Update: the first episode is out now!

photo by Martin Sheeks

“What’s Good, Man?” debuts on November 6 (with a live show the same date!), so technically we don’t yet have a lot of questions that are “frequently-asked.” But whatever. Here are our responses anyway. I’m Kyle. tony is tony.

Q: Oh you’re starting a podcast? That’s really cool and not cliche at all and even though the market is completely saturated I’m sure *yours* will succeed. What’s it about?

Kyle: It’s a podcast on men, masculinity, and culture. It’s especially for men who maybe haven’t had a ton of conversations about issues like toxic masculinity or patriarchy or whatever, and are just looking for a space to explore, to process, to grow.

tony: It seems like we’re all realizing that outdated stereotypes of masculinity are unfulfilling and wack, but haven’t quite figured out what comes next. The conversation can get stuck sometimes on where we’re at, rather than where we can go. So we decided to talk about it!

Q: I don’t actually listen to podcasts, but I assume there are already a bunch out there on that same topic. Why is yours the BEST? What makes yours special?

Kyle: My goal isn’t to be the “best” or be some magical wellspring of knowledge. I just want our show to contribute, to add something to the larger conversation. That being said, this particular piece of the conversation is being driven by two hosts who happen to both be rappers. That isn’t something we lean in to in super explicit ways, but I do think it matters, both in terms of the tone of the show and its substance– this isn’t some intellectual, academic “debate” about masculinity. We’re trying to ground these issues in everyday experiences, stories, and real life. We’re also activists, so while we want to create space to honestly talk about these ideas and just process in general, we also want to at least share some tools or ideas for action.

tony: Kyle was one of the first people I ever heard speak about the problems with stereotypical masculinity in a deep and nuanced way. He’s spent the better part of a decade leading conversations and workshops around gender, so that alone gives us a pretty deep grounding into this topic. As for me…I guess I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years thinking about and trying to break down toxic masculinity, in myself and others. So I have an appreciation for how important this work is, but how messy and difficult it can be, too. And I want to keep exploring that!

Q: So it’s two guys… talking about feminist stuff… so whether I’m on the right or the left, I’ll probably hate it?

Kyle: This show exists because we listened to people (especially women) in our lives who told us that it was important for men to talk to other men about issues like toxic masculinity, gender violence, consent, and beyond. We say at the beginning of every episode: men need to speak up more about this stuff, but we also realize that “men speaking up more” isn’t always the answer. It’s often the problem. So the goal is to be super intentional with the topics we choose, and make sure that we’re speaking from our own experience and not trying to tell other people’s stories for them.

I think the audience we really want to reach is in the middle: people (especially men) who understand that there’s *something* weird or broken or dangerous about this traditional stereotype of the invincible, emotionless manly-man, but just don’t necessarily know where to start. But I hope people who don’t agree with us tune in. And I hope people who HAVE already had these conversations tune in too, since one thing we talk about is how “healthy masculinity” isn’t a destination we ever actually reach; it’s a constant process.

tony: Haters gon hate. Our show won’t be for everybody, and that’s okay. If we can contribute to a growing wave of understanding that masculinity doesn’t have to be like this, that we can do better, then it’s worth doing. That said, I do think lots of folks are hungry to hear and participate in these conversations – everyone from feminist organizers to conservative men has told me that they’re interested in hearing more men talk about their experiences of masculinity.

Q: I see you’re doing a live episode recording on November 6, the same day your first episode comes out. Isn’t that PRESUMPTUOUS?

Kyle: Even though we’re the hosts, this podcast is very much a community effort, and we’re proud to have so much support from all over our networks– from the arts scene, to the activist world, to the different offices and organizations at the University of Minnesota (where we’ll be doing this first live show) and beyond. It isn’t just that we’re cool and charming and already kind of well-known as individuals; it’s like tony said: people seem hungry for this topic. People have a lot to say, and a lot of questions too. We’re excited to build with them. The live episode is also going to feature like a half-dozen really smart, amazing surprise guests too.

tony: Plus, we’re rappers. We’re used to getting to celebrate new releases with parties, and I think it’d feel mega weird to hit the “release” button on the podcast and then just…wait for people to respond to it on Twitter. Kyle has a lyric that goes “Power is a hundred people in the same place at the same time,” and though we can make great connections and critique each other and build movements on the internet, it’s nice to be around each other in person sometimes, too. Man cannot dismantle toxic masculinity on Twitter alone, feel me? Hopefully next Wednesday is just one of many opportunities for us to get together and chat in real life about this stuff.

