whole book, which is full of poems, song lyrics, and essays about these issues and many others. The blurb is below, and here’s a link to how you can order one (through Button Poetry).

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.

2. Bring me to your school or conference.  My work actually involves traveling to colleges, universities, conferences, and other places to use spoken word as an entry point into deeper conversations about identity, power, and resistance. Check out my booking info here and get in touch.

3. On a craft/writing level, I’ve always thought of this one as an okay poem with a really strong “hook,” which is the term I use to refer to its conceptual framework, the thing that makes it different from all of the other poems about masculinity/gender stuff out there. If you’re an aspiring spoken word artist (or really any kind of writer), I think hooks are really important to understand, whether you choose to lean on them or not. I talk more about them through this video series.

4. Finally, a quick note on the content. I haven’t been able to sift through all of the comments, but I can pretty much imagine some of them. Just want to make a handful of things very clear:

  • The poem is about how so many of the assumptions associated with masculinity are based in fear, shame, and insecurity; it’s also about how so many assumptions about competence and power are based in masculinity. And yes, this is reflected in so-called “little things” like language and everyday pop culture that we don’t often think critically about (not sure if people even remember the specific Miller Lite commercials that this poem is directly responding to). The poem is very much about the relationship between those “little things” and the larger realities of sexism and gender-based violence.
  • The issue is not that telling people to “take responsibility and be strong” (which, yeah, I know is what “man up” means) is always a bad thing (though it can be, depending on what that person actually needs); the issue is that framing responsibility and strength as solely masculine qualities reinforces a whole lot of poisonous essentialist garbage about gender that ends up hurting people.
  • Because this always comes up in conversations about language: remember that “hey let’s maybe think more critically about the language we use” is not the same as “hey you should go to jail for saying the ‘wrong’ thing.” Empathy is not censorship. The poem is about language, but it’s also about something deeper than that.
  • The poem is not saying that men have it worse than women (or gender-nonconforming people), or that we have it just as bad. Sexism hurts everyone, but it hurts everyone in very different ways, and a critical understanding of how sexism/patriarchy works is a necessary first step in disrupting and dismantling it.
  • I know that sometimes MRA-type people kind of like the poem, which is weird. I mean, yeah, I can imagine how it might resonate with people who want to talk about the unfair and messed up expectations that society places on men. But this is still very much a feminist poem. Because it isn’t women, or feminism, that places those expectations on men– it’s patriarchy. So people bring up men’s high suicide rates, or how so many men “don’t feel like they fit in” in our society any more– I hear you. I just don’t share your analysis. Feminism isn’t the enemy– it’s an invaluable lens, a tool for actually fixing some of those problems (as opposed to just going on the internet and harassing women/complaining about feminism, which is the MRA approach). For more on this topic, check this out.

Finally, just a note that if you like this poem, check this one out too. Plus, you can find all of my work here. PLUS, I made a list of 100+ spoken word poems by other people, including a dozen or so on gender and masculinity. This is an ongoing conversation, featuring many voices, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be part of it.


Lots happening right now, especially with my final grad school presentation right around the corner (Monday, 4/11 at 7pm at Rarig; free and open to the public). Two things related to that:

First, here is brand new footage of what has become my most popular poem, “Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up.'” The Button Poetry version already has 850k views (!), and there’s another version with 100k+ too, but this performance is just better, I think. If you know me, you probably already know this poem, but it’s always nice to have a more definitive version available online. Find the full text here.

Second, I just completed a huge update to my “Beginner’s Guide to Spoken Word and Slam Poetry” page. There, I’ve collected over a hundred poems that I would recommend to others; a few personal favorites mixed in with some that I think just do a good job capturing the power of spoken word as both a form of artistic expression and a potential teaching tool. Check it out, and feel free to get in touch with any suggestions.


This poem has been out there for a while; the original is up past 100,000 views. The original also happens to be the first time I’d ever performed it, very soon after it was written. The video above is a revised, memorized version, and I think the quality is a little better.


Thanks to Button Poetry for capturing it and posting it. What they’ve done over the past year in terms of being a major signal boost to slam poets all over the country has been inspiring and important.

And just as a snapshot of my life: I’ll be on MPR today at 9am discussing the legacy of JFK and reframing the idea of “service.” Then performing with the legendary Jamie DeWolf tonight at 6:30pm at the U of MN’s Bell Auditorium. Then giving a keynote tomorrow morning on social media stuff at the Fall Media Forum. Then finishing up my new mixtape. Check out the FB page for details on all that stuff.

UPDATE (2022): Check out this link for a “classroom-friendly” version of this poem (with high-quality video/audio), plus reflections on its ten-year anniversary, plus more resources!

