Poetry Festival Spotlight: Word and Sound

Poetry Festival Spotlight: Word and Sound

As I write this post scores of poets all over the US and some international cities are preparing to descend upon Oakland for the National Poetry Festival. Which made me think about all of the poetry festivals that take place all over the world.

One of the Festivals that I am most interested in attending is the Word and Sound International Youth Festival in Cape Town South Africa. Word and Sound Live Literature Co. is an amazing organization that operates in South Africa and is doing really great things in the Spoken Word Poetry space.

word and sound

A bit about the organization:

In a country with such a low literacy rate, Spoken Word Poetry encourages curiosity and exposes people to literature in English from a range of cultures around the world. Writing is central to every profession so this is a key skill across all sectors.

The Word N Sound Project is a platform for the expression of spoken word, not so much a commercial venture as an attempt to make a positive impact on youth in the city. The platforms bring together older practitioners of literature with young people in their teens and early twenties, to encourage and inspire them and to give them a sense of the trajectory of a literary career.

The Word N Sound Live Literature Company is a South African literature company founded in 2010 and fully owned and managed by thirteen young black practicing artists, creatives and administrators. With a multi focal approach to literature and spoken word development, the company produces various events, festivals and collaborative projects and has one of the largest digital footprints and profiles on the African continent.

In partnership with various arts organizations and venues, the company designs and facilitates platforms and projects that connect local and international practitioners of literature to share knowledge, collaborate on new works, encourage and inspire them and to give them a sense of the trajectory of a literary career.

Annually, the Company produces 40 weekly events, 16 monthly events, 3 festivals and 1 National Poetry slam.

[source:word and sound]

Word and Sound puts on a couple of big festivals each year one that looks to be new is AFR[WE]KA. Afrweka is a festival in conjunction with the department be of arts and culture. This festival boasts 31 Artist with 4 shows in 3 different cities!! (which is dope). The first one took place back in May of this year.


Scheduled to usher us out of the festivities, the Festival will look to sway swiftly into the swing of Africa Month Celebrations 2015 from: Thursday, 21st May, in Pretoria | Wednesday, 27th May, in Johannesburg | Thursday, 28th May, in Bloemfontein | until the Festival comes to its summit on Sunday, 31st May, in Johannesburg.

The Festival brings together some of South Africa’s most celebrated voices and pairs them with selected voices from the breadth of the SADC Region to sound positive vibrations that will echo throughout Africa. Inspired by the vision of nurturing a new national mindset that employs an intercontinental approach to understanding Africa, its cultures and challenges – the AFR[WE]KA Poetry Festival forms part of the Department’s response to the questions: Who and what is Africa?

By “Putting ‘WE’ in Africa”, the festival seeks address these questions by reverberating the theme for this month’s celebrations in an attempt to remind us that, ‘We Are Africa’! It invokes and celebrates the emotive power and influence of the spoken and written word to foster understanding and unity in the continent, while attempting to create a more holistic African identity through collaboration.

Word N Sound CEO and AFR[WE]KA Poetry Festival Director, Thabiso Mohare, could barely contain his excitement at the prospect of this festival saying,

“We were thrilled to hear from the minister’s office. It is inspiring to see the minister rise above the current state of things with such a powerful and positive initiative and Word N Sound is fortunate to be involved in bringing this celebration of African affirmation to life. Honestly we can’t wait for the festival to begin, big-up to the Minister and his office for undertaking such a beautiful project and giving Africans their voices back. We are really excited to be a part of it and look forward to creating a beautiful festival for all of Africa to enjoy!”

Another big festival that Word and Sound puts on is the the International Youth Poetry Festival. 



I saw that Buddy Wakefield and Joshua Bennett have been performers at past festivals, which is great because in my opinion we need more cross-cultural collaboration, both with artists and arts organizations around the world. There are really cool things happening in Australia, Germany, South Africa, etc, and the more collaboration that happens the better as a whole it will be for our art form.