Q: Great. I’m definitely subscribing and am now your biggest fan! Tell me all of the in-the-weeds technical stuff that you know no one actually cares about but your fear compels you to share publicly anyway.

Kyle: We recorded this first season of episodes between July and November of 2019, so there aren’t a ton of ripped-from-the-headlines stuff, or direct responses to audience questions or feedback. We tried to keep the first season pretty DIY, but have a lot of ideas and plans for the second season to do more interactive stuff, have more guests, etc. As episodes are released, we’ll also be sharing full transcripts, plus links and resources, at www.wgmpod.com.

tony: This project is really exciting and really scary! Neither of us have done a podcast before, and we’re doing everything ourselves, so we need your help to make sure it’s as powerful as it can be. If you have questions, concerns, critiques, connections, or want to book us for a live show, you can email us at elguante@gmail.com and tonythescribemgmt@gmail.com. Podcasts spread best via word of mouth, so make sure to subscribe to the show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get podcasts, and tell your friends about it! #WhatsGoodMan

“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.”

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!

ARTICLES AND VIDEOS AVAILABLE ONLINE:
• Relinquishing the Patriarchy: adrienne maree brown
• A Call to Men: Tony Porter
• Violence Against Women—It’s a Men’s Issue: Jackson Katz
• Don’t Blame Mental Illness for Mass Shootings; Blame Men: Laura Kiesel
• The Boys Are Not All Right: Michael Ian Black
• Queer and Trans 101 statement at www.reclaim.care
• The Mask You Live In and Tough Guise (documentaries)

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

POEMS:
• The Heart and the Fist: Rudy Francisco
• Masculinity So Fragile: FreeQuency
• Baby Brother: Javon Johnson
• I use my poetry to confront the violence against women: Elizabeth Acevedo
• Shrinking Women: Lily Myers
• Masculinity: Alex Luu & Jessica Romoff
• Genderlect: Donte Collins
• Ten Responses to the Phrase “Man Up”: Guante
• Handshakes: Guante
• Find many more poems on this and other issues in this curated list.

FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW

Continue reading “THE ART OF TAKING THE L: New Video and Zine Bundle Available via Button Poetry!”

New project announcement! Get all the details, including episode titles and more, here.

The first season debuts on Wednesday, November 6. On that same date, we’ll also be doing a LIVE recording that’s free and open to the public. Here’s the blurb and event page:

With episodes on men’s role in the feminist movement, how masculinity is portrayed in pop culture, healthy sexuality, and more, “What’s Good, Man?” is a soon-to-be-released podcast hosted by artist/activists Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre and Tony the Scribe. This LIVE EPISODE RECORDING will focus on the future of masculinity: what might it look like in 10 years? Will it even exist in 100 years? What lessons can we learn from science fiction? What will it take for men to meaningfully contribute to a future free from gender violence, misogyny, and the kind of controlling, insecure masculinity that hurts so many people of all genders? Join us to discuss these topics and more.

More to come!

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.

I’d also recommend checking out poet Bernard Ferguson’s fantastic “Hurricane Dorian Was a Climate Injustice” in the New Yorker, on the difference between unavoidable tragedy and avoidable injustice. Also, this profile of MN’s own Isra Hirsi, who makes vital connections between environmental justice and racial justice.

“Who do you want to be at the end of the world?”
When it comes to the climate crisis, there’s one essay I recommend everyone read: Kelly Hayes“Saturday Afternoon Thoughts on the Apocalypse.” THIS QUOTE:

“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?”

