Redbone: A Biomythography | Book Review x Interview With Mahogany L. Browne

Redbone: A Biomythography | Book Review x Interview With Mahogany L. Browne

Redbone: A Biomythography is a masterpiece of personal narrative mixed with strikingly dynamic storytelling through poetry. One of the things that struck me most about this book of poems by Mahogany L. Browne is how intimate it felt. Her writing has a way of sitting you down and demanding you to get comfortable. Although I live in Atlanta, I felt like I was reading this book in her Brooklyn living room with a cup of coffee and the sound of traffic sweeping thru a cracked window. I thought I was sitting down to read a bunch of poems, but as cliche as it may sound, you don’t really read this book– you experience it. You live inside of it, and it lives inside of you. It makes you think about your own family, it provokes questions about how you came to be that you may have never considered. After reading this book of poems I actually called my mother and asked about my own grandmother. I explored my genealogy in a way — from a lens that I never had. That right there is what good literature is, what a powerful narrative should be.

At times Redbone is a window, it ask you to sit and be a witness. At other times it is a wide open door, it invites you to sit Indian style inside of it as you to inhale the love and damage – the survival and carnage.

One of my favorite things about this body of work is how Mahogany defines and redefines ideas I thought I knew to be true. We explore what it means to be a victim. We explore what it means to be a black women carrying all of this world on her shoulders. The way she brings you into the struggle of a woman who has experienced so much: which makes her strong, tough, and a force within her own right. Yet, she renders abuse in attempts to be love.  The protagonist Redbone reveals our humanity in what she accepts and encourages readers to explore their own truths, how hard lines switch between black-and-white to shades of grey.

It is the humanity in the words, the complexity in the story, the complexity of love and the psychology of victimization. It is the non-stigmatizing of addiction, the familiar side of it. It is both what the family was doing to itself, and what the nation was doing to the black family. It is layered, and rich, and human. Redbone is a woman, a black woman living in her blackness, she is not here for your pretty box of what a black woman should be, or what black women were. She exists in her own multiplicity, her story is hers written through the lens of her daughter and offered up to us as a bullet through the definition of what blackness or womanhood should be.  It shoots through the stories offered to us from the mainstream, stories that has been defined by non-black women writers and producers that have largely locked black women out of telling their own stories.

The main character manages to be strong and soft, a victim and the author of her own fate, calloused but yet still in love and wanting to be loved. You are taken to a time when people made the best of what they were given, and much wasn’t given. You are able to see the good in the bad, and the bad in the good in a time where being black and alive was a struggle in and of itself.

If I had to say the thing I loved most about Redbone it would be the journey it takes you on. You know the dynamic that happens when you are reading a really good book and you have to put it down, but the characters stay with you? The story stays with you. You might be doing the dishes or feeding your kids and you can’t stop thinking about the story you are reading, the characters that are developing. Redbone is one of the few books of poetry that I have read that contains that dynamic. While I was at work I found myself wondering about Betty Sez’s life, wondering what events in her life molded her slick tongue. I thought alot about Grandma Coco and how religion molded so many black families, how much that identity matters to our larger collective story. I wondered about Bam, wondered if we would find out what made him violent wondered where his character would go as the book progressed on. I found myself thinking about the big house, about Alcatraz. I wondered if the house would smell like my grandmothers, If Bam’s hands were my grandfathers hands.

Often times when I write a book review I pull out some of the best parts from some of the best poems to really showcase the writer’s strength. This was almost impossible with Redbone. Every word builds on the one before it, every poem is important and necessary, every stanza is made of steel. The writing found in Redbone is gorgeous and I strongly suggest that you pick up a copy as this is a must have for any fan of writing, poetry, or just good story.

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Photo from the Redbone Stage Play Written and performed by Mahogany L Browne

I had an opportunity to sit down with Mahogany Browne to talk about her new book:

MS – So Redbone is a story about your family, centered around your mother, why was it important for you as a writer to share these stories?

