My earliest memory of masculinity is not a particle, it’s a wave. My earliest memory of masculinity is not a man, it’s a mask.
We had originally planned on having eight episodes in our first season, with the final episode being the live recording of the LIVE episode that we recorded a few months ago at the University of MN. Due to some audio/tech obstacles, we’re delaying that episode by two weeks and sharing this surprise mini-episode now.
As always, please feel free to subscribe (on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, all the usual platforms). If you really like it, please feel free to leave a review, and spread the word- share a favorite quote, or ask a question, or just share the link; we’ll be using the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on Twitter and IG. Find our previous episodes here.
I resisted the siren song of starting a podcast for a really long time. But tony the scribe had some great ideas, and the overall issue of toxic masculinity is relevant to literally every crisis on earth right now. There’s a sense of urgency here, mixed with an impulse to really take some time to explore how this dominant/dominating narrative of manhood as power, control, and authority is so effective and so insidious. We’re only four episodes into the show (with a fifth coming on 1/1/20), and already have SO MANY MORE planned for the next season. Thanks so much to everyone who’s already tuned in. Related: a piece I wrote back in January called “How much profit is in your pain? On masculinity and outrage.”
2. “The Art of Taking the L” Zine and Video
Related to the podcast, this is a poem (and accompanying zine) that I’ve been working on for a while. Finally got a draft ready to share, and it’s available now both as a video (via Button Poetry) and as part of a BUNDLE of zines that are some of my favorite projects I’ve worked on.
3. Other New Videos
This was the first year in like a decade without any new music from me. But there has been some other cool stuff, including “The Art of Taking the L” and these other new videos:
We are the codes that our ancestors still speak in.
This is an older poem; I think I wrote this in 2013 or so. But having a new video of it (via Button Poetry) is a cool way to close out 2019. Like “A Pragmatist’s Guide to Magic,” and “A Pragmatist’s Guide to Revolution,” this is something I wrote for myself more than for any particular audience. Hope you like it, or that it can be valuable in some way to anyone else out there.
The subtitle is “what happens when you understand conflict, but don’t understand power,” something that, I have to say, is very, very relevant in today’s political discourse. This is a super weird, very specific poem, but I think it’s pointing at an issue that is definitely worth thinking critically about.
Related: This is part of an informal series of poems about POWER. I mean, all of my poems are about power in some way, but this series (which also includes Thoughts and Prayers, Pro-Life, and A Pragmatist’s Guide to Magic, are all very explicitly about power in the context of organizing. I hope they make more sense when experienced in proximity to one another.
I am beyond excited to release this new project. Aside from the new video, I’m collaborating with Button Poetry to release this exclusive bundle of zines featuring the new poem, plus zines I’ve worked on over the past couple years (and a blank one so you can make your own!), a signed note, and a surprise sticker or two. There are only 250 bundles available, so go get ’em.
A few more thoughts:
On Zine-Making Check out the ZINES link on this site for more information on each individual one, plus some background on the philosophy behind zine-making in general. One other note: these are all printed on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper, at a union shop here in MPLS called Smart Set.
On “The Art of Taking the L” This poem/speech has gone through a ton of revisions, and may go through more. The original version of it was a commission- I was asked to share something at an event with a few hundred men in attendance, most of whom had not had a ton of conversations about “hegemonic masculinity” or whatever. So the piece is meant to be an entry point, a first step into these issues.
With that in mind, one specific impulse became clear. I knew that the piece couldn’t be judgy. It couldn’t be a “those guys over there are bad and these guys over here are good” kind of piece. It couldn’t be a commandment to act differently, because no one wants to listen to that. So instead, I tried to focus on the “commandments” that already exist, even if we don’t notice them. From that, the “narrative/counter-narrative” thread emerged. What stories do we tell about masculinity? About gender in general? What are the implications of those stories? Why do stories matter?
One could ask the same questions about race, class, nationality and citizenship, and a bunch of other identities. Maybe that’s a writing prompt. But especially today, we need to be paying attention to the stories being told to us… and the stories we’re telling.
On Connections To The “What’s Good, Man?” Podcast Of course, all of that relates directly to my OTHER new project, the upcoming podcast, “What’s Good, Man?” with Tony the Scribe. If you’re interested in this kind of critical masculinity, narrative/counter-narrative stuff, please check it out. We debut on Wednesday, November 6, and are having a LIVE episode recording that same evening at the UMN. Get details on all of that here.
Additional Resources, Poems, and Readings The “The Art of Taking the L” zine includes the full text of the poem, plus a bank of discussion questions, plus a bunch of cool resources. I’ll share those links here as well. Obviously, there are many more books and readings and poems that could be listed here, but part of making a zine is how you navigate the limited space. My thought is that these are a few resources that might be useful entry points. Feel free to add others in the comments!
BOOKS: • Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics: bell hooks • The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Jared Yates Sexton • Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture: Roxane Gay • Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood: Carlos Andrés Gómez • The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love: bell hooks • Know My Name: Chanel Miller
New over on Button Poetry’s channel: an a capella rendition of my two verses from the song “Matches.”
