Articles About Houston's Local Poets
Poetic Liberation behind The Microphone
By Courtney L. Smith
13th Amendment has been liberating microphones in Atlanta, Georgia and most recently Houston, Texas. The gospel has been poetically dispersed upon numerous microphones in addition to his artistic styles of lyrical protests against many of the social injustices commonly observed by our society. He has embedded his voice in the minds of poetic patrons through his book Beautiful Scars: The Bittersweet Struggle. 13th Amendment has two compact discs. Both Psalms of Liberation and Street Corner Slaves release vocal extrications from generational curses, oppressive habits, and environmental ignorance. Sowing seeds into the adolescents and younger people of his community is a mission that led to his spoken-word involvement. 13th Amendment is a prominent member of both Tower of Poets and Christian Poetics, the Houston based organization that he is looking to see a lot of great things from as they go into the future. He is also a part of Tower of Poets in Atlanta, Georgia, which is a poetry collective, and they have done some phenomenal things as well. He obtained his Masters in Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary on June 18, 2016. These are his words regarding the length of his activity in poetry: “I would probably say I have been performing a little bit over twelve years.”
Touching people with his vocal fingertips brings more than simple performances that are riddled with artistic patterns and poignant expressions. His objectives combine spreading the gospel and bringing awareness to sex trafficking, racial discrimination, and civil rights. He invests himself into his art with the passion and determination of an obsessed gambler filing for bankruptcy before entering the casino, again. Every opportunity to convey the love of God is engrained into him like a circuit board. 13th Amendment ignites his words in a manner resembling lit matches and gasoline. This is his account regarding his motivation: “As far as my motivation for performing poetry, honestly, is just to communicate every aspect of who I am to the people and giving to them spiritually, socially, and mentally. That is just making sure that I try to communicate who I am to the audience. In some cases, I would probably even say communicate the love of God. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but you know, I want every person that I have an interaction with or engage to know that it’s more than just speaking words through a microphone. It is, in a sense, getting in touch with who they are in their essence.”
Fostering relationships bear more significance for 13th Amendment than seeking awards or plaques for his performances. Encountering countless individuals and affecting their lives with performances yield more merit for him than grasping plaques and objects of wood, metal, and plastic covered in metallic paint. Penetrating the hearts and minds of listening ears with the impact of a flaming meteor disintegrating the surrounding areas fulfills his desires more than any form of recognition. Having a network of people awaiting communication with him or others brings 13th Amendment true satisfaction. Here is how he feels about recognition: “I don’t know. That’s a really good question. I don’t really look for recognition in a sense. I’ve built a lot of great relationships over the years, and I think those relationships have mattered more to me than the actual recognition. I have done things where I was not necessarily trying to be the poet-of-the-year in a sense, but I have done things where I was just consciously building relationships to get to know people, to build networks and stuff like that. But I don’t think I have ever done things consciously to say I wanted to gain recognition.”
Having influential people who are known for their activities throughout the city, nation, and world witnessing his performances tends to fulfill his accomplishments more than most others with the exception of implementing his messages of God’s love through poetry. No enthusiasm courses through the poet’s body like rapids within the rivers with achieving fame or wealth. However, 13th Amendment will clutch a microphone as though a winning lottery ticket is produced. Competing in poetic competitions such as the slams does not ignite his passion like having someone being baptized or accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord. Here is Thirteenth’s perspective on the matter: “One of the highlights is being able to stand before a lot of prestigious people. I mean people who are quite notable in the community, nationally, and internationally. You know, being in the presence of those kinds of people who recognize you in honor of what you do, to me, was way more than any award I would have ever received. And honestly, that is kind of what I got into poetry for: to interact with people, so I don’t think I have ever been gung-ho about trying to receive accolades and awards in slams and stuff like that. Now, the poets do it, but I know that even when I have gotten into poetry slams, my heart wasn’t really into it. There are slam poets who are phenomenal and dope, and, you know what I’m saying, they are good at what they do. I think there are a lot of poets who are just well rounded and whatever. For me, I only want to go where my heart it at, and my heart has never been into slam poetry.”
The goals upon Thirteenth Amendment’s agenda involve launching Emissary MDM International and Liberation180 Communications immersing himself in obtaining his goals for the future. Having printing presses release another book for later times brings some degree of contentment for 13th Amendment prepares for approaching events. His desire to reconcile the church with the streets fuels his personal movement to unite people with God. Liberation enthralls the audience upon hearing his voice. His mind is always active in regards to bringing people, poetry, and the gospel, together. He explains his experience in his own words: “I’ve gone through a lot of transitions. I used to stay in Atlanta, and one of my reasons for moving to Houston was because I wanted to pursue a Masters in Divinity to fine tune my theological perspectives for engaging urban communities, and it is a graduate school with the best programs. Fuller Theological Seminary is one of the best schools in the country for theological engagement. As a result of that, I said how can I fuse what I do theologically and poetically? In the future, I am releasing a book that is going to connect the existence of the church with the mission of God in the streets. It will help people know what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ as well as the mission of the church. This is the reason for Emissary MDM Int. An emissary is someone who speaks on behalf of another. MBM are the initials of our last names. I see myself as an ambassador of The Messiah. This whole concept is being able to build and take different facets of who I am and package it for public consumption.”
No obscure or esoteric desire exists for how 13th Amendment wants to be remembered. He simply wants his performances, influence, and legacy to characterize his career with his mission to leave the imprint of Jesus Christ within the hearts of his audiences throughout the nation. He does not mention having statues erected in his honor or possessing financial accounts with six or seven digits as a goal. His mission and objective in poetry and life is making sure social ills are addressed and Jesus Christ is exalted through his performances. Here is his perception of the matter: “I really want people to remember me as a poet who really loved poetry, and someone who was not only a great lyricist but was intentional about practicing what I speak and trying to walk the walk of God. If anyone sees that, this essentially highlights what I would want anyone to remember about me. In essence, I love both poetry and people.”
Obtaining his products is as simple as going to Amazon or approaching him, personally. A CD or mp3 of his performances are only a few electrical impulses away through a few keystrokes connecting to the Internet. Having the previously mentioned access or obtaining his email address should permit availability to his products. Knowing how to reach him is as easy as blinking. Of course, this is how he conveys it: “As I always say, ‘in the back of the trunk of my car.’ When you see me in the streets, hit me up. My first published called Beautiful Scars: the Bittersweet Struggle is still available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, other major online retailers. It’s available there, so they can pick up Beautiful Scars: the Bittersweet Struggle. You call also go to www.christianpoetics.com.