MB- It is important to me to share the stories of my family, because we have a clear understanding of what happens when you allow others to retell your history. A lot of the sauce is lost in translation and sometimes — it’s just revisionist as hell. So if not me, then who? And if several of “me’s” then we have an entire picture being painted. I am only speaking from my perspective — there are at least 30 other people that remember the story…A different lens and vantage point can offer a vivid (and maybe) slightly different story of the same moment.

MS – Redbone is a BioMythography explain to our readers exactly what that is, and why you took that approach?

MB – Ted Warburton defined “biomythography” as the act of “weaving together myth, history and biography in epic narrative form that represents all the ways in which we perceive the world.” This was a definition of the term created by Audre Lorde in her book from 1982 Zami. And if we consider Audre Lorde and her sense of urgency to tell the thing to a world that refuses blackness and variations of womanness, then we should very well be ready for the type of revolution that will destroy the machine that gathers black people into a fist of silence. The machine that perpetuates only images of hypersexualized and bitter black women. When that machine is only a pile of ashes, we can learn black women (like all women) have layers. We are sexual beings. We are mothers. We are sisters. We pop shit in the hair salon. And pick women up from the floor of heartache. We love hard. And laugh hard. And drink liquor. And go to church. And prayer. And are prayer.

And sometimes, we are silent. And sometimes we are laughing. We are loud and unafraid of all our roundness and all our wombs vibrate like a chant of yes. Redbone is only one offering to the myriad of black women. I am prepared to speak for myself.

MS- What was the hardest part about writing Redbone?

MB – This story is about my mother so there is plenty of unpacking to do. My mother who fell to addiction after surviving domestic violence and after bouts of depression was my first lesson in how women break. It was a real lesson on what (and in my case who) gets left behind. I still have a hard time reading the poems in public. Because the truth is hard to hear. And those feelings, while in the air make it easier to understand who I am and how I became this fractured rib cage.

MS – In terms of the writing process for this book, did you have a special time to write? A special Process? how is your writing structured?

MB -I interviewed folks in my family. I kept it under wraps for several years. I thought they would keep it PG if I told them I was writing about it. I never knew it would turn into a book. I was just intrigued to hear the stories of how I got here. Like most of us must be. The difference is — I couldn’t sleep without typing out the stories. And then the stories turned to poems. And then it was 50 different stories. Sometimes, the same story revisited. And it was scary. I felt like a snitch. I sent the manuscript to several writing gurus for their eyes and honest opinions. And they returned it to me with edits and a resounding “YES” with different publishers to submit to. I also recorded most of the poems and made the first component available to the public an audio/visual offering of the Redbone manuscript into a poetry music and dance production. And this act propelled the necessity of the manuscript into orbit. It blew my mind how many people flooded the venues to hear Redbone: A Biomythography.

MS – What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

MB – Read everything. Write until it hurts. Write until you are afraid. Until you reach the fear. Until you walk through it. And write some more. Read everything. Experience life. Workshop with people that you trust. And workshop with people whom you do not know but could learn to trust. Sometimes this is harder than it seems. But even the person you dislike and distrust has a view that can spin your work on its head. Consider everything a work in progress. Be afraid of nothing. You were meant to be here.

To Find out more about Mahogany Browne visit her website below:
www.mobrowne.com

 

MoBo

Ta-Nehisi Coates | Writing Is An Act Of Physical Courage

Ta-Nehisi Coates | Writing Is An Act Of Physical Courage

This short clip of Ta-Nehisi Coates talking about the writing process just blew my mind. It blew my mind for a couple of reason, one because it so specifically encapsulates the fears and insecurities that most writers deal with. There is this pressure to write amazing things, every time, and sometimes you sit down and nothing comes. Its not like writers block however, its not that you have this thing to say but your brain is blocking them, its more like you can write and write and writer, but everything that you scribble is GARBAGE in comparison to, as Coates puts it,  the music that is in your head.

