Ramya Ramana | Miss America

Ramya Ramana | Miss America

I often wonder how much of the hate and absolute vitriol that you see on twitter is real. Meaning,  I wonder if under the cloak of anonymity people are really as evil as their comments suggest. I wonder if you can separate trolling from an actual real reflection of how people feel in their hearts. Unfortunately I am starting to think that what you see online is a true and accurate account of the entrenched ignorance and hate that a portion of our society holds.

The thing I love about the spotlight poet today is that she gives a master class in don’t come for my culture. She absolutely slays those same folks that get on twitter talking reckless and she does it without even raising her voice. Without even flexing, she sits you down and says i’m going to teach you something about my shoreline, about how my shade of brown is as radiant as the sun.  She stands tall on her culture, and says to the ones who feel like this country belongs to them, that newsflash – it does not and it never has.

I cheer for all of the poets and activists and influencers who are standing in the middle of the street saying we see you. Those who have the capacity to go back and forth with people on social media. Who spend time trying to educate on privilege, misogyny, bigotry, etc..It takes extreme patience and love to sacrifice your own harmony to take to task all of these people who spew hate from behind their profile pics.

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Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri

I remember seeing articles about all of the horribly racist tweets that came out after the 2014 Miss America decision in which Nina Davuluri an Indian American woman won. BuzzFeed had an entire article compiling all of the awful tweets [here]. I am happy to be part of a community that constantly works to countbalane all of the false narritive and ignorance in the world.

Ramya Ramana, is a youth activist, poet, writer, and most of all, believer of God. She is the current Youth Poet Laureate of New York City. She won the New York Knicks Poetry Slam that awarded her a full scholarship to St. John’s University. As the Youth Poet Laureate, Ramya has performed at the Apollo Theatre, City Hall, Hammerstein Ballroom and other notable venues

 

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“On The Culture of BNV” by Rachel R. Carroll

“On The Culture of BNV” by Rachel R. Carroll

We at Eternal Graffiti are very proud to present the following post from Rachel R. Carroll about her two years attending Brave New Voices. BNV is the largest youth poetry festival in the world and has found a strong following after appearing on HBO.

This has been the first normal week I’ve had in a while. The two weeks before this one I spent moping around, missing some long distance friends who I only see once or twice a year, and getting about nine hours of sleep a night. It took me about six days to finish unpacking a carry-on size suitcase with less than a week’s worth of clothing in it, even though the initial packing job only took half an hour. In short, I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms from 2015’s Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival.

For the first time since the festival’s beginning, BNV was held in the South this year, with Atlanta, Georgia’s Emory University playing host to hundreds of poets, coaches, and supporters. For almost a full week, poets between the ages of 13 and 19 came from all over the country (and the world, including teams from Ireland and Ghana) to participate in a series of workshops, discussions on controversial issues, and a poetry slam that spanned from 9 AM on Friday morning to 11 the following evening. With opportunities to meet poets my own age as well as older writers who I have idolized throughout the years – Theresa Davis, Alysia Harris, Rachel McKibbons – as well as chances to discuss issues such as economic warfare, police brutality, and the harmful repercussions of a gender binary, attending BNV really is a life changing event.

Both this year and last, I was lucky enough to have earned a spot on Charlotte, North Carolina’s team. I’ve spent two summers in a row working with my coaches-turned-friends, Terry Creech, Jessicah Kean, and Jay Ward. There is so much I love about all the hard work that goes into three month’s worth of practices, but my absolute favorite thing about Brave New Voices is the fact that it is completely uncensored. In a society that so strongly feels the need to monitor and oversee the content to which youth are subjected as well as what they have to say about it, having a space where hundreds of teenagers are speaking their minds about things that are impacting their lives and communities on a daily basis is invaluable.

That being said, there’s a word that gets thrown around a lot at BNV which has a tendency to worry me: “activism.” Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself an activist. I consider many of my BNV peers activists. I believe activism is important and powerful. My fear is that Youth Speaks – the organization in charge of BNV – has the tendency to water it down from time to time.

From a very young age, I have been a firm believer that writing, words, literature, and the like are forces for effecting change. BNV can be extremely validating in that everyone there seems to be of the same mind. However, from my point of view, it is also important to remember that writing does not exist in a vacuum. While I do not believe it is a stretch to say that art – particularly slam poetry – and activism can go hand in hand, is it taking it a step too far to say they are the same thing? A fellow poet once told me, “We can’t take ourselves too seriously. We share shit we wrote in front of strangers, and they give us numbers back.” If we can’t even take our craft seriously (and sometimes it’s important we don’t), then how can we equate it with activism?

This isn’t just about BNV anymore. This is about poetry slams as their own entity. One of my favorite quotes reads, “If it is inaccessible to the poor, than it is neither radical nor revolutionary.” While I am not implying that slam poetry is restricted to the wealthy, we as a community cannot ignore that more often than not, our events are kept in auditoriums, away from the average person on the street. Can we truly consider this activism? And if so, what’s the end game?