There is no way to list all of the influences affecting 13th Amendment: it is as lengthy as the U.S. Census. He feels the need to credit many of the poets he has meet and shared the stage with for influencing him. Urban Light (I cannot forget, is like my other mentor. I talk to her as often as I ever get a chance to.) and Hank Stewart (who hosts The Love Jones Sunday venue as well as The Hank Stewart Foundation) are two influences who have exposed 13th Amendment to a larger audience. Hearing the appreciation of others within his circles provides the satisfaction he desires. 13th Amendment communicates this through his response to his influences: “It’s a collection of a lot of people from Gil Scott Herron (I love his work because he was able to masterfully fuse politics, love, and social issues.), Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets to Def Poet Black Ice have been a huge influence. Black Ice literally defined how I wanted to come off in spoken word as well as the ATL poetry culture. I remember a lot of poets from Atlanta have inspired me. Tommy Bottoms, an Atlanta Def Poet, forced me to think, more politically. Shouts out to Georgia Me, Abyss, Malik Salaam, Cocktails, and the list goes on.”
The artist’s introduction into the Tower of Poets signifies a major manifestation of his influence in Atlanta. Wanting to foster other Christian artists and create a platform for them is part of the brand of Tower of Poets, which initially began with Robert Fields. The following is the result of 13th Amendment reminiscing about this period: “I am part of Tower of Poets in Atlanta with fellow friend and poet Rob Fields. There’s a whole host of other poets who associate with The Tower of Poets brand. Robert Fields is a dynamic artist, and what we wanted to do was create a core group of Christian poets and really just go anywhere and preach the gospel through poetry. A lot of the poetry places out there were not necessarily honed in on proclaiming the gospel. We decided to be one of the few that did. I am also part of Christian Poetics, which is headed by Sister Monica Matthew-Smith since she is married, now, and, of course, Courtney L. Smith her husband. They are dynamic poets, as well, who have a heart for God. Those are definitely two of the cliques that I am part of. I did start a teenage poetry collective in Atlanta, which has taken another form within itself. It was young people that I have mentored and encouraged to take poetry to another level formerly under the brand of Skillful Writers, which was inspired by Psalms 45:1. They went on to form their own identities.”
The greatest challenge conveyed by 13th Amendment regarding poetry involves some of the division associated with groups of poets alienating themselves from one another. Another obstacle within the genre, as he perceives it, is the challenge of transitioning poetry into the mainstream of entertainment such as singing, dancing, and acting through mediums such as radio and television. Artists are still exploited through their performances by people and organizations profiting from them without giving them any portion of the funds produced by their inclusion. 13th Amendment conveys he has a problem with people charging poets a fee to perform although they are the main source of income for the venue without sharing the profits incurred. Here are his words on the issues: “My biggest issue with poetry is, with some cases, poets have become very controlling and cliquish. Our art form is still growing and trying to break into different arenas. Another issue that we have is we still have not presented ourselves as a united front or as a united artistry. We have to get past that if we want poetry to grow if get to where it needs to be. When I refer to cliques, I am referring to how hip hop artists used to battle each other, and it was healthy. However, I don’t see poetry having a healthy understanding of competition other than a slam. There is not a lot of healthiness in the relationships among poets that I would like to see. Because I think once poets come together in every city and come together as one, we can become a force to be reckoned with. I know that there is still a struggle for the mainstream to market poetry. In a sense, we are an art in its purest form. We do not have a lot of the hype that comes with the traditional radio and the television format. The third and last issue I would say is there are a lot of venues in which you have people pimping poets without being poets themselves. They might use the artists to gain some financial benefit that goes towards them and not necessarily the poets.”
The Poet Whose Style Reflects His Name’s Authenticity
By Courtney L. Smith
A man with a hickory complexion casually strolls across the parking lot in blue jeans and a black, Afrocentric t-shirt while sunlight glistens off of his shaven head as though God is highlighting one of his favorite creations. Yolan has been bringing diverse styles to microphones across the Bayou City and other immediate counties for nearly twelve years. The inertia propelling Yolan’s influence is similar to a train with malfunctioning breaks, destroying any obstacles on the track. The poet’s ideal remembrance of himself to the public involves being as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. Yolan has achieved second and third place in the Texas Poetry Slam. He has experienced being the 2013 Headline feature of HPS Magazine. He has opened for MC Lyte. Yolan has been a featured artist of the 2015 Kings of The Mic Show. The thespian has acted in several plays including For Colored Girls, Scarlet Letter, The Calling of a Call Girl, and Just When You Thought You Had Me. This is his response to being asked about the length of his performance: “Performing as a spoken-word artist, I’d say since 2004.”
Enlightening people with knowledge of practical experiences and informing audiences of profound decisions for life is a major part of Yolan’s inspiration for performing poetry. Amusing crowds is not the poet’s objective although it is usually an added bonus. Presenting truths in an edifying fashion in various ways forms a substantial description of the spoken-word artist’s multifaceted style. Yolan is more concerned about honing his craft as he addresses his following: “Honestly, the truth of giving people the truth. If I honestly had to think about it, I don’t look at it as entertaining. I look at it as artistry and being able to drop knowledge over the mic in the presence of people.”
No question exists in the Bayou City of Yolan’s achievements. Having a feature in HPS magazine for 2014 is one of those accomplishments. He provides fierce competition for those in poetry slams, which his second-place positions in the Junteenth Poetry Slam for 2013 and 2015 corroborates. The obtainment of a nomination for the 2013 Nzuri Poet Award for Poetry attests to his capabilities as an artist. Yolan does not place emphasis on asking to feature or acquiring opportunities to get on the microphone. The poet prefers for his talent to prompt people to request his performances. He also ascribes others with having taught him through their teachings of one another as he communicates in his own words: “Aw man! Where can I start? Oh! I’ve been the 2013 headline feature of HPS Magazine: Houston poetry magazine. I received two nominations for the Nzuri Poet Award for poetry. I had won 2013 second place…2015 second place at the Juneteeth Poetry Slam. Then…Really, the recognition just comes from the ‘each one teach one,’ getting invited to go speak and do my art work for the people. So, that’s the biggest. It’s not going out there, and ‘Hey, can I get on your mic? Can I get on your mic?’ It’s actually being asked to come and perform. That right there is probably the biggest recognition.”
