Listen: Bob Holman and Tracie Morris of Nuyorican Poets Cafe rap on poems

An interview with Bob Holman and Tracie Morris, of New York’s Nuyorican Poets Cafe, discuss poetry slam taking place in Twin Cities. Both also do a poetry reading.


(00:00:00) The Traditions at the cafe merge the media merge and I think if anything the cafe represents not being confined to a medium but to use whatever tools you have to fully explore what the words say the best way possible. So what we're trying to do is be expansive and people's perception of poetry and how words work and how they can function and be a part of the vibrancy of life and not be confined. And even though at the cafe, we very much emphasized that the word should work on the page and they should have strong form. Even if you break the rules kind of knowing what they are strong work as a piece of literature and as a performance, we don't feel we have to compromise between the two and in fact, we encourage the development of both aspects of performance poetry. How is how is a poem improved by performing it?
(00:00:57) There's no improvement though. It's the same poem. You know, how the poem exists in a book, but does it exist until you read it, you know a poem exists in the air when somebody reads it to you a poem can exist on the radio poem can exists on the television. It's a different approach to it's a different way of letting that poem live. I think the problem in this country has been the Poetry has been confined to this jail sentence instead of the open-ended kind of sentence that a poem really wants to be and by having by using the Spoken Word by By allowing entertainment and art to find an intersection in poetry. You are allowing that great generous enveloping impulse of the poem to be
(00:01:41) there. It should magnify the idea. I mean some of us approach the poem as a performance in a very different way than we approach it as a piece of literature, but when you read it, you should get something really wonderful out of it. Sometimes that wonderful thing is very From the wonderful wonderful thing that you get when you see someone perform it live what give us an example now so listeners can get a grip on this to I'm kind of throwing you a curve here. But when you take a poem saying you look at Anna page, give us an idea of what it might sound like and then give us a performance. Let's hear what it's like, I don't know who's going to go first or together. Well, okay, there's a piece that I wrote called the spot, right and it's about basically It's sort of about Malcolm X but it's also sort of about how we use cultural figures and we commercialize them. But when I perform it because I'm addressing it primarily to people who wear X caps and dust don't necessarily are committed to the idea that he represented. So I do it in a hip-hop Style with a sampling with a backtrack sort of thing to kind of explore that idea in the piece. So it go Cross your heart and crisscross your heart and make it jump jump cross your heart and Criss Cross Your Heart cross your heart and hope to die should be why should be why you wear the gear the year to make the concept fly. Let's just say hi Pat don't believe it. Not just a high pad to comply with other guys and complement Michaels 3 6. Oh, but that would take a bit more time. Yo the stopping by the five-and-dime flow to check the color match the size with your new shoes and your new name wise so bet you check out the display the Korean store around the way even got leather. Even even galavant even even got leather and every shade. Oh, yeah the Pickens fat black one with the black black one with the black black one with the red xxx goes best with your new high-tops. Something like that. Yeah, that's good. That's a lot of stuff in there though. That's when they succeed here at a million times and hear something different come back because I do it different every single time before drag of catching things here and there but it's like, you know, well see the then when you look at something like that on the page, you'll see the density of the piece but you'll get to see more of the puns more of the word play and the juxtaposition of The Words, which you could not get in the performance. But when you read it on the page, you can't hear me say black the black the black Back to Black the back backwards. So that's an example when you've been In your in your reviews is being sweet sexy and sarcastic. She's making a face, but I mean you have been so that's that's one style and I think sort of I think the hip-hop brings that out to Bob. What's your style? Can you do a little something for us so we can
(00:04:24) sure I you know, I've been also very influenced by by hip-hop and not to say that all the poets it who are here are involved in in in rap or hip-hop. Dana Bryant has a much more bluesy kind of lyrical narrative style and and Edwin Taurus is one of the original New York futuristic kind of sounds poets who creates words out of disparate sounds right before your ears, but there's a little piece called rock and roll mythology talking about how we of a certain generation might look to our history as what happened not so long ago. I got a rock and roll mythology. I got a total apocalypse pathology. I got the most opposed to sterile a poetry and if it ain't coming at It's Breeze done by I got the heavy duty political intent. I got the worm farm freeform Diamond noodle cons and I got three easy ways and Bob been raised and when the word explodes the mother lode is where I'm at and it's light here, but you cannot see it doesn't matter. Anyway, since you cannot breathe, you see the words mean they're Puttin on the squeezed I could strangle you. Hey, what's that mean?
(00:05:35) What does that one mean to you? What does it