For instance: at the very beginning of the festival, James Kass – the founder and executive director of Youth Speaks – asks for a moment of silence for the children around the world who cannot share their voices the way that we can at BNV due to poverty, hunger, and other oppressive structures. When the moment passes, however, it is met with thunderous applause and cheering rather than a solemn, respectful transition from one topic to the next. For me, this is a dangerous blurring of the line between activism that fights to dismantle systematic oppression, and activism for the sake of looking as progressive as possible.

All week, I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling that activism was being used as a buzzword, as an accessory. Of course, the mere premise of BNV – “youth sharing their truth” – can be considered activism in the sense that it is giving voices to a demographic who often doesn’t get one. But all too often, these voices end up preaching to the choir. BNV poets, in my experience, have a tendency to focus on a very particular set of topics, namely feminism and racism (anti-Blackness, more specifically). Many of these poems are delivered in heart-wrenching, beautiful ways, such as Asheville poet Emma Lenderman’s poem about sexual assault written in the style of a college tour guide, or Team Forth Worth’s piece about forgiveness for internalized racism. However, many others become formulaic, pounding home points of view that the entire audience typically shares. The pitfall of treating activism as if it is a badge to be earned is that it can sometimes result in hundreds of poets wanting simply to sound more radical than the others rather than focusing on nuanced aspects of their respective causes, finding solutions, and bringing them to as wide of an audience as possible.

Youth Speaks and Brave New Voices have taken an essential first step in using the power of spoken word poetry to create a generation of writers who are conscious of the inadequacies of the world around them, and determined to address them. However, even with their incredible focus on diversion and inclusivity, two Muslim girls from Detroit who featured on Final Stage showed that sometimes, things can still slip through the cracks. They performed their piece on Saturday, July 18th: Eid, one of the largest holidays on the Islamic calendar marking the end of Ramadan. These poets ended a poem about facing Islamophobia by posing the question (and I’m paraphrasing here), “How can an organization like Youth Speaks have us up here on stage defending our families instead of spending time with them? Would they ever organize an INTERNATIONAL POETRY FESTIVAL on Christmas? On Hanukkah?”

All in all, when it comes to lighting a spark for a new generation of activists, Brave New Voices has done an incredible job. I spent a week surrounded by passionate, bold, educated teenagers with a hunger for justice. But, as with most everything, there is still work to be done. No system is perfect, not even one which prides itself on battling “The System.”

 

 

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Rachel R. Carroll | An Open Letter To My Freshmen Health Teacher

Rachel R. Carroll | An Open Letter To My Freshmen Health Teacher

Rachel Carrol is a slam poet, blogger and all around writer currently pursuing a degree in Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. She is a HuffingtonPost contributor and a two-time member and Grand Slam Champion of the Charlotte based Breathe Ink youth slam team. She is also, if my memory serves me correctly the only poet to ever approach me at a slam and tell me that they came up admiring my work who then beat me in the very same slam (I’m getting old, yall!) Rachel’s work is socially minded and charged with purpose and passion. She commands a stage as well as others who have been around as long as she’s been alive and I’m honored to be the one to introduce her to so many of you.

I remember when I first started writing and performing, other than attending every open mic and slam within a hundred miles, in the days before YouTube I consumed as much Def Poetry as I could. Certain things struck me right away, and the education I gained in those early months has proved invaluable to me over my career. I could probably write a Masters thesis about the things I picked up in the wee hours watching those DVDs. One of which was the first time I saw Taylor Mali perform, which was his innate focus on communicating with his audience. He kept his language simple and his purpose clear, it was obvious to me from the moment I saw “What Teachers Make” that he wanted to engage the audience at eye-level, challenging them to not with wild wordplay or over the top theatrics, but with the strength of a masterfully crafted argument aimed at changing the perception of everyone in the room. He wasn’t writing poems to be poured over after his performance was over, he was writing a kind of commentary that lives on in arguments in the parking lot after shows and that pops up in one’s memory for months and even years afterward. That toe-to-toe challenge, that let’s-clear-the-air once and for all attitude is alive and well in an entire new generation of young poets, non less than Rachel Carrol. All of this was made evident to me the moment I first saw her take a stage… which was just before she beat me.

I’m also excited to announce that Rachel will be guest-posting for us this weekend on her experience at Brave New Voices, reflecting on the culture of the largest youth poetry festival in the world, which you HAVE TO stay tuned for. Get ready world, and enjoy.

 

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My Definitive Answer When Asked About Reverse Racism | Aamer Rahman

My Definitive Answer When Asked About Reverse Racism | Aamer Rahman

Good comedians have a way of saying things that you have thought in your head but can’t quite get out in phrase. From time to time we post comedians on Eternal Graffiti, because as fellow wordsmiths they have the ability to do with comedy what poets can do with poems, which is call out the hypocrisy of a situation in a way that is both entertaining and profound.