A prophet does not need to fast for forty days and nights to predict Yolan will be so active in future events: atoms will spin out of rotation and scatter electrons. His activities lead him in so many directions that compasses, GPS, and radars are not enough to track him or determine his next destination. He expects to release a few books for the public to enjoy at the height of summer and the threshold of winter. Paternal guidance and encouragement also encounters the poet’s crosshairs with his involvement in The Black Male Summit and Black Father’s Encouraging. His participation in numerous causes is almost ubiquitous: “Oh well, the projects now that I’m doing! Whew! Every month it’s something. As far as one of my biggest achievements that I am working on now is my second book. I haven’t put out the first one
This poetic thespian’s ultimate goals and objectives are not predicated upon acquiring wealth, and he does not strive to have libraries, highways, or monuments created in his memory. Yolan strives to be remembered as a person who did not compromise any significant moral position or wavered upon meeting opposition. His position on different issues he presents in his performances are also principals he adheres to with greater devotion. Yolan also wants his qualities for consistent morals to distinguish him from others: “Oh Wow! It’s like I tell people: ‘it’s, you know, most importantly, if I were to go today, God said, ‘you coming home today,’ I want people to remember his integrity, his characteristics, and that he stood on his belief.’ I want people to know that he always stood on his belief.”
The World Wide Web is the medium anyone can use to obtain Yolan’s products. His products can be obtained on Facebook, his website, or his personal electronic mailing address: [email protected] People can don the poet’s apparel and logos to display support for the artist and provide him with advertising. DVDs contain his versatile performances, which range from spoken, poetic messages of love to messages encouraging young, African-American males to put down pistols and pick up pencils. Yolan can tell you about procuring his products with his own words: “You can either go on Facebook, Yolanthepoetspoet.com, [email protected] That’s where you can purchase a lot of the T-shirts and DVDs. You can go on Youtube, type Yolan The Poet’s poet, and see certain things from my plays to my performances. I’m not the T-shirt-making, CDs type of individual at this moment even though there’s a profit for records or CDs. I’m more so of the still-loving-to-read-poetry type. So, the books that will be coming out soon: those are some of the places you will go.”
Yolan credits several people with his influence and transition into performing behind the microphone. He attributes part of his introduction to poetic performance by playfully suggesting Baritone abducted him and sequestered him for half of a year. He also credits the artist Deep and Jem The Poet with assisting him in crafting his art. Yolan credits Socra Teez as well with opportunities to perform and advice. His description of the events says it all: “Aw man! In the performance spectrum of the artwork, it’s definitely Baritone who actually put me on the scene and was like ‘yo, you gotta spit,’ was my brother Baritone. You know we actually used to be neighbors; we used to live right next to each other when he found my book. He kidnapped me for almost six months. Man, you need to come down here to Bamboo [former location of Se7en The Poet’s venue], and get on this mic, and he, along with Deep, helped me develop the poetry-on-the-mic-presence skills. So, it really was always give credit to Baritone and my sister Deep, and then, more influential was my sister Jem (Jem The Poet). Those would be the top three.” He also credits Socra Teez with giving him sound advice and putting him on the stage. This is one of the most memorable things Socra Teez said to him at the event: “You have got to be really dope on the mic or really arrogant to call yourself a ‘poet’s poet.”
The poet’s affiliation with different groups and networks surpasses switchboards and control panels. Yolan reminisces about his past membership with Christian Poetry Community. He also discusses his membership with Jus Poetry. The performer is currently a member of Versatility Soul Poetry. “Oh, that’s good. The first organization that I was ever a part of was the Christian Poetry Community: Young poets. It was me, J Speaks, 20-31, Chanel Lay, God’s Poet. That was about 2007 to 2008. Then, I was asked to join Jus Poetry between 2012 and 2014. And now currently, I was invited to join this fantastic, fantastic squad of mine: Versatility Soul Poetry headed by Kayenne Nebula. We also have Kanai, Midas Touch, Self The Poet, Kodak, Sandria, and Karma. B-True has just been invited to the squad. Another brand-new cat named Santu, and I love it because no one really knows a lot of these cats. You know what I mean, and a lot of them were blessed to have the opportunity to be on the grand stage like the Improv (The Houston Improv). They hear a lot of spitting, see, and develop it. It makes me grow as well. You know what I mean? That is a great thing to be and a great organizing team. You know, ‘cause it pushes you to be more creative. That’s it man. That’s it man. That’s my retirement. I’m retiring more groups. That’s where I will retire at. No more grouping out. That is the last jersey I’m putting on.”
Challenges are very common for poets to endure with Yolan being no exception. Sometimes, surpassing the magnitude of a great performance or poem presents the arduous task of rivaling it with another. The task of exceeding one memorable exhibition creates greater demands upon the performer to produce even better works. He also abstains from allowing accolades to influence his motives for his enactments. Yolan also emphasizes acknowledging the style one chooses use in a show: “Staying current…trying to stay current. Trying not to allow ‘okay, what do I have to write next because the last one I did, the crowd went crazy’…constantly remembering not to worry about the handclaps, the finger taps, and the key chains. It can be dead silent from one person to five thousand, but always address your message. Always address the style that you are in. Your Langston Hughes, your Maya Angelous, your gill Scott Herons, The Dead Poets The message is the big thing with me: Never forget that. I am constantly thanking God for that. I am constantly putting Him, first. I am constantly staying humble. I am constantly giving Him the honor.”
The Poet Who Redefines Lyrics
By Courtney L. Smith
The brisk aroma of coffee tantalizes the nostrils of patrons walking through several tables surrounded by multicolored myriads of shelved books. A woman with butter-cream skin and neatly braided hair sits with perfect posture at an isolated table. Her gaze casually scans the passing patrons, orderly shelves, and varying voices until her search ends with a warm, emanating smile. Shiarnice Taylor a.k.a. Lyric has a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice/Psychology from Sam Houston State University and her Masters in Psychology from The University of Phoenix. She has been involved in poetry slams in college, and she has her own compact disc available on www.lyrictaylor.bandcamp.com called Lessons Learned. She has been enlightening and uplifting microphones for six years in the Bayou City, but the lyrics of her poetry have been edifying audiences for much longer. She has been leaving her mark upon Houston like a flare in the middle of a dark ocean. Some of her performances are available for viewing on Youtube.com.
