Letter to an Artist Friend | by Carlos Robson

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A friend of mine and I recently had a long talk on the phone about insecurities in our artform. This friend of mine has a new family and was expressing how they thought they weren’t as relevant when the status’ they posted got less ‘likes’ than some of our (younger) contemporaries. We also talked about how some of us have a tendency to posture and seem all-knowing online when really we’re all trying the same as the next person.

This friend of mine is a great, smart, creative person who also just happens to be a hardheaded jackass at times. So after I tried and tried to explain to them that no one in their right mind should waste their energy worrying about Facebook ‘likes,’ and after it still wasn’t getting to them, they had to cut the conversation short to take care of some family related issue.

Since we did not have a chance to finish the conversation, I sat down and wrote them this email. I am sharing it here, because I think it is important to continue to push each other, to give hard truths and to create a circle of genuine feedback amongst your circle of friends 

 

 

You ever heard of Frankie Valli? He was a popular singer in the 50’s and 60’s, his group the Four Seasons had some really huge hits like “Walk Like A Man,” “Oh What A Night” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” Well the guy who introduced the guys in that group to one another was a very successful young musician at the time. His name was Joe Pesci. Yeah, that Joe Pesci, the actor. The same one that you never knew had anything do to with music. But at the time he was bigger than these guys who were looking to form a group. And then they blew up and he didn’t and then after decades, their success fell off and he became a Hollywood actor and was the lead in his own films. And now he’s not making movies anymore but there’s a successful Broadway musical about the group’s life that portrays Pesci and even a brand new movie out where someone is playing the role of one of the most well known actors ever, but they’re playing him BEFORE the world knew who he was.

I know this is getting confusing but my point is, who the hell knows what’s gonna happen to us?! All of our careers are full of ups and downs and if Pesci and Valli EVER spent time worrying about where they were in comparison to each other, then you and I can see now all of their worry was for naught. Maybe Pesci could have been trying to catch up so hard in the music industry he never would have taken a chance on acting. We don’t know. We just don’t know any of it.

Now (hang on I swear I’m gonna get to something inna sec) I just watched a documentary about Quincy Jones, the music producer. Quincy started off as a trumpet player in one of the last ‘big bands’ of the 50’s when the big bands were popular. As they went out of style, he moved to Paris and started to learn to write orchestras and scores and symphonies. While he was there he sent for some of his friends to move to Europe and tour around as an American big band, and things were good for a few years but with the popularization of Rock n Roll they found less and less success there too. Quincy Jones almost committed suicide when he was 29 because he didn’t have the money to pay his musician/friends, not even enough to bring them back to the states. But he made some phone calls and was found an opportunity to come back to the states and work for a record label and the label paid him enough to take care of the band.

Back in the states he became the first black record label executive and produced a number one single (Leslie Gore’s “It’s My Party” for those of you who care). He also became an orchestra leader where he worked with Frank Sinatra on his comeback album, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Ray Charles, and more. He then did what no other black musician had ever done in America, he began scoring films. After a successful career in film scores and TV themes he put out his first album in fifteen years and began an entirely different career of his own as the name on the front of the albums instead of the producer behind them. Some few years later he was asked to produce the music for a musical called ‘the Wiz’ where he met a teenage Michael Jackson. At the time Michael Jackson had become so forgotten about that he couldn’t sell out your living room, but the two of them liked working together and decided to make “Off the Wall.” Their next album “Thriller” became the biggest selling album of all time and they collaborated again on “Bad” some years later. Quincy even produced the film “The Color Purple.”

Quincy has worked with everyone in the game and has had one career that encompassed ten different careers. What I’m getting at is that part of our job is just to work, not knowing where it’s going. Not knowing if some of us poets will end up as actors, or comedy writers, or singers, TV hosts, or essayists that write about the impact of culture, or politics. Also, the other thing I’m trying to say is that working is what gives us experience, the kind no one can take away. And I’m not talking about touring, I’m talking about creating. You said you were constantly creating lately and even though you don’t know it, this might be one of the most successful periods for you in a long time.

Quincy couldn’t have produced the greatest albums ever if he’d only been in bands, and he couldn’t have put all those amazing sounds together without having scored films. You’re writing a novel and a one man show and doing visual stuff. Who knows what’s next? And it ain’t gonna be easy, it’s gonna be harder than you can imagine, but it’s the only road ahead of you if you aren’t willing to quit.