I am very excited to showcase this organization and bring our readership more content by way of interviews and poet spotlights to show all of the amazing things happening in spoken word poetry in other parts of the world.

Jenny Lindsay | Interview x A Very Scottish Provocation | Curated By Sophia Walker

Jenny Lindsay | Interview x A Very Scottish Provocation | Curated By Sophia Walker

I started my spoken word career in Edinburgh when I was 21. I moved there because of a by then nationally known night called Big Word, run by Jenny Lindsay. She was only a few years older than me, ‘til my arrival the youngest poet on the Scottish scene…she was kicking ass, taking names and doing it all in heels. To a lot of us female poets who came up on the Scottish scene, Jenny Lindsay is why we’re here, why we slam, why there are just so many of us. She’s also why we’re successful: I was the big, brashy poet taking up the stage..all noise and force and energy. Jenny Lindsay was the one who taught me poetry is a dialogue between you and the audience, you need to initiate a conversation, give the audience space to be involved. I used to perform at, she taught me to perform with. Jenny’s a natural leader, not least because she’s almost annoyingly humble (read her accept absolutely no credit for anything ever below). During the lead up to Scotland’s Independence Referendum, Jenny Lindsay became a driving force for dialogue, discussion, for questioning. Few poets have ever had the credibility to also be a go-to talking head on news shows.

But when I say leader, I really mean where Jenny has taken her career. She’s a former Scottish National Slam Champion, has performed at the European Parliament, done all the things that makes you a certifiable Big Fuckin’ Deal, but has spent most of her career organizing events for others. Providing platforms, giving people their breaks…every poetry night she’s run, from Big Word through to Rally & Broad has been pushing the envelope. The last show I toured was inspired by a performance art set I saw performed at Rally & Broad a few years ago. Cabaret might be the best way to describe it, but still inaccurate. A night where the headline acts are a poet and a band, sure, but alongside them are sets for physical theatre, performance art, novelists doing readings…It’s one of the shows where there truly is something for everyone. There will be at least one act in their line-up that will get you excited, will intrigue you, surprise you. Jenny Lindsay is all about bringing as many people as possible into spoken word, and she will expose you to this genre any way she can.

We don’t just need writers, we are in desperate need of builders: people who want to shape, to strengthen, to grow and to expand this scene for all of us. Each poet I’ve featured this week is one of those people. But there are few in the poetry world who expend so much energy on other poets, on creating audiences.

At the bottom, there’s a video of Jenny performing. I’ve intentionally chosen one where you see her intro. Her conversational, laid-back style just brings the audience straight to the palm of her hand. She creates intimacy in seconds, has the whole crowd on side before she begins her poem. A skill I definitely wish I had.


1) You are the reason there is a Scottish spoken word scene, though interestingly, when you began running nights, you were easily the youngest poet on the scene. Most UK scenes are now very young. What do you feel we lose from that? How do you think we can retain poets, retain experience (as opposed to now, where people quit after a few years)?


Without downplaying the role that I have played in contributing to the live lit and spoken word scene in Scotland, I’m definitely not the reason there is one! I reckon it’s vital to understand the history of yer scene, and Rally & Broad, the popular event-series I run now with Rachel McCrum, wouldn’t have been possible without all of the things that went before it. Direct inspirations are Words Per Minute (run by authors Kirstin Innes and Anneliese Mackintosh); Rebel Inc (a publication run by Kevin Williamson, also of Neu! Reekie! fame); Inky Fingers; The Golden Hour that ran out of the Forest Cafe in Edinburgh, Big Word, Is This Poetry? and much more besides. But even Rachel and Is own personal inspirations aint the whole picture. Audiences for spoken word are thriving because of everything from grassroots open mic nights to the efforts of literary figures like Liz Lochhead – the Scottish Makar, who has always championed the spoken word – and every act brings their own history of inspirations too. Yer right kind to say it, but I’d never expect anyone to feel they owed me anything because I happened to run the event they first cut their teeth on. Any act I’ve ever booked – whether with Rally & Broad, Is This Poetry?, Big Word or the other events I’ve run are only possible  because there’s such a wealth of talent that deserves a stage and a live audience. I’ll take yer compliment that I’m dedicated to giving that a platform, and have been doing that since I was pretty young. I started out at the age of 20 and was, at the time, one of the youngest performers and promoters in the UK, yes. I’m definitely not anymore!!