“Its not really that mystical, its repeated practice over and over and then suddenly you become something you had no idea you could be”

Two, because sometimes as a writer you forget this simple thing, that you just have to write, its that simple. The words may not come and that okay, but you write and then edit and write and edit, and sometimes you can’t find the music, and sometimes you can. And if you can’t, its okay, just write and write and edit. It is so easy to doubt yourself and your craft, it is easy to see your peers getting published in journals or winning big slams, and think of yourself and your art in relation to theirs. You compare your words and your likes and retweets and make a determination of your worth. This can be so damaging and limiting to your own growth.

Listen to this interview:

 

 

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Catherine Labiran | Traveling The World As A Poet

Catherine Labiran | Traveling The World As A Poet

In my opinion, one of the most powerful things you can do for your writing career is travel. The perspective you gain when you see life, and community, and poetry thru another lens is so critical to the development and voice of a writer. I see a lot of commentary on what poetry is, or slam is, etc, that is based on a narrow set of experiences that person has lived in the nest of their own city, region, country.

Today’s spotlight, although young, has experienced poetry in several different places and talks about her experience. If you ever run into me I can talk at nausea about the differences and nuance between the UK, Australia, and US scenes. A lot of the things that I thought I new about the art form were challenged and impacted when I moved out of the US, and I know that my writing and viewpoint is better as a result.

Catherine Labiran is a 19 year old African-American-British Poet who uses her pen as a medium to speak for the silent. Born in Staten Island New York, raised in Harrow, London and now living in Atlanta, Georgia, Catherine is able to infuse her diverse cultural experiences into exhilarating bodies of work, enabling them to live lives of their own. She was selected as a winner of SLAMbassadors UK 2010, a winner of 30 Nigeria House, and was conferred the honour of writing the official Olympic Poem for London 2012 as one of London’s “12 Poets for 2012”.

Since she began her career in performance and authorship in late 2010, she has spanned continents with her transformative presentations. Catherine Labiran has performed at many auspicious venues including The House of Commons, The Roundhouse (where she is a resident artist), and The Royal Festival Hall. Her work has been celebrated in festivals such as Lounge on the Farm, Shoreditch Festival and Bestival. She was selected to be a Poet Laureate for Larmer Tree Festival and accompanied TJ Dema and Nobel Prize recipient, Wole Soyinka , during Poetry Parnassus. Catherine’s written work has been documented in various acclaimed anthologies internationally

 

To find out more about this poet follow the links below

Twitter
Facebook

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Who Will Be Today’s James Baldwin? And the Artist’s Struggle For Integrity

Who Will Be Today’s James Baldwin? And the Artist’s Struggle For Integrity

James Baldwin – The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity

One of the thought exercises that I am most fascinated by — is around this idea of ‘who are the current day – future legends of poetry’.  Who are the Audre Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin’s of our time. Do we have a Langston, a Neruda, hanging out among us? With the advent of social media and a generation that is so much more disengaged from the humanities is the aforementioned even a attainable thing?

My father was not a scholar, he was not a highly educated man, but he still had a book of Harlem renaissance poets on our book shelf next to our copy of the encyclopedia Britannica. He still knew James Baldwin by face and knew that what he had to say about the negro meant something, that his words mattered.

Among James Baldwins personal friends he listed Medger Evers and Malcolm X…(WHAT) can you imagine the conversation, shit just the exhale of having to carry all that blackness around you all day. To be able to fellowship with others that are living the same blackness and share a drink, to throw on some Coltrane and laugh and break bread.

When Nina Simone Died, Sonia Sanchez attended the Funeral in Paris. When I read that I wondered A.) the same question I am posing with music (i.e who is our current day Nina, or if that line of thinking is even possible in today’s pop culture) And B.) how they became friends. I found myself fascinated by the thought of house parties in Brooklyn, how they must have sat around until the sun came up and just created, sit around and talk aggressive politics, about the world of publishing, about music.