Adolescents and small children witnessed the poet volunteering her voice for an indefinite number of years in youth rallies. Lyric’s words have grazed the ears of brides and grooms committing themselves to each other before God and witnesses of friends and families. Lyric also pays homage to the Creator by visiting churches to exhibit her talent and uplift their congregants, poetically. Establishments and organizations share her insightful voice and profound words throughout their facilities like sunlight piercing a forest’s foliage. She has definitely gotten started at a very early age: “Since I was seven-years old. I started out performing at weddings, youth events, and stuff like that.”
Extending a helping hand to those in need is nothing new to the spoken-word artist. Her poetry releases volleys of admonitions to abstain from sexual irresponsibility in one instance. Another performance will allow her audience to experience stumbling through inebriation or flinging one’s body onto the concrete several hundred feet below to escape from misery. The audience will experience growing up with paternal neglect in another demonstration of her talent. Lyric inundates her fans with empathy and sound advice to ameliorate their lives: “to help people…based on my life and personal experiences…to motivate people. Everybody has a story, and I feel like my story can help motivate somebody because everybody might have…maybe not the same story, but their story might be similar. So, I write from personal experience. I also write a lot of controversial stuff, so a lot of stuff that poets don’t normally talk about. I bring out those issues. That is my real focus here: to spark that interest in people…make them think about stuff.”
Golden reflections blind the eyes of those viewing Lyric’s awards from competitions and simple acknowledgments of talent. Her poetic reverberations have been heard off of the coast of Corpus Christi and allowed her collegiate team to place third in a poetry slam competition. The rafters of churches have resonated from vocal vibrations of her performances, which have earned Lyric their recognition of her talent. She reiterates the previous accounts in her own words: “Yes, I have. I used to slam, collegiately, nationally, and locally when I was at Sam Houston State University. I believed we placed second in the nation at one point, and then on a regional level, we did the slam in Corpus Christi: we placed third. I received several personal awards from churches and other organizations and stuff like that. You know those who appreciated me coming out and doing my poetry.”
The future can expect Lyric to ignite approaching books, poetic venues, and videos like Mount Vesuvius burying Pompeii under a widespread blanket of volcanic ash. This poetic cataclysm event will begin upon August. Poetic exhortations will accompany the butter cream artist as well: “This year, I plan on doing my first book. It should be released in late August. If not after that, it will be released some time before the end of this year. “
Causing people to confront their psychological demons is nothing Lyric fears. She also speaks of adhering more closely to God as she expands the depths of her spiritual development and growth. The young woman also wants people to understand the benefits of having a close relationship with God through her experiences. Lyric renders her own acknowledgment of these changes: “I would want people to remember me as that poet who dared to say things that people would not normally say and spoke about those things in a way that made people want to change, whatever the issue is. I also want people to know me as somebody who is very spiritual, and that is what I am implementing, now, in my poetry: spiritual platform. This is different for me, tapping into a whole different side with the new book dealing with the spiritual aspect of my life. So, I want people to know how important God is to me, and, based on experiences I have been through, what He can do for them.”
Lyric’s endeavors involve preparing her book for release in the future. The artist plans on exploring a new frontier by utilizing Amazon for marketing, including getting a shelf for it at Barnes and Nobles. The spoken-word artist conveys she is promoting her album Lessons Learned: “For right now, the album that I have out, which is my first album and it’s still out. It’s on Bandcamp entitled Lessons Learned. I have copies as well. Also, The Released will probably be published through a company called Strawberry Publications. I plan on selling it on Amazon and maybe some other sites that I find will be good, but I plan on trying to sell it on Amazon and trying to get it in Barnes and Nobles stores as well.”
The poet admits her inspiration is drawn from herself other fellow Houston poets Rain and Savannah Blue. Lyric also credits Nikki Giovanni with inspiring her with her bold style. Phenomenon is one person the poet reflects upon for inspiration: “I think I write…everybody… Ed Mabry says everybody has a style of who they write like, so it’s just picking who you write like. And I think the person that I think of when I am inspired to write was Nicki Giovanni. I think her arrogance and her boldness in her writing is amazing, and as far as poets that are in surrounding areas that I have seen performed in the Houston scene when I first saw Rain the Poet perform, an amazing artist. I think of one of the members of my slam team at Sam Houston. His name is called Phenomenon (better known as Brandon), Ed Mabry…Amazing, Savannah Blue…and that’s it.”
She admits exploring a new facet of her art is not always easy, but she embarks upon the new territory of poetic expression without hesitation. Lyric’s decision to expose more of her private thoughts and experiences is something she hopes her audiences can appreciate and embrace. Lyric acknowledges the change with this: “I say that there is this part of me that is about to be coming out with a new book is, and it’s hard to write geared towards a specific audience. I’ve always been told that if you are going to write a book, write towards a specific audience, so with this being spiritual and it’s being based on a lot of personal experiences that are…that I call naked truths. This is going to be different for me. That’s why it’s becoming so challenging to me as an artist to write geared towards spirituality, geared towards being completely exposed to everybody about who I am and what I have been through. So, I just hope people respect my honesty. That’s all.”
Jason’s Lyric inspires her selection of her stage name. The idea of using Lyric as her stage name has been initiated partially by her musical background and love for the spoken word. The perfect expression of combining an affinity for both music and poetry encompasses her ideal representation for herself, poetically. Lyric corroborates the previous with the following: “My stage name…I gave to myself from the movie Jason’s Lyric (one of my favorite movies filmed here in Houston, of course). I just kept trying to think of a name, and I used to…with my poetry…I used to do this. I don’t do this as often, anymore. I used to sing, and like go off into poetry and then go back and forth. I thought Lyric would be perfect for that because I thought of lyrics to music and how they kind of coincide with poetry, so that is how I got Lyric.”