You may know it from the Sifu Hotman album, or from it being featured as the weather on an episode of Welcome to Night Vale. It’s kind of a personal “mission statement,” something that drives a lot of what I try to do. The full lyrics are available here.
The song wasn’t written about the climate crisis, but let’s talk about it. I’m thinking about this song in the context of today’s Global Climate Strike. Part of the song is about rejecting the narrative of the individual hero or revolutionary, and instead attempting to tap into something larger, something more communal, something more connected. Because when it comes to this work, individual action will not be enough. We need large-scale, sustainable policy change, the the mass movements that can drive that policy change. So that means joining organizations, donating to organizations, voting for candidates with bold plans to tackle the problem, pressuring the politicians who don’t, and dreaming bigger.
And yeah, if I recycle, use less plastic, and pick up litter at the park on the way there, that’s fine. But those actions are not a substitute for organizing. There’s a reason the song ends with “it’s a good thing we brought matches” and not “it’s a good thing I brought matches.”
Here in MN, today’s climate strike is sponsored by a bunch of organizations that are worth a follow, from MN350, to TakeAction MN, to MN Youth Climate Strike and beyond. Check out the “hosted by” list at the event page.
“And there is nothing revolutionary about fatalism. I suppose the question is, are you antifascist? Are you a revolutionary? Are you a defender of decency and life on Earth? Because no one who is any of those things has ever had the odds on their side. But you know what we do have? A meaningful existence on the edge of oblivion. And if the end really is only a few decades away, and no human intervention can stop it, then who do you want to be at the end of the world?”
“How loud do you have to be to put out a house fire with just your voice?”
Yeah, the title is in scare quotes. Hopefully that comes through. As I often do with two poems, I wanted to share a few notes on process, and then some poems by other writers that tackle the topic in different ways.
A Few Notes on Process This is a poem about a specific issue, but it’s also a poem that is exploring a couple different impulses:
I’m really interested in how we, as artists and writers, respond to fascism. I’ve written about this before, but I think ONE thing to think about is the importance of saying something, even when that something isn’t perfect or revelatory or magical. This isn’t a perfect poem, haha. It isn’t the most creative thing I’ve written. But it was important to me to stand up on a stage and say it, as soon as I had the opportunity. The poem might continue to get revised and people might catch a new draft at some point, but to me, the timeliness was more important than the timelessness.
The poem is also the product of a lot of conversations I’ve had with activists, organizers and advocates who work on issues related to gender, feminism, and reproductive justice. The refrain is always “men (especially cis men) need to speak up more.” That can seem super obvious, but it can be easy to forget when you’re “in” that world; for me, I’m around powerful voices who speak out on these issues all the time- that’s just my community. So I’ve often felt a pull to step back- which CAN be a healthy impulse! It can also, however, sometimes be an excuse to not do any work. It’s like, yes, it’s messed up that “men talking about being pro-choice” is still seen as bold or interesting- but that’s not an excuse not to do it.
I’m also really interested in multi-vocal responses, how no one poem has to be “definitive.” Multiple poems can present different angles of an argument, different POVs, etc. There are some examples below, but this framework has helped me as a writer: a poem doesn’t have to be all things to all people. A poem doesn’t have to be the conversation; it can be one piece of a much larger conversation (and different pieces may be able to do different “work” for different audiences, in different contexts). That realization, for me, has been freeing.
I don’t have a lot of faith in the power of poems to changes minds, especially about issues like abortion rights. That being said, poems can do so many other things. They can open up spaces for dialogue, they can provide useful frameworks or metaphors for understanding, they can contribute in ways both large and small to the ongoing push-and-pull of how the larger culture frames and understands complex issues, and they can plant seeds (while watering other seeds that have already been planted!)
More Poems and Resources on Reproductive Justice This summer, I’ve been sharing my lists a lot: poems about white supremacy, poems about toxic masculinity, poems that have been useful to me in educational spaces. The idea is that hopefully, teachers and other educators can use these poems as entry points to dialogue.
A lot of those lists pull from this bigger list of spoken word poems organized by topic. I don’t have a specific list of poems on reproductive justice yet, but this is as good a time as any to start one. If you know of others, please share in the comments! Here are a few:
EDIT (8/5/19): This was originally posted in 2017 and was focused on Charlottesville, but I’ve since added even more resources to this list, and broadened the scope to disrupting and dismantling white supremacy in general. That’s work that has to happen early, and teachers can play an important role.
There are a million other articles and resources I could share here, but from personal experience: this one has been really useful. It’s a Time Magazine feature looking at the literal faces of the people in positions of power in the US; great tool for conceptualizing white supremacy not just as “bad white people doing bad things,” but as a larger system of domination. Especially for students who bring up the “but white men are the NEW oppressed minority” talking point.
Because my background is in using spoken word as a tool for narrative-building and opening up spaces for authentic dialogue, I wanted to share a few poems that have been on my mind lately. As always, list-making is tricky. This is not a list of the “best” poems about this topic, or even a list of just “poems about racism.”
This is a list of poems that might be useful for educators looking for artistic work that can prompt some critical thinking about hate, white supremacy, and the recent events in Charlottesville.