I thought about if Assata Shakur never had to flee to Cuba, if she was somewhere in Jersey or Philly or wherever I wondered who her friends would be.

I thought about the party in California that Otis Redding was at when he wrote ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’, I wondered what other artists and writers were there.

Poets are not regarded in that manner anymore, there was a time when the top musicians and filmmakers and artist in general hung out with the most prolific poets of the time, this no longer happens. Or maybe it does, maybe my view of ‘poet’ excludes everyone who traditionally exclude us. Perhaps Phillip Levine used  to hang out in Brooklyn with a cohort of dope ass recording artist and filmmakers. Perhaps there are circles that I dont know about, that is not captured on Instagram. Perhaps we ARE the circle, or maybe the original assertion that poets are not regarded the same in popular culture as they once were is true, which makes sense because intelligence is not regarded in the same way either.

I wonder when Basquiat threw parties in his loft what writers were there, what filmmakers and musicians showed up? And who brought the Coke (I imagine there was always coke)

One of the reasons Eternal Graffiti exist is because we have a deep rooted belief that there are James Baldwins and Pablo’s, Sonya Sanchez in our community. That outside of your poetry, you have real meaningful things to say. That as a culture we could all benefit from your words, that they mean something, that they matter.

There are some poets that I think get this. They are fashioning themselves as poets that exist outside of open mic’s, outside of just the slam or the feature, or YouTube. I applaud that and hope to see more of that evolve so at the passing of a great artist like Nina Simone. At the loft of a great artist like Basquiet, at the Brooklyn brownstone of a great poet. History will record us being there, that there is real value in our communion.

That we dont exist a subculture of people that only get on stage and yell at the microphone. That we dont exist as a punchline.

I wonder this all on the backdrop of James Baldwins Birthday. I heard this interview a while back and am glad to finally share it. He talks about integrity in an artists work.

“I want to suggest two propositions. The first one is, that the poets by which I mean all artists are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t, statesman don’t, priests don’t, union leaders don’t. Only the poets.”

 

[Source – Michigan Chronicle]

 

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Folk singer Odetta (l), writer James Baldwin (l) and Actor Ossie Davis (r) in New Rochelle, October 1963.

Photo Cred: Getty Images

GUEST POST: Boris Rogers Talks About His New Flextape “Reflection”

GUEST POST: Boris Rogers Talks About His New Flextape “Reflection”

A few months ago, on a long ride to Rutgers University with Carlos Robson, he and I began talking about poetry, music, movies, new concepts, old concepts and just things in general we wanted to get creative with.  So I begin to spill out the details of mashing up poetry with hip hop tracks and how poems don’t always have to be immediately paired with neo soul or jazz music. Granted this is not a new concept.  The idea of poets spitting their work over R&B or Hip Hop tracks has been done before and done quite well.  Bugsy Calhoun rocks a few joints on his album “elephant in the room” and of course we can look at the work of Ursula Rucker on a few of the The Roots albums.  So poetry or spoken word has been mixing and mingling with Hip Hop on different levels for a while.  How do I make this different?

What is the Reflection?

The idea was to take songs that I liked or were on my radar at the time and write a story or Reflection to the story or concept of the song. So it wasn’t just poems for the sake of doing poem over dope music but actually taking in the message of a song and responding.  Poets often respond with their words when it comes to social issues, injustices and the like so I wanted to respond to the music and culture I love.

What is a Flextape?