In terms of poetry written specifically for performance (as opposed to having any desire to be on the page at all) yes, that part of the spoken word scene here in Scotland has gotten significantly younger. As you say, when I started out in 2002 I was the only such poet under the age of 30 and one of very few women writing poetry explicitly for performance.

I don’t think that the current scene (which is incredibly healthy) loses anything from being more diverse than it once was, but there is a slight danger of a certain style of performed poetry, written specifically for slams or two minute performances, coming to dominate what is thought to be ‘spoken word poetry’ and a false perception from some poets that live poetry is a young un’s game… That is a shame. I had a young poet tell me that they didn’t consider my work to be poetry for performance, which I found really hilarious, for example! What they meant was that it wasn’t what they call ‘slam-style’ poetry. I guess that is something to perhaps be challenged, but to be honest, that will happen as the audiences for spoken word events grow, and on a personal level I’m not too fussed how I’m categorised so long as I am writing and performing in the way I wish to.


On ‘retaining poets and retaining experience’…. Hm. I guess it is up to individual poets to decide if they have it in them to keep slogging away. I don’t consider poetry a career that has a particular trajectory, though I know a lot do. Pamphlet – collection – residencies – tutoring. Or open mics – feature set – solo show – stand-up or theatre. I don’t know. For me, it’s something I feel I have to do and can’t imagine ever not doing, in whatever form, and my own battle for the last ten years has been trying to find ways to organise my life to allow me to write and perform and do what I love. I was always of a mind that there was nae point focusing purely on my own writing and performance if there wasn’t a scene, so I focused on the latter over my own writing, which… well… there’s been pros and cons to that, hasn’t there! But I don’t regret it. But if poetry stops being something I feel I have to do, I’ll just stop. I did for a wee while and then came back into it. There’s no age-limit really, is there?


2) Your nights have always particularly attracted non-poetry audiences. You are responsible for bringing many poets and fans into this world. How do you approach running nights where your goal is to expand the audience? Is it different from how you’d approach running something geared solely to an existing poetry crowd? And do you see this difference as one of the reasons the UK spoken word world is still relatively niche, are we preaching to a choir?


The best thing about running a multi-artform event that does have the poetic and the literary at its heart, is where folks come for the tunes or the band or whatever and are blown away by the spoken word. That’s the aim really. We have massive poetry fans in our audiences, alongside folks who wouldn’t have dreamt of coming to a spoken word night; we attract a good theatre-crowd for a lot of our shows too, but also folks who are just after a great night of entertainment. Any act we book – whether it’s an author, a poet, a dancer, a playwright – they are booked because we think they are not only entertaining but are artistically innovative too. We are a showcase and a platform event – there’s no open mic. We programme artistically too – themed events, audience interaction, we’re starting to commission new work… All of this helps establish poetry and spoken word as an art-form worth engaging with and has definitely expanded the audience for spoken word. That being said, there’s nowt wrong with events that are insular, that are geared at poets and writers sharing and learning from each other.


3) What does it actually look like to be a professional poet? How does one make it financially survivable? And how do we prepare younger poets for the realities of such a career choice?


To be honest, it’s really difficult, and I would urge anyone who is after the title “professional poet” to recognise that writing poetry and being creative will seldom make up the bulk of yer earnings. I make the majority of my money out of events and artistic programming, followed by education work and residencies, followed by commissions, followed by being booked to perform. I don’t get paid to be an artist. I do all of the latter in order to have the headspace, the time and the inclination to actually write and create. I am lucky in that I absolutely adore organising events – I find that a creative act in itself, and am now respected enough to be asked to curate events for lots of clients. But the time I have to write is still not always sufficient. I know very few poets or writers who make their entire living out of their creative work. To do so, you absolutely need to tour – not something that is always easy or, to be honest, desirable for many performers and poets. It took me 13 years to be in the position I am now, where I do get to structure my own days (often badly), where I am my own boss, where I can dedicate my entire life to poetry and spoken word.