With the national conversation around #BlackLivesMatter there always seem to be trolls on every post talking about how their inability to say things like #WhiteGirlsRock or #WhiteGirlsRun is racist or ….drum-roll reverse racism. Which to me shows the absolute ignorance of the person typing those words. I am of the notion that it is a willful ignorance so I dont engage online. In person however, when I am talking to co-workers or non-POC (and some POC that ain’t woke)

It’s hard to find a succinct way to describe the actual systems of racism and white supremacy and how said systems have influenced literally every faction of how the entire planet operates. It is hard to explain in a couple minutes the root of why anti-blackness is pervasive in all societies, why fairer skinned Indians are regarded as superior in India and often times are better off financially. Why you can have a black country like Brazil but the public image of the whole country is pretty much women who look white. While when polled only 7.6% of the population actually identified with that image. The large majority of Brazilians are brown and black.

The next time one of my co-workers [read straight white males] screams the injustice and reverse racism of the fact that we have an Asian-American network, and a women’s network, an LGBTQ network, and an African American network and so on, but they could not have a Caucasian American network.

I’m just going to say, listen if you follow the steps in the below video, I would be more than happy to trade with you.

 

 

 

 

The Future of Spoken Word & Slam: A Prophecy of Sorts

The Future of Spoken Word & Slam: A Prophecy of Sorts

I’m always wondering about the future of spoken word and what the artform will look like in the next few years. With the popularity of slam poetry at an all time high and with poets crafting some of the more popular TED talks out, it’s inevitable that there will be a spoken word crossover soon. In the same way that different genres of film or music or literature have their tipping points with the public, there will have to be a moment in the next few years where performance poetry becomes big. I mean big big. TV commercials, pop music collaborations, halftime show big. Maybe a poet or two will be able to wrangle enough of their work together to be crafted into a show that could take the format of a play. Who knows, maybe a few spoken word artists will take up after John Leguizamo and Whoopi Goldberg and take their one-person show all the way to Broadway.

Slam has trained poets to be bare in their presentation, and simple in their messaging. With Youtube popularizing slam poetry faster than ever before, and sites like Upworthy and Huffington Post using poems (most always slam poems) to comment on social and political hot-button topics, there is a new young generation becoming educated through and excited by the simple art that comes from a poet and microphone.

I personally think that in the simplicity of performance poetry, much like the singer/songwriter/guitarist simplicity of folk music and the presentational simplicity of stand-up comedy, spoken word will have a craze in popularity just like folk in the sixties and stand-up in the fifties (and again in the eighties). I predict that there will be a near over saturation of performance poetry and after the fever dies down, there will always be a place for spoken word in mainstream pop culture. The question then becomes who will lead the charge? The issue I most often concern myself with is that although we are mostly aware of the contemporary audience for performance poetry, who else will get on the bandwagon in order for poetry to go “mainstream?” What demographic will take spoken word to a crossover success? In my assessment, (non-poet) slam poetry fans now are either drawn in by the socio-political issues covered and commented on by slam or by the communion an audience has with a worker of words. So the next two questions to ask are, One: Does that recipe have to be diluted in order to reach a greater audience? And Two: If so, who will be the first to do it?

Since the beginning of this blog I’ve long compared spoken word to stand-up, I think it’s the closest performative artform to spoken word, especially when dealing with the relationship between the artist and the audience. And I like to look at the ways that comics relate to and retain their audiences. I’ve always been a big fan of Chris Rock, who is rather mechanical in his work, choosing a theme or mantra and proving it from every angle. Seinfeld on the other hand likes to take an object or issue and analyze it from every angle. I love Louis CK because he mixes high brow with low brow, and blends progressive thought with absolutely inappropriate humor. I love Paul Mooney whose work is part biting commentary and part old school joke structure, but he always has a strong point of view. He actually reminds me of George Carlin, who I think was one of the greats mostly because of his style. I listened to a Carlin album the other day and was surprised at how much of the content I totally disagreed with, but I’m’ usually not listening to his opinion as much as I’m listening to him solo in the way a musician solos. All are great at their craft, and they each have a style that is often dissected and talked about in comedy circles. I say all of this to make one point: I’m not the biggest fan of Kevin Hart’s standup. I think he’s really funny, and he’s one of my favorite comedic actors, but it always bugs me that he never has a setup and a punchline. He tells terrific stories, and his work is engaging but to me he never mastered one single actual joke. What he’s doing isn’t stand-up so much as it is entertainment. I often think of the future of poetry in the same terms. Will we all be held to the standards of writing that the current slam community does now? Or will there come a time when performance poets know each other moreso for their success with the public than their success in competition? Will poetry at some point in time be judged by the way it’s presented and not by the way it’s written? Will it be called poetry even when it resembles performance art and entertainment more than anything relating to a literary form? And when that happens, will the die hard performance poets treat the entertainer newcomers the same way early slammers were treated by academia? As bastards to the artform? That’s what I haven’t figured out yet, but I can tell you one thing. When someone crosses over with spoken word, I mean really starts selling out, they won’t give a damn who doesn’t accept them. Not in the least.

 

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