I’m also thinking about this list in terms of what work needs to be done in educational spaces. Understanding the motivations of– and contextual factors that cultivate– white supremacists is one angle, but so is making connections between the explicit hate espoused by neo-nazis and the more subtle, implicit ways that white supremacist ideology pops up in everyday life. I think these poems, in different ways, explore those connections. Maybe we shouldn’t need personal, human stories to create empathy, to illuminate that other human beings matter. But they can be tools for that, when it’s called for. These poems also use metaphor, symbolism, narrative, and other tools to push the listener beyond the notion that racism is just “people being mean to each other because they’re different.”
Of course, not every poem is appropriate for every audience. Be sure to review before presenting, both in terms of language/accessibility stuff and relevance. Also of course, “talking about racism” is a first step, not a last one, and we should challenge ourselves to find ways to embed anti-racist approaches and policies into our schools and institutions in more concrete ways as well.
This poem uses humor to open up space for a powerful critique for the very common idea that “not seeing color” is the answer to racism. “You want to strip me clean; bleach away the parts of me that make you uncomfortable… when you say ‘colorblind,’ you are asking me to forget.”
Storytelling can communicate information in ways that facts and statistics can’t. In this poem/TEDx Talk, Jared Paul simply tells five stories from his life that illustrate how whiteness works in context, even for people who would not consider themselves privileged.
I wanted to write something about how “white supremacy” is bigger and more insidious than just literal white supremacists marching around with torches. But this is also about highlighting the *connection* between those people and the everyday acts/attitudes/policies that make them possible. Pushing back has to happen at multiple levels too– denouncing and disrupting specific acts of terror, but also uprooting their worldview in the classroom, the office, the church, the comment thread, the home, and everywhere.
A classic poem that seeks to explore the motivations of hateful bigots, without ever making excuses for them. There’s so much in here about empathy (in a critical sense), perspective, and what lenses people use to see the world.
This poem is warm, funny, and approachable, using empathy-generating personal stories to make a larger point about xenophobia, the refugee experience, and finding home. “Call me Hmong before you call me American, because Hmong is the closest word I know to home.”
This poem is heartbreaking. Sad poems can be useful when crafting activities or discussions focused on walking in someone else’s shoes. “Year after year she makes flowers bloom in the hood, petals in the face of this land that doesn’t want her here.”
Talking about racism involves *talking* about racism, and this piece has always been a favorite of mine because of how it illuminates how those conversations so often go. It’s absurdist, and even funny, but it points to something deadly serious and can be a useful entry point for talking about how we talk about racism.
I can’t think of a better deconstruction of the excuses and rationalizations that white people use to distance themselves from white supremacy. Obviously, this won’t work for every audience, in every situation, but it can be a very powerful exploration of how rhetoric can be used to mask racism.
Students sometimes struggle with the notion that tokenism, “positive” stereotypes, or other forms of “benevolent racism” are harmful. Even well-meaning people can contribute to a white supremacist society. This poem can be an entry point into that conversation.
Carlos Andrés Gómez – “12 Reasons to Abolish C.B.P & I.C.E” So much white supremacist terrorism takes root in xenophobia and anti-immigrant hate. This poem can be a first step toward interrogating that.
Denice Frohman – “Borders” Yet another poem showcasing the power of storytelling; this is a poem that might have different things to say to different audiences- but they’re all valuable.
“I’m cheating here since this isn’t a poem; it’s just really good. One reason we talk so much about “racism” in the US rather than “white supremacy” is because racism can be (incorrectly) framed as attitude. And anyone of any identity can have a bad attitude. But white supremacy is about power. It’s about history. And this short video illustrates that perfectly.
I hope this list can be useful; feel free to share more in the comments.
Of course, these are all for sparking dialogue, because dialogue matters. But action also matters. Whether it’s a classroom full of high-schoolers, a book club, a discussion group in a church basement, or some other setting, what matters is how we translate these discussions, these epiphanies, and these feelings into action. That’s another post, but hopefully, there’s something here that can be a useful start.
For teachers, student affairs folks, social justice activists, and beyond: this is a playlist of 30 poems that have been useful to me in classrooms, facilitated discussions, and other educational spaces.
It’s not a list of the “best” poems ever, or the only poems about these various topics; but there is some really powerful work here, work that meaningfully engages with these issues and can serve as great entry points or dialogue-starters. If you’re a teacher, another kind of educator, or just a person who understands the power of art, story, and conversation, I hope you find something to use here.
Of course, be sure to review the poems yourself first, since not every poem is going to be relevant or appropriate for every audience. Aside from these 30 poems, though, I hope people can fall down rabbit holes finding more work from these poets and these channels.
Also wanted to share this piece that’s been on my mind a lot this summer, as I get ready to hit the road again this fall: Towards an Antifascist Pedagogy by Guy Emerson Mount. A relevant quote for educators, poets, and everyone: “Following Davis and Robeson, the first rule of an anti-fascist pedagogy then is to refuse to continue with ‘business as usual’ and recognize that the anti-fascist battleground is everywhere.”