We have to be open to what comes our way and honest about how it affects us. We deal in the currency of human emotion and it’s the one thing our audience wants from us. Who are we to deny ourselves or our audiences the true things we’re feeling? What good does it do to posture online? The reason they listen to us is because we suffer right in front of them. If we were to have our lives as together as we make them seem online, we wouldn’t have audiences because they wouldn’t trust our honesty, or our exposure, or our pain. The beauty of the lives we’ve chosen is that we are on a ride that only has a few pit stops and it’s our job to report back to everyone else what we can see on the horizon. Don’t worry about the ‘likes,’ there’s a bigger picture above the ‘likes’ that tells you all you need to worry about and right now that picture is of you and your new family.

 

 

From Then to Now: On Staying Relevant

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Since begining my journey into poetry and writing I’ve learned that creativity can spawn creativity. That poets are explosively fragile creatures when it comes to their work. Being a full time poet is almost akin to saying I wanna be a gold prospector or unicorn breeder and that staying ahead of a flood your ideas can be exhausting but ever necessary for artistic survival.

Another important thing about being an artist in this one click social media age is staying relevant. Whether that’s relevant to the craft, relevant to the times (politics or otherwise), or relevant to this ever demanding sea of audiences who are always looking for the next big thing. Let’s face it, if they aren’t checking for you on Youtube or following you on your Twitter march or sending you a big heart on Instagram or whatever is they do on Snapchat (admittedly I’m behind on that) then you my friend are probably fading into obscurity… Well those who practice heavy in marketing through social would leave you to believe that. Before I move forward let’s look back about 10 or 15 years, when some young bright eyed and dream filled poets were writing for the sake of writing. Writing just to be heard, to be the badass in their little venue and for some, to be a slam champion.

In those years we sought to be relevant to the craft , to the audience, to the movement of poetry. We were just seeking to be understood. It was at a time when poets from the South weren’t considered the elite or relevant to the larger poetry community. We set out to change that mindset. So we wrote. We wrote not just about the southern poet experience or the southern black experience but the human experience. We reflected life as we saw it from every angle possible. We looked at every story as a relevant one. We wanted to be genuine and honest and if the by-product of that quest for tangible stories was the success we earned, well then cool. And yes there was success. Some of us made it on HBO’s ‘Def Poetry’, some made it to numerous final stages and found features all over the country, Southern Fried champs, we became playwrights, some of us even became national champions….twice. Throughout it all we did our best to remain relevant. Not trendy or caught up with style, we were looking to speak with a true voice about the issues at hand and sometimes issues that went overlooked. That drove us. Our need to stay consistent and on top of our game pushed us to create work that mattered as well as to create what had never been seen before. We learned that in an effort to remain relevant sometimes, and this will sound weird, you have to create relevancy. You have to create the thing that matters. When we were young in the South we had to create and make the world aware of our relevance.

Now, in more recent times trend and style rule the day and the more Youtube hits you have seem to attribute to how important you are as a poet or how important your message is. Which is a good thing. The masses are being reached faster and your voice is no longer local…its global. But how do you remain relevant over the flood of sometimes trivial work over the past 10 years? For myself and the Concrete Generation you continue to do what you have been doin…you write and you push. The envelope. You find out what matters to you and how your talent can impact it. You write because it moves you and those around you. You write because it makes you feel alive…relevant.

So from then to now… years later… we are finding new ways to stay apart of the conversation of poetry. This site… this blog… your interpretation of the work placed on this site all falls into place of relevance. We are now in the business of making the world aware of how awesome our friends, mentors, and inspirations are. How relevant they are to the history of who we are and to what we will become. Keep existing y’all.
Bluz.
Out.

Boris “Bluz” Rogers | Case Worker

Boris “Bluz” Rogers | Case Worker

We at Eternal Graffiti would like to start off by saying it has been an incredible run thus far. In trying to show love to our contemporaries and honor our mentors, we knew today would come. We knew when we highlighted Bluz it would take some serious planning and consideration.

We knew we couldn’t skimp on the details and honestly we were unsure which of us should take on the task. So were tag teaming the telling of the only poet to ever coach either of us, Boris ‘Bluz’ Rogers. This post today is not just to showcase Bluz but to announce that he will be our first official guest blogger for Eternal Graffiti and will be posting his first blog tomorrow!!

Carlos: Bluz had been coaching me from the sidelines of countless slams for years when he took over as Slammaster of SlamCharlotte in 2006 and in 2007 I made the team for the first time.

