Me? A Poet?

Yeah, I was trolling various timelines on Twitter and ran across the this video from the brother @SkinnyJeanius. I felt not only the humor of the video, but the underlying message was poignant. So, in Asylum fashion, I reached out to the brother and asked him could I post the video here. Always a great sport, he granted us permission, and also wrote us piece to explain his thoughts as well.

Thanks to an episode of the Cosby Show, the one when Rudy writes a fantasy story, I’m a writer. Thanks to Cathy Clover, my 8th grade English teacher, I am a poet. That title didn’t come easy. Because for years, to me, it meant throwing myself in a ring with words by Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Saul Williams, Robert Frost and Shel Silverstein. These were fights I wasn’t quite ready for, so I remained “the guy who writes a poem from time to time.”

There were crowds of thousands, and rooms of five that watched my lips as I performed early pieces, then applauded as I walked from the stage. They called me a poet, but I wasn’t receptive. Thanks to a beautiful friend, Stephanie Henderson, the former editor of PRIDE Magazine, a University of Virginia based magazine created to uplift us, I was able to interview Amiri Baraka, no description necessary. “You become a poet,” he said, “when you can stand on a busy street corner and everyone that walks by understands exactly what it is coming out of your mouth. And you’re speaking to each of them.” Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? I’ve been a poet, according to Baraka and now me, since the mid 90’s. So what now?

After this discovery I learned to work my way between being a poet and being a black poet. Poets do not own poetry. Their words belong to those who need them, not those who write them. Black poets have full ownership of their/our words, and their/our soul purpose is to uplift, raise awareness, and bring about a conscious movement. I was, and I reckon I still am sometimes, both. And I still argue with the thought that perhaps white people can write black poetry, but intentionally. Recent times have found me discouraged in the way us poets, especially us Black poets, are going.

Russell Simmons and Stan Lathan, with the help of Mos Def, and countless others have made it their profitable business to pimp poetry. I wish I could find my good friend, Mawanaj’s piece on this very topic, but in essence what she says is this movement will allow too many performers and pseudo poets to believe their acting is poetry. And despite what the part time creative minds like to spew, everything is not poetry. POETRY IS POETRY and nothing else. So I make jokes, and I make videos and post them to Youtube about the so-called-poets who find empty space and utilize it with gimmicks, punch lines and random arm movements, hoping their many bangles don’t fly into the crowd, or their beret doesn’t tilt too far over. I’ve seen the show. I love the true poets who’ve graced the stage: Linton Kwesi Johnson, Bassey Ipki, Sonja Sanchez, and quite a few others.

It’s like those untouched, beautiful civilizations I see everyday on travel channel. They are beautiful now, because the cameras bringing them to us are the first cameras to touch down there. Years from now, there will be no beauty because
us on this side of the camera will go to see it first hand and rape it of all its colors, pride, tradition and beauty. Yeah, it’s like that, to me. And I think I can say that now that I call myself a poet.

Stop raping poetry, and let us have it back.

Darnell Lamont Walker
The Griot – Founder & Director

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