A lot of people are in too much of a hurry sometimes, I think. There’s a lot of social pressure in this artsy life too, eh? Folk seem to panic that they haven’t “made it” if they haven’t won a slam within two years; panic that they haven’t toured a sell-out show in their first three years of writing…. Being so bloody long-in-the-tooth on this scene; having seen it ebb and flow, and recede and grow, and then, as now, explode and flourish, I’d say to anyone starting out to take their bloody time and stop panicking. The art is what is important. Write. Make. Do. Stop worrying about trophies and medals and work out what you want to do with all those pretty words you write. What are you trying to say? Only once you’ve worked that out start to explore ways to organise your life to allow you to do it. That might be continuing to work full-time elsewhere and writing and creating in your spare time. It might be working part-time in an arts-admin job. You might be extremely lucky and have rich relatives who whack ye yer rent which allows you to give everything up. If ye are the latter, be understanding of those who cannot. When I decided to train as a teacher of politics in 2010, in order to fulfil my desire to combine my interests in writing, education, and in politics I’ll never forget the teeth-grinding angst I had when a fellow poet, one who was a “professional poet” who toured continually said to me, “Oh God. You’re going to end up one of those poetry casualties aren’t you? Someone who jacks it all in for the lure of a pay-packet.” What breath-taking arrogance! Some of my favourite poets on the scene work full-time in other occupations, and arguably this is of far more benefit to them than the sheer blind panic of not knowing where the next month’s rent is going to come from. I wasn’t ready for the plunge until last year, and I’d have fucked it up if I’d tried because of that. I didn’t, until recently, understand how to go about it. I tried it once before when I was 22 and it was a total disaster.


So, to yer last question: I’d say, it might take ye 13 years because you’re very indecisive and actually secretly always just wanted to be a rock star novelist…. Who knows! But don’t worry about reputation or get envious of others, hard as that is sometimes. Just go write. Make. Do. We’re not in the right world for comfort, so at least try to remember what is most important. Yer talent isn’t equated by how many followers you have on Twitter nor how many shares you get on Youtube. That’s being a successful marketeer – not a successful poet. I’m not a daftie, of course – I know that it helps to be able to do both of these things extremely well, and have seen this starkly when Rachel and I have booked some of the most talented poets and performers in the UK who, due to having virtually no social media presence, struggle to get audiences, even though they are some of the most respected poets or theatre-makers in the scene. Still: the essence is the writing and the performance. Start with that. Going viral has a lot of down-sides. I wouldn’t know anything about that personally, though. I only just got a smart phone….!


4) You have reputations both as a poet and as a promoter. Would you advise poets wanting to build their reputations to run nights? Or does it take too much time away from your own development as a writer and performer?


I’d say to any poet/ performer wanting to build their reputation to GO to any nights that are running already before they feel the urge to run their own. Events programming and promoting are totally different skills from writing poetry, and they take up an insane amount of yer time if ye do em well, so it depends what you want to do really! I barely perform at the events I run. One poem, if that. So no, it’s not the best way to get known as a poet. I think the best way to do that is to develop your set; slam wins obviously help at the start but aint everything, and then look at solo shows or collaborative work or blogging or putting together collections. Or…. whatever you want to do really! Running events is a great way to meet other acts, but then, so is actually lending yer support to other nights in existence. If anyone wants to run more platform-style events though, do feel free to hit me up for a set….


5) What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the UK scene? (Or indeed, is there even a UK scene? Are we scenes in isolation, or are we benefiting from each other?)