Mike: I got introduced to the whole Charlotte poetry community through an open mic at a venue named Wine up, Bluz was one of the regulars there. He did not perform much but when he did it was a big deal, the host would save him to the end and the crowd would anxiously await what he had to say. I was just an open mic poet, with nervous hands reading bad poems, but Bluz was one of the Heroes, I actually still remember the first poem I ever heard him recite. One of the first things I noticed about Bluz is that he did not always show up with his set handful of poems (read: crowd pleasers) and always do the same poem, he was constantly creating new work and trying out new things. I started slamming the same year, and made the team by the skin of my teeth.

Carlos: That summer after taking second place at the 2007 Southern Fried Poetry Slam our team showed up in Austin TX full of spitfire and determination. After landing, Mike and I, the only two rookies on the team, went scouting the venues we’d be competiting in. When we walked into one of the venues, we asked a guy behind the bar if we could walk upstairs and see the performance space. He showed us around and asked if we thought we’d do well in the competition. Without having consulted with each other, Mike said the words I was looking for, “Oh we’re gonna win.” The guy just so happened to be the general manager of the restaraunt and told us that if we did in fact win, that he’s buy us drinks the night of Finals.

Mike: To rewind a bit, we actually flew from Charlotte to Dallas to compete in “DIPS” (Dallas Invitation Poetry Slam) which was held right before nationals, we placed second and I remember being a little rattled, we did not take our regional competition, we did not take a smaller tourney that had fewer teams, in effect an eaiser slam, and we were going into nationals with two L’s. I mentioned to Bluz my apprehension and he said very confidentially “Don’t worry, its all part of the plan.” I didn’t know much about slam strategy at the time but in retrospect I’ve come to understand every call he made was leading us to final stage.  (We plan to talk about slam strategy at some point on this blog, we will come back to the specific reason why placing second in both of those slams actually propelled us to win Nationals)…but back to the bar, me all bravado “Oh we’re gonna win”

Carlos: Four nights later, we’d done well in the prelims and won our semi final bout and were walking into the backstage at Finals not knowing what to expect. When all of the teams were called together for a roll call, each team responded to their name with a well rehearsed chant and we had nothing cool to respond with (i.e. Slam Nuba “WE CUT HEADS”). When they called Slam Charlotte we were like “umm… uhhh.” The teams were all required to be in the venue hours before the slam started and so… we hung out. One of the greatest benefits to coming up under Bluz’ leadership was that he was such a good strategist that he’d always tell us which poems we would put up before the bout ever started and rarely did he change his mind. This night of Finals however we still hadn’t been given an official call. So with over an hour before the slam, Bluz sat with a towel draped over his eyes leaning against the wall in the backstage hallway. He sat still so long, some of us joked that he was dead. But he knew his decisions that night would affect all of us for a very long time. He had been this close to the famous trophy before but under the previous Slammaster’s tenure.

Mike: Picture yourself a rookie in the Finals of the biggest event in your subculture, this was the Superbowl and several months ago I had barely made the draft. My brain was a pinball machine, I kept pacing the green room, trying to look cool, but reciting every word of every potential poem I knew Bluz could throw. I knew if he gave me the ball I would NOT fumble. Most of the slam is a blur, as they tend to be when you are backstage, I don’t remember much but I do remember Bluz sitting in that hallway with a towel over his hand FOREVER (I really did get mad close to him to make sure he was still breathing!! lol) I wanted to talk strategy, I wanted to think about the bout draw and what the other teams where going to throw; group pieces vs indies, funny vs serious, but Bluz just wanted calm oceans–focus–silence. He came out of the trance with a game plan and never deviated. He had all three rounds mapped out, and did one of the most selfless things i have seen a poet do still to this day.

Carlos: Bluz chose not to put himself onstage that night. Bluz was undoubtedly one of the best poets in our city, our region, and the country. He’d twice made Final Stage at the Individual World Poetry Slam. He was a pilar of not only our poetry community in Charlotte but of the entire Southeast extended family. NO ONE would have blamed him had he put himself onstage even and if by freak accident he’s bombed and it cost us the title. People expected him to perform. Bluz deserved a poem on that stage. So when he finally did pull that towel from his face and told us the lineup, we knew there was a great deal of responsibility on our shoulders.

Mike: To underscore Los’s point, every team knows what poems they have that score the best they also know based on score creep and other factors that you play that poem in the 1st round or the last, Bluz had the deepest pockets and the best poems in terms of how they previously scored. His decision to not play himself but to give other team members the ability to shine, sink or swim, let me know that it was not about him, and his rockstar moment or the DVD or the tours afterwards. It was a genuinely selfless move to show how much faith he had in us…in our words – I will never forget that momement

We still go to Bluz till this day for advice. But what we leave with is inspiration, he does not give exact guidance he just gives us the confidence to go for it. We are National Champs because of him, we have toured the globe because of him, you are reading this blog because of him. Eternal Graffiti is eternally grateful

Enjoy the poem and welcome another voice to Eternal Graffiti!