Strife has inevitably inundated different factions and groups of poetic performers in the Bayou City. Some of these occurrences have divided the poetic community in ways, which have deterred numerous poetic patrons. Often, poets wanting to remain neutral have found themselves in awkward or precarious situations regarding how to navigate through some hostile atmospheres caused by these mentalities. Nevertheless, Lyric mentions this struggle of poets vying for supremacy within the field has created its own set of challenges for her. She conveys this in the following quote: “Greatest challenges have been, in particular…I don’t know if other scenes have this, but the Houston poetry scene has a very…a lot of forceful people…a lot of people who are always competitive about everything. It’s a competitive spirit in everything that you do. And there is not anybody in particular that…what has been challenging knowing that this is something that I grew up loving to do just for the love of doing it, and to come to this scene…you know, growing up in Houston, I really did not check out the poetry scenes growing up because I was not a part of that life, but when I got to college, I got a chance to see what it was like, and I really did not realize just how raw people were. How…I call it ‘poetry politics.’ Like political poetry gangsters or something. It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like this before. So, it’s been challenging trying to find who is still doing poetry for the love of just doing it, and really finding out who is really for who and who’s not. And like, I’m not really into all of that: I just want to do poetry. I just want to write. I just want to inspire people. I don’t care about the politics”
The Poet Whose Influence Is As Deep As His Voice
By Courtney L. Smith
The distinct pitch of his voice shatters poetic monotony across the Bayou City as boulders falling through ice during an avalanche. He has been featured at Reflections on different occasions in addition to many other poetic venues. His vocal vibrations reverberate throughout the Bayou City and surrounding areas with the gospel of Christ enlightening the ears of listeners within his range. Baritone has been spreading the Good News through poetry for a decade. The Comfort Zone is his personal venue, which has been providing a platform for Christian artists to fulfill The Great Commission and publicize themselves. He also uses L.E.G.A.C.Y. to encourage people to pursue their dreams and supplies the means to achieve them. Additionally, he organizes and conducts social gatherings by event planning and coordination through Collective Effort (Baritone’s company). Baritone does not conceal the fact he is mentored by Se7en the Poet and mentors other poets. He has opened for Lalah Hathaway and Ruben Studdard at the Arena Theatre in Houston. Art Imitating Life is a collection of his work, which is available on compact disc. He also has his own personal quote for dealing with life he refers to as his alliterative quote: “Pursue your passions on purpose, become productive, and your outcome will be profitable.”
Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Nietzsche, and Aristotle have been known for contemplating the purpose of existence. However, Baritone not only knows his purpose, but he also helps others find their own objectives. He conducts workshops and events, which teach people numerous subjects from writing to performing. Plus, the artist implements his movement from elementary schools to Corporate America. He is motivated to help people discover their causes by introducing his program to them. This is how he expresses his motives in his own words: “To encourage, inspire, enlighten, and uplift the people of this world to pursue their purpose.”
Baritone receives recognition for his performances from different organizations, people, and groups. He has a large following of patrons, which frequently support him at events whether he is hosting or performing in his own venues or fulfilling this role for another’s gathering. This talent and recognition has earned him acknowledgment from media outlets such as television networks, radio stations, and Internet sites. He has also received awards for his lyrical exhibitions: “Yes, I was the winner of the ‘Best of The Blessed’ competition by The Rejoice Network as well as being nominated for the Hunger Awards for 3 years straight.”
The world can expect to receive more of the same things from the performer in addition to other projects that will inevitably yield advice and methods for achieving aspirations through different forms. Baritone will apparently communicate poetic warnings and counseling to accomplish one’s goals before dealing with the consequences of never executing one’s aspirations. People can also anticipate viewing published works from him on bookshelves and electrical impulses, which race through handheld devices for his e-books. Baritone also plans to transmit his messages through future videos on Facebook, Youtube, and a plethora of other mediums: “I will continue to encourage people to pursue their passions on purpose and admonish them to tap into their full potential. I will do this by writing books as well as blogs and also recording videos that encourage people."
Baritone does not speak of having statues erected in his honor or legacy. He does not mention any desire to acquire wealth in stating his ideal perception for the public’s remembrance of him. The humble artist refers to his ideal impression for the public’s reflection of him is having them recall his encouragement for them to pursue their ambitions with a solid purpose. These are the artist’s own words in stating this sentiment: “I want to be remembered as someone who gave it their all 100% of the time, and encouraged an entire generation to be empowered and go after their dreams no matter how bad things look.” Baritone’s compact disc is available on countless websites ranging from Amazon to iTunes. e that is available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and several other downloading sites.
Christianity greatly influences Baritone as a whole. His brand reflects his belief in Jesus Christ. Having a pastor as an aunt probably does not hinder his development and progressing experience as a Christian. Most, if not all, of his poems are saturated with reverence for God. Furthermore, the artist does not deny having Se7en the Poet train him in various aspects of his craft: performance, hosting, creating followings, promotions, branding, and mentoring. Baritone also makes it a point to inform people of Se7en’s mentorship of him. He treats the art of conducting poetry as a business: “My aunt who is a Pastor was the primary influence. Seven the Poet was very instrumental on the business side of my artistry and a great mentor.”
Baritone emphasizes his relationship with God and Jesus Christ. The performer mentions Jesus more than himself. He predicates his poetic ministry upon advocating and conveying the gospel to as large a percentage of the masses as he is feasibly capable of dispersing throughout Harris County and other surrounding areas. Baritone fosters his love for giving with every opportunity presenting itself: “Jesus Christ is the reason I am who I am today. He is the author and finisher of my faith. I love to give, and I love to see people win.”
The story behind Baritone’s name is more lighthearted than his purpose for his poetry. Naturally, the name is related to music and a preference for associating one’s self with one section of the choir as opposed to another. He confirms this with the following statement: “I was in a choir and I didn't want to sit with the tenors, and I told the choir director. She said where do you want to sit? I said ‘I want to sit with the baritones.’ She said ‘Okay Mr. Baritone, go sit with the baritones.’ LOL, and there you have it.”
Most people attempting to procure a profit from poetry know it is a potential struggle financially, mentally, and socially. Baritone is all too familiar with the challenges influencing multitudinous aspects of conducting venues. Many poets, who host their own venues, know what is required to maintain its success. Commonly, exhaustion burns the eyes of those planning venues with careful financial management. Another regular routine for hosts is composing, sending, and tracking emails to potential patrons. This is how Baritone responds to explaining his greatest challenges within the art: “Being respected as a business and being treated fairly as it relates to wages and time spent preparing.”