As I was saying the ride with Carlos was full ideas and if you have ever shared an idea with Carlos Robson then he is gonna listen to that idea and offer 10 dope ways to make it better.  I was using the word mixtape to describe what I wanted to.  I wanted to use a DJ, and hip hop beats, and market to folks who don’t come slams or open mics but favor the nightclubs and so called hood spots. I wanted to break the mold of how we present poems over music.  He calmly suggest that I call it a Flextape.  A Flextape because I’m flexin my ability of what I can do with poetry.  I’m pushing past the idea of the same ol same  poetry over same ol same neo soul beats.  I’m getting a little ratchet, signing a song or two, dropping a 16 over serious hip hop tracks….flexin.  Somewhere between DC and Jersey….the Flextape was born.

Why a DJ?

I wanted this to feel like mixtapes.  I wanted to walk and talk like a mixtape so that there is a more genuine Hip Hop feel.  Of course I went to one of the hottest DJs in the game and was voted Charlottes DJ of the Year at the Queen City Music awards this year.  Which is where I won Poet of the Year so the concept of the project gets strengthened by that gem from the universe.  Mario Mic Man is on the most busiest DJs I know.  From rocking strip clubs…yes, I go to strip clubs…to opening from DJ Drama, Future, Fetty Wap and plug in the most current turnt up Hip Hop artist or club you can think of, he rocks it.  For as busy and visible as he is, Mario is hella humble and even hungrier.  He takes a pride in his work that respectable and speaking frankly draw folks in the game to him.  When you’re good at what you do and you love it with a passion, the rewards come back to you 10 fold.   So when I asked him would he host, his response was “lets do it, lets have some fun and change the game”.  Boom.

Who’s on the Flextape?

One of the first artist I rocked with is Loot-tenat Trax.  An MC to the core, this dude recorded and engineered and produced some on the project.  I recorded all but 2 track at beautifully designed studio called Homebase.  The name fits too…it is one of the most comfortable places I have ever recorded at.  Mulodic, who features on “Young n Restless” and “Back on the block” is a dynamic vocalist with a smoothness and range to his voice that is haunting and gorgeous.  His musical knowledge is crazy. He was hearing and doing stuff I could never have imagined.  Chantaul…is a bona fide vocal power house.  She is also featured on “Back on the Block” and absolutely creates a sweeping energy around the track.  She’s made appearances on BETs 106 and is about to go on tour overseas so I’m so glad she blessed this project before she heads out.  Greg aka A Poet Named Superman, Tellum, and Kyran jumped on the “Only” tracked and crushed.  They all represent a new wave of poetry and singers that are making their mark and leaving a big imprint on the Charlotte scene.  Ashley Smith who jumped on the “poetic justice” track was contestant on American Idol.  Like an actual made it out of auditions into the next couple of rounds contestant and her voice is proof of that.  JusK who sings on “I want you” is a veteran singer/songwriter whose voice is a reminder of what “sangin” used to be.   He has also been several TV shows as well as had music running on radio stations across the country.   Shannon Grier features on “heaven In my veins”, which was produced by Sean Washington, and she is just soul. Pure unfiltered powerful soul.  She also appears on my single “Us Be’ which is being distributed by Sony Orchard.  Harvey Cummings is one of the most talented musicians in the country came on board closer to the end to produce “Back on the block” and delivered an inspiring masterpiece.  Sean Essdot, producer of Young n Restless, is one of the producers who can bring a range of music and it all be fresh and motivating.  We have some other projects we are working on so stay tuned for that.  It was amazing that any of these folks said yes because they didn’t have.  Some I did reach out to said no. I get tho, this project was very unconventional.  I reached out to quite a few folks and me being over ambitious couldn’t get to work with everyone who did say yes so there will be a volume 2.