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Gil Scott-Heron | Definition of a Poet

Gil Scott-Heron | Definition of a Poet

 

 

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Gilbert “Gil” Scott-Heron (April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011)

was an American soul and jazz poet, musician, and author, known primarily for his work as a spoken word performer in the 1970s and ’80s.

He is a god father, the big homie, the OG. His collaborative efforts with musician Brian Jackson featured a musical fusion of jazz, blues, and soul, as well as lyrical content concerning social and political issues of the time.

He referred to himself as a bluesoligist his delivery was jazz and neo-soul he was a trendsetter and someone every poet could learn from.

Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, Illinois. His mother, Bobbie Scott-Heron, was an opera singer who performed with the New York Oratorio Society. Scott-Heron’s father, Gil Heron, nicknamed “The Black Arrow,” was a Jamaican football player in the 1950s who became the first black man to play for Celtic Football Club in Glasgow. Gil’s parents separated in his early childhood and he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother, Lillie Scott, in Jackson, Tennessee.

When Scott-Heron was 12 years old, his grandmother died and he returned to live with his mother in the Bronx, New York City. He enrolled at DeWitt Clinton High School, but later transferred to The Fieldston School after impressing the head of the English department with one of his writings and earning a full scholarship. As one of five black students at the prestigious school, Scott-Heron was faced with alienation and a significant socioeconomic gap. During his admissions interview at Fieldston, an administrator asked him, “’How would you feel if you see one of your classmates go by in a limousine while you’re walking up the hill from the subway?’ And said, ‘Same way as you. Y’all can’t afford no limousine. How do you feel?'” This type of intractable boldness would become a hallmark of Scott-Heron’s later recordings.

Scott-Heron attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, as it was the college chosen by his biggest influence Langston Hughes. It was here that Scott-Heron met Brian Jackson with whom he formed the band Black & Blues. After about two years at Lincoln, Scott-Heron took a year off to write the novels The Vulture and The Nigger Factory. The Last Poets performed at Lincoln in 1969 and Abiodun Oyewole of that Harlem group said Scott-Heron asked him after the performance, “Listen, can I start a group like you guys?” Scott-Heron returned to New York City, settling in Chelsea, Manhattan. The Vulture was published in 1970 and well received. Although Scott-Heron never received his undergraduate degree, he received a Master’s degree in Creative Writing in 1972 from Johns Hopkins University. His 1972 masters thesis was titled Circle of stone.

It would take a week full of blogs to really break into the amazing poet he was.

Listen to the interview below as the one and only Gil Scott Heron breaks down “the definition of a poet

 

[source] Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

Killer Mike | Riots Are The Language Of The Unheard

Killer Mike | Riots Are The Language Of The Unheard

“I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I wrote a big long blog post about Ferguson planning to introduce this clip. Then I realized my big post and two videos were a little much, so I’ll just say this. I cried soon after Michael Brown died because the idea of shooting a black kid and leaving him on the pavement for hours and hours fucked me up. The more-than-gut-instinct I had that the police department left him lying in the street while they cooked up their side of story made me furious and my fury made me cry. I didn’t cry for months after and I just sat shaking my head two nights ago when I read about the ‘verdict’ in Ferguson. But listening to Killer Mike respond in neighboring St. Louis only hours after the ‘verdict’ came out… left me wrecked. If you don’t know Killer Mike, you can get perfectly acquainted with him in the first clip. He has been an indie rapper for a decade and a monster one at that. A few years ago he started working with El-P, a Brooklyn based indie rapper and producer (I use ‘indie’ because ‘underground’ doesn’t mean much anymore and ‘unaffiliated’ would have to come with a definition). After El-P produced Killer Mike’s impeccable “R.A.P” album, they joined forces and created the superduo Run The Jewels. The group had a scheduled performance in Ferguson two nights ago when the Michael Brown ‘verdict’ was announced. Before the show started Mike spoke, which is the second clip here, his raw emotion and informed honesty is so (read: soooooooo) refreshing in hip-hop for me and (I assume) most hip-hop heads my age. The speech Mike gave was beautiful, the irony here is that the mostly white crowd was so emotional about being present for his address that they didn’t really listen to him. So do me this, listen to him. And if you’re with your loved ones tonight and tomorrow, give thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

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