In Scotland, but I think across the UK too, there’s quite a growing dominance of confessional, deeply personal live poetry that seems to be inspired by the USA/ North American slam scene…I’ll be honest: while I absolutely love it, it’s not always easy to get that style right – there’s the private/ personal aspect to sort out, actually making an effort to be poetic and artistic and not just personal; giving equal time to the writing as to the performance; not aping others; appreciating your audience by not preaching at them if yer using yer personal experience to make some kind of political point… It’s a tricky style to get right, sure enough, and one I’m not sure I have gotten right all the time, though I have only recently started writing more personal pieces as part of my new show, Ire & Salt… But its growing dominance is a really interesting development that I reckon comes from the advent of Youtube. When I started performing that hadn’t been invented, so folks felt freer to actually believe that there were no rules about how performed poetry should be done.

I still believe that, fervently. The whole reason I was drawn to spoken word, coming from a singer-songwriter and theatre background is because there were nae rules, and I could combine all of my favourite ways of putting words together however I bleeding well wanted to without being told I wasn’t doing it “properly” (though there were, at the time, some snooty perceptions from the literary establishment about slams and ‘performance poetry’ that have thankfully died down a wee bit.)


Nowadays, I do worry sometimes that some poets unintentionally limit themselves and the potential of their voice by trying to ape a particular style that they think is how it is “supposed to be done”. That might sound a bit harsh actually, but I don’t mean it to be. I guess, if there is one less positive development in the UK spoken word scene then it does relate to slams and the dominance they have in some parts of the scene. Actually, I probably don’t mean slams themselves, but more the style of ‘slam’ that has come to dominate. Where poets do use that style well it’s bloody amazing – don’t get me wrong! It’s not that…. it’s just… well: slams used to be arbitrary because how the hell do you judge a narrative story-poem against a biting satirical 50-word story? How do you judge a beautifully constructed 1 minute poem written for the page and performed with craft against a 2 minute high-energy list poem? THAT used to be why slams were arbitrary. Now, often when I judge slams I struggle to vary my marks for a different reason: everyone sounds the same. The same subject matter, the same style, the same structure… And yeah, some of those acts will stand out as being quite obviously better than others but… I worry it puts off a helluva lot of talented spoken word poets as they will attend these things and think “Well, I’m not like THAT so I probably shouldn’t enter a slam.” And slams are things of brutal beauty and a great way into the scene more generally, so… Aye. I know from speaking to folks elsewhere that this is a bit of an issue elsewhere in the UK too.

To the other part of yer question: I think that broadly speaking there are scenes working in isolation, but that’s ok really. We wouldn’t want homogeneity. For example, I’ve noticed when I’ve performed at Latitude that there’s a really quite distinct style of English spoken word poetry that you don’t tend to get so much of in Scotland. A lot of it is deeply political and has a strong and genuinely interesting undercurrent of social commentary. I like that a lot. I’m thinking of folk like Luke Wright here, who is one of my favourite poets. Rally & Broad try to get these acts up as much as possible.


Saying all that, in Scotland and the rest of the UK, you’ve got loads of spoken word acts who crossover into publication and also theatre, which is why I love the scene as it is now. There’s also some really pretty incredible slam poets, by which I mean poets whose style and content comes from a rigorous training in slam – with all the theatrical endeavours that entails, which are many. It’s not something I’d ever have done, even back when I was entering slams. There’s a helluva lot going on. I’m very biased, but I would urge folks in the rest of the UK to check out Scotland-based spoken word acts more regularly – it’s arguably the most diverse part of the UK scene. I am very, very, very, very biased though!!


6) You’ve recently released your…third (did I get that right?) collection, which you are about to turn into your first show. What have you learned from transitioning more into the theatre (as in spoken word shows) side of things? Has it changed how you perform?


I’ve published one full collection and two pamphlet collections. The most recent one is the most…. challenging thing I’ve ever written. It’s about power, overall. That’s meant a helluva lot of navel-gazing, political fall-outs, campaigning, a breakdown… It’s was a tumultuous pamphlet-in-the-making, spanning three years of many ups and downs.