Art by Peregrine

“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:

Finally, these aren’t poems, but if there’s anyone for whom this is a new issue, or you’d just like to learn more, or get involved, a few links:

Thank you! Please feel free to share. Full transcript:

Continue reading “New Poem: "Pro-Life" + Other Poems on Reproductive Justice”

Confederate statue in Durham torn down; image from here.

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.

At the top of this week, the Washington Post published this piece by Valerie Strauss: The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about hatred in America. Here’s help. The following links contain more ideas for resources, readings, and lesson plans, and may be a good place to start for educators who know that current events matter, and that not talking about Charlottesville makes a statement to your students that’s just as loud as any conversation or critical exploration.

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.

Joseph Capehart – “Colorblind”

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.”

Jared Paul – “5 Times My Skin Color Did Not Kill Me”

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.

Guante – “How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist”

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.

Patricia Smith – Skinhead

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.

Kevin Yang – “Come Home”

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.”

Bao Phi – “Broken/English”

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.”

Christy NaMee Eriksen – If Racism Was a Burning Kitchen (text only)

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.

Anthony McPherson – All Lives Matter (1800s Edition)

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.

T. Miller – “Ten Things You Sound Like When You Say AllLivesMatter in Response to BlackLivesMatter”

Another piece that uses juxtaposition and humor to highlight the absurdity of how white supremacy is, and isn’t, talked about in the US.

William Evans – “They Love Us Here”

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.

Aamer Rahman – “Reverse Racism

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.

Additional lists and resources:

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.”

Some other big news on the way, but just a quick update: you can now listen to my book! I did the voiceover myself, in Big Cats’ studio.

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.

Get it here!

Share all the info in this post via this downloadable and foldable zine too.

Spoken word isn’t about a handful of “great” artists who have lots of video views or publishing accolades; it’s about how everyone has a story, and every story has value.

In that spirit, I wanted to consolidate a few resources, links, and tips that I’ve shared with young (and not-so-young) people all over the country. If YOU are interested in spoken word (or poetry, writing, art, more generally), whether that means finding somewhere to share your work, getting feedback to sharpen your craft, or just being around poets and building community, here are a few thoughts. Feel free to add more in the comments below.

1. Show Up: Attend an Open Mic or Poetry Slam
One of the best ways to get involved is to simply dive in—whether as a performer or just as an audience member. Spoken word is built around open mics, poetry slams, and other spaces in which anyone can show up and share something. While I realize that not everyone reading this lives in the Twin Cities, here is my big list of Twin Cities open mics, slams, and other opportunities. If you’re here, use it. If you’re not here, do a little searching and find the similar events in your community. Specifically, I want to shout out two of TruArtSpeaks‘ programs:

  • The Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series (happens every January-March); a huge opportunity for MN youth poets to meet each other, tell their stories, and have fun.
  • The ReVerb Open Mic (free, all ages; happens every Thursday night, year-round, from 6-8pm at Golden Thyme Cafe in Saint Paul); one of the most community-oriented, supportive open mics I’ve been to.
  • There’s also Button Poetry Live, The Free Black Table, the OUTspoken open mic, college slams, and much more. Here’s the full list.
  • This list is more spoken word-oriented, but if you’re looking for information on how to dive into the publishing world, here’s a potential starting point.

2. Build Your Cypher: Connect with Other Writers
Writing is about community. Many high schools and colleges have spoken word clubs, and showing up to those can be a great first step. If you’re a student and your school doesn’t have one, start one!

It doesn’t have to be as formal as a club or student organization. What counts is community—maybe it’s just a circle of friends who meet up once a week to give each other feedback. Maybe it’s an online document that multiple people can edit. But getting feedback from other writers, having someone to bounce ideas around with (and not just trade Instagram likes)—that’s vital.

Revision is 85% of the battle. First drafts are not ever as good as they potentially could be. Break out of the mindset that the poem is this magical, perfect thing that just bursts fully-formed from your head. Your peers, friends, and mentors can have a lot to offer.

3. Read More, Watch More, Write More
The deluge of poetry on Instagram and YouTube over the past five years or so has meant that there’s more poetry than ever before, right at your fingertips. I’d argue that this is a good thing, but the flipside is that there’s a lot of not-so-great work out there too. That’s natural; that’s fine. But it can make learning and growing as an artist a challenge: is the IG poem with ten thousand likes a “good” poem? Is your poem, that didn’t win the poetry slam, a “bad” poem? What does that even mean?