UPDATE: This is the newest version of this piece. The Button Poetry version has a million+ views (plus 10 million more on Facebook, which maybe speaks to how these ideas are striking a chord with people right now), but I think this one captures a more polished performance.


New piece. I really hate those Miller Lite commercials, but it’s definitely bigger than just that. Felt good to talk about it on stage.

On a side note, I know there are a ton of spoken-word pieces out there about masculinity.  I’ve got this one too.  But I think it’s important to keep talking about these issues, especially if you can do it in a creative way, or at least have a new angle or hook.  I think there’s a bad tendency in spoken-word circles to dismiss any poem that covers well-trod territory (like “here’s another hip hop poem,” or “here’s another domestic violence poem”) and while I completely understand where that’s coming from and agree that we should be pushing ourselves in terms of subject matter, I ALSO believe that certain topics deserve the attention.  Especially as someone who works with young people–particularly young men– I like to have three or four of these kinds of poems in my pocket.

Anyways, hope you like it.  Might be a bit of a “preaching to the choir” piece in some ways, but that all depends on with whom we all share it. Any FB posts, tweets, tumblr posts, re-blogs and whatever are much appreciated, as always.

UPDATE: A few more thoughts:

I see a lot of comments informing me that the phrase “man up” actually means “to take responsibility and handle your business.” And it’s like, yeah, I know that. The point of the poem is less to question that advice (although there are times when it should definitely be questioned), and more to question why we *gender* that advice, why we don’t just literally say “toughen up” or “handle it” instead– why we always seem to equate competence, strength, and resolve with maleness.

It’s also about what the implications of that are.

Because there’s a bigger point here about the inability of so many to make connections, to see beyond the specific. This is not a poem about one specific phrase that I happen not to like. It’s a poem about language, and habits, and how the “little things” we don’t always think critically about connect to larger realities of harm and violence. If to be male means to always be strong and in control, what happens when we aren’t? Or what happens when are, but that “strength” and “control” become violence? What percentage of mass shooters are men? What percentage of killers, abusers, warmongers, and exploiters are men? Why is violence so often associated witih masculinity– in pop culture, in policy, and in everyday experience?

The poem doesn’t have room to answer all those questions, but it’s trying to point in a particular direction, and trying to make some connections. It’s also trying, if nothing else, to encourage us all to think a little more critically about the messages we receive about gender– where they come from, who benefits from them, and what kind of world we might be able to shape without them.

TEN RESPONSES TO THE PHRASE “MAN UP” (words are for the updated version)

1. Fuck you.

2. If you want to question my masculinity, like a schoolyard circle of curses, like a swordfight with lightsaber erections, save your breath. Because contrary to what you may believe, not every problem can be solved by “growing a pair.” You can’t arm-wrestle your way out of depression. The CEO of the company that just laid you off does not care how much you bench. And I promise, there is no lite beer in the universe full-bodied enough to make you love yourself.

3. Man up? Oh that’s that new superhero, right? Mild-mannered supplement salesman Mark Manstrong says the magic words “MAN UP,” and then transforms into THE FIVE O’CLOCK SHADOW, the massively-muscled, deep-voiced, leather-duster-wearing super-man who defends the world from, I don’t know, feelings.

4. Of course. Why fight to remove our chains, when we can simply compare their lengths? Why step outside the box, when the box has these bad-ass flame decals on it? We men are cigarettes: dangerous, and poisonous, and stupid.

5. You ever notice how nobody ever says “woman up?” They just imply it. Because women and the women’s movement figured out a long time ago that being directly ordered around by commercials, magazines and music is dehumanizing. When will men figure that out?

6. The phrase “Man Up” suggests that competence and perseverance are uniquely masculine traits. That women—not to mention any man who doesn’t eat steak, drive a pickup truck, have lots of sex with women—are nothing more than background characters, comic relief, props. More than anything, though, it suggests that to be yourself—whether you, wear skinny jeans, listen to Lady Gaga, rock a little eyeliner, drink some other brand of light beer, or write poetry—will cost you.

7. How many boys have to kill themselves before this country acknowledges the problem? How many women have to be assaulted? How many trans people have to be murdered? We teach boys how to wear the skin of a man, but we also teach them how to raise that skin like a flag and draw blood for it.

8. Boy babies get blue socks. Girl babies get pink socks. What about purple? What about orange, yellow, chartreuse, cerulean, black, tie-dyed, buffalo plaid, rainbow…

9. I want to be free, to express myself. Man up. I want to have meaningful, emotional relationships with my brothers. Man up. I want to be weak sometimes. Man up. I want to be strong in a way that isn’t about physical power or dominance. Man up. I want to talk to my son about something other than sports. Man up. I want to be who I am. Man up.

10. No.