It’s also my debut solo show, after a mere 13 years… See earlier comments about not being in too much of a hurry…..! I never wanted to do a solo show until I felt I had something to say that would take an hour to say it. I hope this does what I want it to… So yeah – it has definitely changed how I write. And it’s still in progress so I probably can’t say more than that at the moment! You are asking me these questions as I am surrounded by a story-board, an ashtray, a caffetiere, and a great deal of gnawing aff my ain thumbs as I question my own sanity at deciding to make this transition. I’ll let ye know how it goes…


7) Seeing so many other UK poets moving more towards full-length spoken word shows, is that a transition you are considering? In the recent financial climate, how has your career had to change to survive?


I’m definitely hoping to, but to be quite brutally honest: I don’t know. Deciding to throw in the towel with security and jump into this extremely precarious lifestyle, I honestly don’t know if it is possible to say with any accuracy what I might be doing in a year, two years, never mind five. I have no children, no partner, no mortgage – I live month to month and very much try not to panic too much about failure. The only time I ever had any financial security was the three years I worked as a high school teacher, but even then I wouldn’t have got a mortgage on a letter-box. So in terms of how my career has had to change to survive…. hm…. I certainly demand payment for everything I do! Too many poets and artists (both new and established poets and artists, I have to say) let themselves get taken advantage of.

I suppose that, having been an events promoter and programmer for as long as I have been a writer, if a promoter or organisation tries to rip me off then I’m more able to call them on it as I know all too well that, often, “we have no budget” means “we haven’t allocated any of our substantial budget for paying artists because we don’t think we have to – you all want ‘exposure’, right?”, but it utterly infuriates me when early-stage and especially established poets and performers undermine the sustainability of the scene by running workshops for less than the industry standard, or perform for free for massively funded organisations and festivals….

In order to make this whole poetry lark possible, knowing my rights and the going rate for my labour is really important, and if others are willing to do it for absolutely nothing then it makes me look like a fanny when I ask for recompense. This year I’ve had a steep learning curve as I start changing the types of events I perform at and commissions I’ve been writing, including theatre-makers using parts of my work in their shows; collaborating on devising work that I will not be performing; co-writing, etc, and I’m learning about performance rights and royalties and the like too. It’s far more advanced than in the spoken word world, though like in all of the arts there are rip-off merchants and charlatans everywhere, really. Ah, money! If only it didn’t exist!


Mainly, I survive on equal parts willpower and bloody-mindedness. And a lot of to-do lists. And constant financial precarity. And some months of glorious plenty. And overall: constantly mildly aware that it could all end tomorrow. And finally, trying not to mind about any of that and just bloody write. *Slurps more coffee*


8)Where do you think our spoken word scene is heading? As more and  more poets attempt to make it their careers at the exact same moment there is less and less funding and fewer and fewer paying nights, what do you see ahead?


There are actually more paying nights in Scotland now, though still not enough, and the scene is rather dominated by the Central belt, which has to change I reckon. There have been some brilliant discussions happening since the referendum about Scottish culture and the arts, but this needs to stop being dominated by artists in the Central belt, lest we end up aping the dominance of London in the UK arts-scene in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Hm. In terms of where the UK spoken word scene is heading, I don’t really have the foggiest. I’ve seen the scene overall flourish in the last decade or so, but not without years in-between where it felt like nothing was happening at all and where I very nearly gave up. It’s hard to separate yer ain personal artistic endeavours from a wider scene though, so perhaps it’s easier to think about where I’m headed…


To be honest, when I started out everyone told me I had to go to London or I’d never ‘make it.’ I’m still trying to work out what ‘making it’ means, or if I even want to, and certainly whether or not I want to do what it takes to ‘make it.’ Other people think I’ve “made it” already, but I don’t know what they mean. What is “it”? I’ve made “it” as an events-programmer, in that I make a reasonable living out of it, but as a poet? I really don’t think so! Plus, it could all end quite easily, and tomorrow. And I don’t even know what ‘making it’ means for a poet who writes for performance, when there is no path… Maybe I’ll work it out in another 13 years… Or, tae mis-quote and mis-use Antonio Machado, perhaps we’ll make the path by walking it…


But I do know that whatever I end up doing myself it will be here, in Scotland. Because if it doesn’t exist, ye build it. A more collective effort to make this scene sustainable, and not just for one or two individuals, for the art-form itself would be glorious. And if not, I shall embrace being a poetry-casualty. And write some goddam poems about it.