Numerous facets of living often inspire Rain’s work. Her words often reflect the insatiable torment of abused women and describe their scars and bruises in one instance. Another one conveys the crimson hands of a mourning mother, kneeling over her dying son after a brutal assault. A different performance has tears flowing out of her audience’s eyes as they feel the elation of a couple walking down an isle in holy matrimony. Another show has men raiding convenience stores to replenish their supply of Vaseline. The emotions radiated in her performances exponentially enhance the audience’s experience so vividly: the viewers can touch the contusions of victims, smell the decay of homicides, taste the cologne or perfume of lovers, hold the blood-soaked knives of brutal avengers, or feel the petals of a bouquet grazing against the skin of a woman with enough fortune to catch it. Her own words reflect her ability to empathize with others and shift those perceptions to those watching her perform: “Life. Mine, as well as the lives of others. Even if I don't know anyone, personally, who has experienced the things that I write about, I write to capture the depth of what I think the experience would be like.”
Rain participates in multitudinous, poetic performances. Her involvement is witnessed in poetry slams throughout Houston and surrounding cities and counties. The poetess also hosts multitudinous venues beside Black Snow and hosts them by herself. Copiously diverse masses of people acknowledge the talent, skill, and craftsmanship Rain implements in her poetic exhibitions. Other locally and nationally eminent poets in the city acknowledge her talent: Black Snow, Marcell Murphy, Savannah Blue, Alla Tyme (AT), Lady Pariah, Scef, Roshanda Johnson, and countless others. She does not hesitate to communicate her broad range of achievements: “Yes, I have received a lot of recognition for my performances, public acknowledgment: I've won competitions, trophies, awards and best of all, recognition from people who love my work.
A crystal ball is not needed to determine whether or not Rain will be active in approaching months and years. The performer anticipates combining varying melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and timbres with vocal or instrumental sounds and tones for her future goals. People can expect e-books and other publishing pursuits to accompany her first book (Released, published in 2006) Broadcasting her words through the air waves of television and the radio are things she can scratch off of her bucket list; therefore, people can anticipate her work being broadcasted: “I’m working on another book. I plan to get in to song writing as well as starting my own greeting card line.”
Accusations of arrogance and condescension permeate the reputations of different poets and groups throughout the Bayou City; however, Rain is one of the most humble people to encounter. She responds well to personal greetings from polite strangers. A person can approach her without being slighted or ignored for an unsubstantial reason. The performer has a demeanor of stoical grace rivaling butterflies and ballerinas. She does not emphasize having her name in lights, seek global or astounding fame, or speak of endeavoring to file in tax brackets similar to Bill Gates or Sam Walton. Her words reflect maintaining the modesty she displays on a daily basis: “As the humble person that I am, no matter what my achievements are.”
Rain has received exposure to multifarious artists in the poetic community of Houston. She does imply two particular people have the greatest influence upon her performances of all: Marcell Murphy and Black Snow. She has been involved with Snow Industries and Black Snow for approximately seven years, which has undoubtedly presented her with numerous opportunities to learn about the craft and the financial aspects of conducting it as a business. Furthermore, the experience of working with Black Snow has allowed her to understand the methods for managing and advertising venues. Murphy has accompanied her to poetry slams to observe the rules, timing, and procedures used to execute and participate in competitions for poetry slams. Marcell Murphy, as one of the founders of the Houston VIP Poetry Slam Team who also achieved titles Poetry Slam Master of Houston, has provided Rain with invaluable knowledge and experience. Rain makes it no secret these two individual have greatly helped her: “Local, fellow poets, Marcell Murphy and Black Snow. These two pushed me beyond my comfort zone to keep performing.
Rain is always aspiring for other accomplishments. Her sights are set upon fulfilling those ends as an infra-red sensor with a glowing crimson dot upon its target. The University of Houston’s stage can anticipate Rain gracing their graduating ceremony as she walks across the stage upon receiving her Bachelors of Science in Communication for 2017. Poetry venues occurring in different areas will have the privilege of being enthralled by her art when she travels around United States in upcoming poetry tours. She has confirmed this herself: “I've set quite a few goals for myself that I'm determined to accomplish before February 2017. I'm currently pursuing another degree at the University of Houston. Go Coogs! I also plan to go on a poetry tour in the near future."
Rain implies maintaining her involvement in poetry with the genre’s constant changes is one of her greatest challenges: “By far, my greatest challenge has been and still is, staying in the game of poetry when it has changed so drastically. Love for the art is not what it used to be. It's all about cliques and competition now.”
Johnson suggests poetry embraces her in an enjoyably enslaving and deterministic way regarding her motivation for performing. She also feels it allows her to articulate matters other people are incapable of expressing for themselves. Producing poetry is not simply a self-fulfilling hobby for Johnson, but it entails the mandatory responsibility of addressing the masses for conveying the diverse experiences of people throughout the area. Johnson also mentions poetry is certainly a unique medium from any other art. The desire to utilize the slim margin of participating in poetic events despite being a full-time teacher and attending graduate school provides the drive to still actively participate in poetic events. She views her talent as a gift, which is possessed with great accountability: “Poetry kind of gives me no choice but to write it and perform it. I also like to tell people's stories, and poetry is a platform for speaking the words that others cannot say for themselves.”
Johnson continues to illuminate the literary and entertainment industries with numerous acknowledgements. Different states throughout the country receive the opportunity to sample numerous works produced by the stroke of Johnson’s pen. Regions throughout different parts of the world know about Johnson’s works. Receiving a nomination for well-known literary prizes further solidifies her influence upon the literary world. She receives accolades from various publishers, including Reader’s Digest: “I have won several awards, been published in 21 anthologies both national and international, and [been] nominated for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry. I am the author of the chapbooks Unpredicted Prophecy and My Name Be and wrote and co-produced my first spoken-word album entitled From Genesis to I.”
Johnson promises to saturate the future with multiple works. She is currently establishing the foundation for her second, poetic recording to succeed From Genesis to I. She continues to perform on large-scale productions from spoken-word performances to theatrical presentations. Her pen is not foreign to printed materials for distribution. Plans for inundating the globe with poems, dramatic exhibitions, and written works sparkle in Johnson’s irises as she gazes into the beginning year with promises of abundance in literature. “I am currently working on my first complete collection of poetry as well as my sophomore, spoken-word album."