(00:05:36) what the plasticity of language the impossibility of communication doesn't mean that we all out of shut up and go to her little Corners as a matter of fact, it's really thrilling here in the dying years of this Millennium to discover that the individual voice the voice of the poet is starting to be heard again, and it's thrilling to be traveling across the country and finding the ways that that the voice is being heard in these Grassroots movements called the slam where anybody who wants to can stand up and read there. Homes and partake in the Olympics of poetry or the mock Olympics of poetry. I was out in Elko Nevada couple years ago for the cowboy poet's Gathering where 8,000 people got together to hear the cowboy poets go at it and there's a lot of different cultures who are finally able to be heard not through experts who tells you about it. But from The Poets who lived these
(00:06:24) lines now, you did mention poetry slam and Europe in the Twin Cities now getting ready for the big poetry slam on Saturday now briefly. How does a slam work? What is It and got some tips for contestants who might be coming to it. Yes, don't take it seriously and listen to Great poets like Mike Tyler and Paul Beatty who are also part of our gathering. They're supposed to be fun and they're supposed to help people get the message help people feel that poetry is something relevant and exciting that it's a viable medium for them. That it can be fun and engaging and also not to see the work that goes on to make it look effortless in terms of hence. I guess you could say like I said don't take it seriously bring your own stuff. Should you bring your own stuff? It's a mock competition. It's an excuse for people to read poetry just do your best and have a good time. And what was the deal the the lowest score the the worst one of the worst poet wins or something. What was it? I
(00:07:31) started. Oh, well, that's that's that's a Logan that we've got just a point to the absurdity of attempting to take a poor little thing of beauty called a poem and treating it like a double dutch date to an SAT exam the best poet always loses means that you The Listener the person who's decided with the best poet is not the whimsically selected audience member who might be sitting next to
(00:07:52) you with a pen.
(00:07:55) Exactly. But the thing about a poetry slam is that it's always entertaining that you're going to hear a lot of different kinds of poems that you poets out there better hide. A little over four this slam and bring with you the stuff that you think is going to work and then once we get the collective oomph going you'll find words can take you out into orbit.
(00:08:15) Well as I'm talking to you too, I'm getting in my mind something comes back from the East Coast. This sounds like a really hip sort of downtown New York thing to do. Would you have the nuyorican cafe or the the group appealing to what we used to call? I guess the yuppies The Establishment white business people. Could you have Could you have a nuyorican cafe Branch like in the Mall of America? Would it work we're wouldn't it? And if not, why wouldn't it? Well, we don't know we don't have any
(00:08:42) doubts about them all in half an hour. We
(00:08:45) don't worry about the slam working. It's whether or not the mall will continue to exist after with his about real life and poetry. You're probably the only poets I've ever heard of her making a living out of poetry. I mean, are you making a living running workshops and traveling and doing the slams and running the cafe well making a living as a relative term, I guess. We are dedicated to the art.
(00:09:07) It's starting to happen right now. You know, there are there are poets on MTV and their poets who are signing recording contracts. It's a risky business, but I think it's more risk than it is business at this point.
(00:09:19) It's great for you guys who are used to performing and getting up there but you might have some people who are more reticent. I mean, how do you get people to write a poem much less to go up and actually do something in front of people. You know, how do you how do you entice people to be creative? Well, there's the over way and then there's the covert way the covert way is just to read and people in a very non pressure situation. Right? And we've had that situation happen with adults and high school students that we just read stuff and just by being open and presenting A diversity of voices people just write stuff out and sometimes they've presented it immediately after our performances and sometimes it's been they've written us letters and stuff and the Culvert way is just like, you know, Because subject and write or I know you've got something in that book, you know, so come on up and read it but the thing is to encourage a nurturing environment which is why we you know, discourage the real competitive aspect of it, even though it's a vehicle to make it fun and interesting and really encourage people to come up and write and share great. Well, I do think we do want to hear one more before we let you go today or two. Oh, cool. All right. Well, I'll go to the sweet sexy sarcastic Zion. It's it's short. It's so funny hearing is oh that's good. This is about my neighborhood. Deep sleeping men with sepia skin that glistens in the Moonlight the attitude seen in Bed-Stuy and all them that they try to capture in liquor ads, right Messengers with locks and Lycra baike gear Senegalese vendors out all times of the year thick brothers who dance clothes on records of any speed summertime Brothers with muscles that strain against short sleeve. Black folks and earth-tone clothes or add a glow the holy configuration of under braided cornrow Sunday salmon cakes and grits before bball Michael Jordan midair splits midair splits dudes who can cook and who give a good massage the strong and Silent type that is cool because they know they large the ones that wear kente cloth. You can see when they enter the room. The kind of thing that makes me go mmm. I think I need a drink
(00:11:41) of water.
(00:11:46) Can you top this
(00:11:48) it's not a competition, but I will see just a couple of Shorty's I think would be appropriate. In order to save the relationship, we will never see each other again. We still have anything else I can
(00:12:10) think I think that was one of mine actually.
(00:12:11) Yeah, that's it. Okay my shirt, I love to put it on my arms get long that way.
(00:12:26) Dress for Success, Bob just says thank you to Bob Holman and Tracy Morris and I hope you have a lot of fun at this link you very much.


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