The Flextape

  1. Intro
  2. Firesquad ft Loot-tenat Trax – A J Cole track that actually has spoken word on it.  I grabbed this for sake that it was raw and gritty and in your face.
  3. Only ft Tellum and A poet Named Superman -A kind of crew track that seems to resonate thru streets. I wanted to shine a little light on the up and coming poets in our scene.
  4. Party and Bullshhh – Ive always loved this track and Im a Bigge fan.  He was a beautiful storyteller and I wanted to reflect that with my own on this classic.
  5. Try Me -Dej Loaf is exploding on the scene and this  record goes so hard that  you get swept up in  by the time the hook comes.  Her voice and lyrics resonate so genuine.  My initial Idea was to have T. Miller on the track as she 1. Is a hella dope writer and 2. Reps Detroit heavy and 3. Is just plain ol awesome.   Logistically I couldn’t get it done in the time frame I needed so regretfully I backed off the idea…..but I will figure it out for next time.
  6. Driving- One of my more complicated poems over a beautiful Outkast track (Aquemini).  It was a chance to spit a poemy poem…lol
  7. Fatherhood – Nas’ “Daughters” track….need I say more?
  8. Heaven in my Veins ft Shannon Grier prod Sean Washington – A song that was originally supposed to go on my upcoming CD Obscure Popularity but we figured it would be a better fit on here. Shannon Grier absolutely brings the truth and soul to this record.
  9. Hands Up ( Breahte) – The jam that started it all.  This track was done in response to the Eric Garner murder.  I try not to write too many poems about these cop killing and try to get more involved action wise but when I heard him say “I cant breathe”…the  Fab joint just in my head.  This is one of the songs I wish never had a reason to exist.
  10. Poetic Justice ft Ashley Smith – Yeah this one was a no brainer. Im a big Kendrick Lamar fan and this record bangs.  So I wanted to tell a revolutionary black lives matter ride together die together type of love story.  Just something different and Ashely Smith came thru on the VO and actually did some background. Considering her resume….I’m hella lucky
  11. Catch Up – As much flack as I give Drake this track and its switch is a banger.  I had a melody in my head and decided to a chance vocally and sing a little.  I’m not fond of my singing voice but it was an opportunity to some song writing which I love to do.
  12. Back on the Block Ft Mulodic and Chantaul prod by Harvey Cummings – An Idea Ive had for years to flip Jill Scotts “Golden” and tell a story about the struggle of black boys who feel their only choice is to sell drugs to survive. The idea of them holding played in many ways…them holding on to drugs or a gun, or them holding down that corner, or them holding for something better.  Chantaul and Mulodic combined to create an epic sound on the hook.  Harvey Cummings….is a musical mastermind
  13. Young n Restless ft Mulodic prod by Essdot – Another chance to flex and show a different style and tell a story.  Mulodic brought the track to life with the power and command in his voice.
  14. Enough – If there was any song to show as an example of what the flextape is it would be this one.  I always loved Keyshia Cole’s voice and this one of my favorite songs.  So I approached it as if I was going to be the poetic feature.  You know..flex on it.
  15. I want you Ft Jus K – This was my first real single that got serious radio play…like almost a year.   JusK is an amazing talent and the boy can sang.  Like keep your lady away from his voice sing.  It’s one of my erotic poems turned sexy.

I don’t expect the world to embrace this and jump right on board.  I know some folks in the poetry community will frown on it.  Some folks in the Hip-Hop mixtape community won’t accept its possibility to exist in their world. I get that.  This is something new and a little different so I fully expect some push back. I welcome it.  It gives me a chance to engage people about the project.  A chance to explain what it’s about and why I chose to create something like this.  Another chance for my poetry to reach people in whatever way possible.  What I am hoping for is that the people give it an honest listen and If they like it share, talk about it, encourage other poets to create outside the box… if not, express that as well.  My hope is that poets reach for more thru their work. That fans of poetry look for more creative projects while still seeking the old school.  We as writers have so many opportunities to actually push our talent in so many ways but often do what’s expected.  Stop. Step out that box and burn it…create something from the ashes.   Show this world that you are more than a slam poet, open mic, or a 50 buck 20 minute feature. Show them you are everything,  Flex on em!

Check out the video below of Bluz talking about the project:

You can check out his website by clicking here MrBluz

To download the Flextape go this this link – Download

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