Find out more about Jenny below:


Jenny Lindsay

Guest Post: Rhea “RheaSunshine” Carmon Talks About Her Show “The 5th Woman”

Guest Post: Rhea “RheaSunshine” Carmon Talks About Her Show “The 5th Woman”

I am very excited to bring you this guest post today, one of the biggest desires Carlos and I had when we started Eternal Graffiti is to just simply showcase the amazing things our contemporaries are doing. There are a lot of great things going on in all pockets of the globe and it is our desire for those things to be continually celebrated. Our friend Rhea “RheaSunshine” Carmon launched a campaign on Facebook asking poets to send a video to her about a woman in their life and what she meant to them. This campaign would help to foster awareness to a larger audience about her show and the work she was doing in Knoxville, TN. Rhea is a staple of the Tennessee Poetry scene, and is highly regarded in the regional and national poetry scene. She is a mother a wife a poet and an all around great person.

The 5th Woman is my brain baby.  It is my attempt to bring women from all walks of life together to understand our common struggles and situations.  It strips women down to their basic beauty and allows the world to see and appreciate them for all that they encompass.  There are certain commonalities that women have that allow them to come together no matter what their background, beliefs, culture or preference.  I wanted to use my passion of poetry to highlight those things and tell people that women deserve their attention.

I named the show “The 5th Woman: Poetry” as a connection to one of my favorite Nina Simone songs “Four Women”.  In the song, each woman tells her own characteristics and then names herself.  I felt as though the song was missing some women’s walk, their struggles and their stories and that the best way to get those across to the world was through poetry. So I created the 5th Woman and named her poetry.  The show opens with the song Four Women sung by some amazing vocalists but then goes into the poets description of poetry through their eyes.  What follows is a voyage into all that is “woman” written as poetry and displayed using dancers, actors/actresses, music, African drums, visual artists and whatever other arts I can connect to these stories.

It started off simply as my one-woman show that would tell different women’s testimonies and lives through poetry.  However, as I thought about it, it wasn’t enough for only me to tell those stories.  Women are beautiful, powerful, resilient, and responsible for life and I couldn’t take that task on all by myself.  So I asked for help.  In 2013, I asked 4 other female poets to take the journey with me to delve into their relationships, struggles, laughs and concerns.

It was a success and I decided then that I would continue to do the show each year, changing the poets that participated, and find new ways to share women’s stories.  With the first show completed, I got serious about the process that would produce a different show every year.  Five female poets take 5 months to write spokenword pieces that push them beyond themselves.  Once, the pieces are written the cast visualizes how to share the work using other artistic mediums to convey the poetry.

When I first started the show, I wanted it to be a platform for female poets in my city. I wanted to celebrate women and at the same time share with my city my love for spoken word and performance poetry. To my surprise, “The 5th Woman” 2015 is reaching far beyond the confines of my little city. At my husbands urging, I asked poets that I have known for years to share why they love women, simply as a way to spread the word about the stage show. Ideally, the more people that show support, the more people I reach, and the more people come out to the show.

Now people from all over the nation are sharing poems and positive words about women. Contrary to the picture that is often painted on television and in some music, women are being uplifted and honored. “The 5th Woman” has become power and encouragement for myself and women from all walks of life.

She has become a movement and I can’t wait to see what future holds for her.