Johnson conveys the desire for people to reflect upon her as a morally sound individual with a charitable mentality towards the public. From Genesis to I contains tracks reflecting serious, social issues that concern her. Some of those matters address sexual assault upon young girls by drug dealers. She attempts to increase awareness of cultural problems and provide spiritual enlightenment from her beliefs as a Christian. She encourages people to participate with her family’s altruistic activities, such as volunteering to provide and distribute clothes and food to the homeless during the Christmas holidays. She will also participate in events such as Cover the Night with other concerned citizens to raise awareness of homelessness and provide badly needed blankets for vagrants: “I want people to remember [me] as a woman of God who loved people. I want to be remembered as words becoming flesh."
Johnson makes obtaining her products readily available for potential customers by simply allowing people to personally approach her for them. She frequently erects tables with merchandise for purchase in multifarious locations, especially as a featured artist at multitudinous venues. Johnson usually has products readily available for purchase upon her whenever she travels to different destinations and locations. She is taking measures to increase access to merchandise across multiple mediums. She is commonly seen circulating discs and energetically interacting with crowds. “They can get my chapbook and first CD from me. Lol. In the future I'll be more technologically accessible.”
Johnson credits her maternal parent with being a primary influence in her life at an early age. She does not simply yield one or two sources that affected her desire to become involved in poetry. She implies the entire scope of people involved in the arts from unnumbered locations provide artistic stimulation for creative endeavors: Johnson suggests numerous sources of inspiration come from various people and places. “I'd have to say I have had so many influences over time. I started writing songs when I was six years old. My mom introduced me to Nikki Giovanni, and I started writing poetry in middle school. I have been writing ever since. Se7en's stage at Harlon's BBQ was my first spoken-word platform, and since then, I have been inspired by so many spoken-word artists around the world. My favorite artist in Houston being Speak.”
Johnson is a very avid reader and draws inspiration and creativity from unlimited sources. She particularly enjoys adolescent literature such as The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling and The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins. She also buries her face in older books with strong, philosophical overtones such as Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Her influence upon children as a teacher yields her insight to perceive things from their perspectives. Johnson usually reads great variations of poetry, literature, and modern stories, which undoubtedly diversifies the scope of her creativity, methods, and style of executing authentic, lyrically imaginative expressions to astound audiences with subjects varying from hardships, womanhood, love, and religious homages.
Performing poets possess the challenge of maintaining the public’s interest in their work and shows. Often, countless hours are spent advertising, promoting personal performances, and barely possessing the time to create poetry from a narrow margin of time between jobs. This is a common situation and experience for poets, and Johnson is no exception to sitting in front of a computer for hours to promote events featuring her or supporting others. Having the blue and white bands of Facebook embedded upon one’s neurons to maintain general knowledge of their activities is part of a daily task. Johnson benefits from her following by undertaking the task of assisting herself with some degree of promotion, but she does not deny the amount of effort required to maintain people’s attention: “My greatest challenge has been promoting and supporting myself with the same tenacity that others support me. I look at myself and say, ‘Ahh. It's a gift. I do what I do because God says so.’ While my fans and family are like 'Go! Go! Go!' I have to stop being so nonchalant about my gifts.”
The Poet Whose Forecast Is Unpredictable
By Courtney L. Smith
A man with a salt-and-pepper beard reclines in his office chair as a monarch sitting upon a throne during a coronation. A few light chortles escape his smile upon being asked to recall his poetic experiences. Blurred fingers race across the keyboards with gunfire speed upon typing at his computer. A few, occasional glances over his right shoulder inform surrounding employees he is still watching them. The Mechanical Engineering graduate of Prairie View has been running The Oil Can since 1997 at 6006 N. Wayside, Houston, TX 77028. Houstonians fondly think of G’s and Z’s off of Almeda Road or Mr. A’s off of Cavalcade when poetic entertainment provided by Black Snow comes to mind. Black Snow is a veteran poet from Houston, Texas who has been writing poetry for well over eighteen years. Snow suggests his pen will not allow him to put it down while other poets struggle with finding a way to begin writing poetry or remove writer’s block. He is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. He has pioneered poetry in Houston and has tremendously aided in establishing Houston’s poetic culture. Black Snow has hosted the only weekly paying show in Houston for his fellow poets and has sponsored hundreds of open-mic poetry shows and specialty,spoken-word events throughout the Houston area. Just Tryna Live My Dreams and ForThe Love of The Game are a few of his compact discs, which are available to the public on www.blacksnow11.com and www.cdbaby.com. Plus, Snow has his own label of highly talented poets known as Snow Industries. These are the members of Snow Industries: Black Snow, Rain The Poet, Lady Pariah, Shanie The Poet, Nef 007, A.T., Chocolate Lava, and Ghost.
Black Snow’s interest in poetry comes from writing books and creating characters as a child in the third grade. He won a poetry contest while he was in high school, and he has a poem he wrote with sentimentality hanging upon his office wall called “Dear Mom.” His initial exposure to being involved with performance comes from The Mahogany Café. Some of the performers influencing him in the art range from Tasha Terry, Se7en, Savannah Blue, He recalls his early performances near the end of the decade for the 1990’s: “I started performing on stage in 1999.”
His motivation for performing poetry originates from reaching out to help younger people in numerous ways: promoting reading, ending violence among black youth, and many other issues. He is known for establishing numberless programs in elementary schools. His main objective is to get his message to the youth. “Little Johnny” is a piece he performs, which addresses law enforcement’s tendency to kill young, African American males before determining their innocence. He has visited elementary schools to encourage children to read, and he has been giving poems he placed on compact discs to students to encourage them to read. “You know I didn’t want to be a poet. I started writing when I was in the Third Grade. I usually write when I was happy, when I was angry, or when I was sad. I kept writing, and I remember when I was a junior in high school, I won a poetry contest: a Black History contest. And I came home and told my parents I wanted to be a writer, and my dad told me and said ‘Son, that’s good, but you can’t eat the paper and you can’t eat the words. You better go off and be something else.’ So, I took that to heart and went off to college, and I became an engineer. But, I noticed that the writing never went away. I continued to write long after I didn’t want to write. I used to write poems and throw them away or write them and stick them in a shoe box. One Sunday, I was listening to Joel Osteen’s dad, and they were talking about people with talents, and there was a guy who had one talent, a guy who had three, and a guy who had five. The guy with one talent buried his talent. The guy with three talents multiplied his talents, and I was cleaning out my closet and I found the shoebox, and I felt like that my talent was being buried in a shoebox. And from that day on, I started out to show the world what my poetry was about. That’s kind of how I got started on the stage and on the mic.”