There aren’t easy answers to those questions, if there are answers at all. The key is to never stop developing your critical eye/ear. This is work. Almost every poet or artist I know whom I would call successful has years and years of work under their belts. That work doesn’t have to be some fancy, inaccessible degree or whatever– but it does have to be work. That work can be fun, though. Here are a few thoughts and resources:

  • Some good background info: Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Spoken Word and Slam Poetry
  • While online video providers have thousands of poems you could potentially watch, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend just typing “slam poetry” into a YouTube search bar. Here are a couple of lists of poems that might provide good starts:
  • In terms of books, there are too many great poets to shout out here, but a couple of presses that regularly publish work by poets who also participate in spoken word: Write Bloody, Button Poetry, Coffee House Press, Haymarket Books– I could go on and on; feel free to add more in the comments. There are also journals and zines like Poetry Magazine, Paper Darts, Mizna, Muzzle, and many, many more.
  • Lots of social media accounts share poetry; a lot of is bad. There are some, though, that regularly share good, curated stuff: @PoetryMagazine@SlowDownShow@POETSorg, and Litbowl.
  • Check out the VS podcast w/ Franny Choi and Danez Smith.
  • Every April, TruArtSpeaks shares a daily writing prompt. Other sites, organizations, and accounts do this as well. Try to find some you like, and potentially try writing a 30/30 (30 poems in thirty days).

4. Take Advantage of Opportunities to Sharpen Your Craft
For artists, growth can happen both inside and outside of formal spaces. Classes, workshops, conferences, festivals, cyphers, e-classes– wherever you can find that support, take advantage of it. Again, to use the Twin Cities as an example, a few shout outs:

5. My Video Series on Spoken Word Tips, Tools, and TacticsIf the opportunities in the last point aren’t as accessible to you– there are some good tools on the internet too. This video series is about sharing some of the ideas that have been helpful to me as a writer and performer. Honestly, when people send me their poems for feedback, 95% of the time, my feedback is based on video #2 and video #5. More videos on the way.

  • Intro/Five Things I Look for in Poems
  • On Concrete Language, Specificity, and Turning Ideas into Poems
  • Spoken Word Performance Tips and a Note on “Poet Voice”
  • On “Diving In” and Getting Involved with Spoken Word
  • On Revision
  • Even though my TEDx Talk isn’t specifically about poetry, it does contain a lot of insight into my writing process and may be worth a watch.

A running theme through all of these points is the idea that craft matters. Of course, if you’re just writing poetry for your own healing or enjoyment, whether some other poet or critic likes it or not is beside the point. But if you’re someone who is trying to make a career out of it, or really wants to find some measure of concrete success (book sales, publishing credits, a larger audience, etc.), then I hope these links, thoughts, and resources can be useful.

(BONUS POINT) 6. Live Your Life
Writing is important, but the best poems don’t come from locking ourselves away in a cabin and just writing for 20 hours every day. They come from engaging with our community, showing up to things, experiencing the world, having conversations, organizing and rabble-rousing, thinking critically, and then writing. Have fun.

(BONUS POINT) 7. Quick/Basic Writing Advice
There isn’t enough space here to go too in-depth with writing tips, but if I could share anything with an aspiring poet, it’d be this. The poems that stick with me…

  • …tend to be driven by images, not just ideas. They’re not just “deep thoughts” or manifestos; they use imagery, storytelling, and metaphor to go beyond the surface of an idea.
  • …tend to have creative HOOKS: the concept or angle that makes a poem fresh. How is your love poem different from all the other love poems out there? How is it uniquely yours?
  • …tend to be focused and specific. They don’t try to tell “the whole story.” They take one moment from that story, zoom in, and explore it.
  • …tend to be more concerned with being timely than timeless. You are free to agree or disagree with this one! I appreciate poems that comment on the world as it is, and/or try to help me envision a better one. 

Check out the zine for more!