You can find out more about the show on the Facebook page here

5th woman

G Yamazawa | A Reflection On The Release of ’23’

G Yamazawa | A Reflection On The Release of ’23’

One of the things we at Eternal Graffiti are excited about doing is using this space to give artist the opportunity to reflect and explain themselves and their projects. We think the importance of the artist’s voice is just as important as their work and are busting at the seams to give you the ‘Behind the Scenes” look from different creatives associated with exciting projects in the near future. We already have some well respected artists in the spoken word arena who have agreed to blog for us about upcoming projects and so today’s blog is the first of many. G Yamazawa, who we spotlighted on the blog a few weeks ago, and I were talking recently and he mentioned wanting to be able to explain himself and his new mixtape ’23’ on a platform other than a Facebook note or status so I invited him to talk about his experiences here. Big thanks to G for trusting us with the message.


when I was 13, my neighbor of 7 years and one of my best friends passed away in a car accident. because I was in Japan that summer, I missed her funeral, wake, and memorial service. when I returned to NC, we moved to the city of Durham and I couldn’t keep in touch with her parents or any of our mutual friends. I’d never truly felt the weight of death. I enjoyed rap, so I began writing about my friend’s life, and somehow tried to explain the feeling of losing someone forever. I had no one to talk to, and writing became my only way to cope with such an intense emotion at a young age. this was all on top of the fact that I was in foster care and my father had recently battled cancer, I didn’t know it at the time but I had a lot to say. I’d always loved art; visual, dance, fashion, music. but this was the first time I realized that even something as painful as death could be beautiful, if it rhymed.

when I transferred to Githens middle school my 8th grade year, I was terrified. I was going through puberty with the timid feeling that I wasn’t cool enough to wear the clothes I wore and talk the way I talked, and I never told anyone I rapped. it was still a vulnerable practice for me, and thought all the black kids would tease me for being asian. because I’m not black, there has always been an underlying fear that I couldn’t claim my place in hip hop. but for some reason, maybe because of the spirit my parents carried to become American, I was always blessed to accepted by any demographic of people. I always tried my best to understand the heart of black people, without believing that I actually wanted to ‘be’ black. even though I hated violence, didn’t believe in misogyny, and knew I didn’t wanna be rich, listening to gangsta rap somehow moved me to push through whatever I faced. it was beautiful, articulate, original, empowering, and heart breaking. somehow, now my own pain had a sound, and it made my head nod every time.

but because I’m asian, I’ve always had to work twice as hard to be seen as equal in an inherently competitive culture. always had to dress twice as fly, dance twice as crisp, rap twice as creative. I didn’t have parents/family that put me onto great American music, so I was diving into hip hop blind folded. the weird thing is, that even though I worked twice as hard, I got twice as much respect simply because I’m NOT black. simply because I had enough courage to even claim a spot in hip hop. this juxtaposition forced me to keep working hard to be the best and be recognized as a beast, and not just the recipient of an asian consolation prize.

it’s still terrifying. a big reason why I excelled in poetry is because it’s easier than hip hop. the stigmas are less harsh, the community is smaller and more family oriented, and audiences are more open to being vulnerable. also, I could let the mic sit on the stand and have all my energy in one concentrated place. hip hop requires crowd control; movement, sweat, hands in the air like you jus don’t care, awl that. it also comes with the same feeling I had in middle school, that undying fear that I wouldn’t be taken seriously because of my race.

that’s why this project means so much to me. after six years of tirelessly pouring my life into every word of poetry, I’ve reclaimed the undying passion to be a respected MC. I’ve noticed over the years that people are starting to take me less seriously as a rapper, and will subtly encourage me to stick to poetry instead of doing hip hop. I don’t like that. I wanna bring that same vigor I had when I was 13. I wanna write rhymes that make people cry. I wanna write rhymes that make people laugh. I wanna make music that can help people awaken to their own passion, to overcome their own fears, to help create a culture of peace.

I’m dedicating 2015 to becoming not only a dynamic spoken word artist, but also a respected MC. I’ll be working on my first full-length studio album, and this project was my way of purging all my doubts of failure, and proving to myself that I still got bars.

I hope you enjoy, I hope you help spread the word, and I hope this momentum never stops.
DOWNLOAD ’23’ HERE – http://gyamazawa.bandcamp.com/