Black Snow’s recognition is well established in H-Town. He has erected more poetic venues than any other person in the Houston area. One of the first venues he established is at a place called Mr. A’s, which is a small club located at 3409 Cavalcade Street. This particular venue is called Poetry In Da Hood. Another venue called The Best Little Poetry House in Texas is the spot of for La Blanca, formerly G’s and Z’s. The locations have changed, but the names for some remains the same. Every poet in the Houston metropolitan area remembers them. He still hosts venues throughout the year. One of the most recent ones is Poetry in The Penthouse. He continues to host his venue known as The Best Little Poetry House in Texas. The Influential Award: The Shining Star Edition has honored Black Snow at the Houston Improv for December 22 of 2015. He has been hosting and conducting The Snow Industries Annual Party for the last eight years within Houston. This is what Snow says about being the recipient of numerous awards: “Yeah, I was Renaissance Man of The Year when it was at Paesano’s. I’ve got numerous other accolades and awards from various organizations for the work I have done for the poetry scene. Yeah, I gotten some awards. I can’t call them by name, but I have quite a few trophies and plaques at the house, recognizing the work I have done with the poetry.”
A forecast of lyrical avalanches is predicted to inundate the future with innumerable projects from Snow. No doubt exists regarding whether or not the poet will continue to create venues, feature shows, and release publications: “Well, more of the same. I have five CDs out. I guess the next thing that I feel like will complete my career as a poet is to have a book published, so that is what I am working on now is to get my book, together. I also may do one last CD. I talked with my producer just the other day in fact about producing Black Snow’s Greatest Hits. Those are the things you can look forward to, and I am doing shows. I have a monthly show that I do over at Midtown Bar and Grill every third Saturday of the month. I got some other things that people are asking me to do that I may accept. So, you can expect more of the same from Black Snow.”
Commonly, making money in poetry is usully challenging for most performers. Masses notice poets do not get paid nearly as much or as frequently as other types of performers. Snow makes no secret out of wanting to pay poets for their performances. His goal is predicated upon making sure poets receive financial acknowledgment for the performances, which is what he wants to be remembered for the most: “Overall, I want them to know that I fought to get poets paid. That was my mission starting back in 2000. I did the Sports Box Lounge, which was my very first venue that I hosted. The whole goal that I had in this process has been to get poets paid. I’m the one that started featuring poets for pay throughout the city, hoping that other people would follow the example, and that people would start to pay the poets like they do the singers and the rappers and the comedians. So, that is kind of where my vision was for doing what I do.”
Snow’s influences are not restricted to a single zip code or city. His influences extend from the present to figures in the past. They range from performers of the Harlem Renaissance to their modern, poetic counterparts. He acknowledges poetic contemporaries in the local areas: “I’m inspired by several poets. Langston Hughes is my favorite. I used to read Nikki Giovanni when I was young. Of course, everybody loves Maya Angelou, so those are the people that I was inspired by early on in my career. And then I guess in more recent times, I’m inspired by people that I see on the scene. Everyday people inspire me. Poets who work hard and go out and try to make a name for themselves. I’m inspired by that because that reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger. I’m still inspired by some of the people that I see. An example of that would be The Fluent One, Outspoken Bean, Savannah Blue, Angie, and people like that. Se7en. Those guys inspire me.”
Snow suggests people should not get involved with poetry if their motivation is financial. He believes poetry is craft, which should be inspired by passion. “What I would say is that if you are expecting to get rich in today’s world as a poet, you’re probably in the wrong business. You have to do this because you love it. This is not something that anybody can turn you into. I think becoming a poet is more of a lifestyle. You know it is just something that you have to embrace. You have to continue to work at it. I think you have to continue to master the craft of writing. That’s something that never gets old. I believe that you have to be passionate about it. For me, that’s what it was about. It was about the passion. First, it was the hatred toward it. I tried to kill my gift. I did not want to be a poet. I wanted to be anything but a poet, but it just kept coming back, and it wouldn’t go away. And, so I had to finally embrace it and accept the fact that this was what was inside of me. And from that point on, I just sought out to nurture and develop whatever it was that inspired me to be a writer. So, with that being said, I guess I will continue to write, and continue to inspire others to write as well.”
Black Snow’s establishment of Snow Industries has been fulfilling the need to pay poets for well over fifteen years (2001). It has grown tremendously from humble origins, and it is one of the most well-known organizations for poetic performances in the Bayou City. Numerous poets,from inside and outside of the organization,are constantly featured. Snow speaks about his reasons for establishing Snow Industries, candidly: “Mainly, it was because it was a business. You know you have to report the income. You have to report the losses. So, I turned poetry into a business, so that I could be legal. I didn’t want to be outside the law, so that’s why I created Snow Industries, but Snow Industries started out as a business. But then, I would look for people that had certain talents and gifts to pull into the organization. At one point, we were as big as eleven strong, and today, we’re nine strong. So, it’s nine, and it’s always poets. I look for poets (strong poets) that can hold down a venue, hold down a mic, and also have other talents: people that have business minds; people that DJ…just different things like that is what Snow Industries is made of. We are a company, but we are a family of poets.
Black Snow believes “building a fan base or a customer base or a following” is one of the greatest challenges he faces as a poet. One of his main objectives has always been to pay poets for their work. The process of acquiring “new venues, new artists,” and new locations proves challenging and difficult at different times: “For me, one of the greatest challenges is to build and establish a fan base. I guess that mainly is on me. You need to capture people. Those are your customers. You need to capture your customers. You need to communicate with your customers, so that you can continues to grow your fan base. For me, I was in so many different locations, had so many different venues; the one thing I hate that I didn’t do was capture those audiences everywhere I went. People that support poetry are a strange lot. Poetry is a lot like church: people will go to certain places, but they don’t cross lines, typically. Typically, people that go to a show in SugarHill won’t go to a show in Mr. A’s, and people that go to G’s and Z’s won’t go to either. It’s kind of like a church, man: Once, they get a poetry home, they pretty much stay there and support that poetry home. That’s kind of what I am feeling.”