Thoughts on Writing Poetry
I am as surprisingly good poet for being as stupid as I am. If asked to teach poetry, I basically point out the window and say, “Go find a poem.” “Go find a thousand poems.” “Go write a thousand more.” After that, you will probably be a poet. Or at least comfortable with your notion of what poetry is… But if I have to say something about how to write a poem… For me, poetry recreates a mundane and common experience and transforms it into a sublime experience of life—but only because I allow the profundity to grow out of the poem. In the way I write poetry, I often write without a predetermined theme or message. I simply write descriptively about an experience, and then the meaning takes shape as the poem matures from seed to flower.
Only then, after the meaning has taken root, do I go back and trim the poem into its final shape by getting rid of everything which is distracting and irrelevant—and/or adding whatever is needed to create a better poem, or at least what I think and feel is a better poem; however, I don’t have any rules or rubrics that I follow. I simply allow poetry to be whatever it feels like on that given day. More abstractly, I don’t write as much as I sing. The words have to sound right and flow with a rhythm that creates some kind of tone and ambience just by the way it is worded and sounds, or if I am relying on the music, lyrics, and performance that is such a part and parcel of my life. To do this you have to free yourself to be free, and you have to discipline yourself to be a poet. Quit worrying about what other people may think. No good poetry is created with a teacher hanging over your shoulder, but, at the same time, don’t relax because that kills most good poems on the spot.
All of you are perfectly capable of writing great poetry. Creating the time and place and attitude to write is the first step. Making the leap is the next step. And then leap again and again and again. You’ll get there.
How a Slam Poem Might Look
Totally Like, Whatever, you know?
~by Taylor Mali
In case you hadn’t noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you’re talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you’re saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)’s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren’t, like, questions? You know?
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true, okay,
as opposed to other things are, like, totally, you know, not—
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Like, don’t think I’m uncool just because I’ve noticed this;
this is just like the word on the street, you know?
It’s like what I’ve heard?
I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I’m just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?
What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down
with the rest of the rain forest?
Or do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . . You know?
That we’ve just gotten to the point where it’s just, like . . .
And so actually our disarticulation . . . ness
is just a clever sort of . . . thing
to disguise the fact that we’ve become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!
I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.
~by Tony Hargreaves
I don’t wonder you’re feeling bad.
It’s cos you’re scared to tell your dad
that your maths mark is downright sad.
It really isn’t all that hard.
But a decent grade you’ve never scored.
Don’t all these re-sits make you bored?
You have to graft you surely see.
To get the points for that degree.
Or, do you think it all comes free?
Your mates have got the message.
The studies they have to manage
to build essential knowledge.
You just don’t work, that’s quite clear.
To make an effort is what you fear.
Your life of privilege shows up here.
The marks you get could not be worse.
Why did they let you on the course?
Was it the size of your family’s purse?
Last week you missed revision class;
it was put on to help you pass.
It was the chance you shouldn’t miss.
And why are you always late?
You know the others have to wait.
The waste of time they really hate.
This is a place of higher education,
we must keep up our reputation
but eyebrows raise in consternation.
Let’s take a look at your situation.
You clearly can’t do multiplication
and that’s a major restriction.
You never learnt your times-tables
and this is one of your troubles;
all further maths it disables.
I ask you what is four times eight
then on your fingers you calculate.
Just how long must we wait.
You say the answer’s twenty four.
Perhaps you try just once more.
There’s another eight to explore.
You really shouldn’t use finger count.
If the times-tables you had learnt
you would answer in an instant.
This comes down to early education
that surely is the explanation.
You simply have a poor foundation.
That private school that was so posh
and cost your dad a heap of dosh
now seems it was a load of tosh.
China Journal: Part II
~by John Fitzsimmons
The grass grows. The rain falls
Nothing is done. Nothing is left undone
A day can be perfect. I have to believe this.
Today was. Is. Is was a day in china.
The sun breaking through today after yesterday’s typhoon. Lazy walk to the coffee shop. Practice chinese with young cook dreams of more tells his long story. Reassure him—yes—as good as anything in america. Wished really wished Denise was there. Our every Saturday Sunday trips to serendipity cafe in maynard reborn borne in hangzhou city.
Sweet, strong coffee. Cool clean breeze off sidewalks scrubbed clean by yesterdays torrential rain. Kids running from store to store. Buy muffin there. Fruit here. Dough sticks from roadside vats bubbling oil. Dumplings steaming in scalded trays. Creamy warm milk in plastic bags fattened with sugar. Running skipping hopback to grandmothers. “The waiguo ren [foreigner] spoke to me!” I feel incredibly alive. Placed. Content…old men sweep leaves torn from trees and bushes with brooms made of broken branches and bundles of lashed twigs. We nod to each other like it is a universal tongue. Yes. I get it. I understand without words stammered out of meagre vocabularies. Life transposed on life. Strangely I miss my motherfatherunclesaunts long gone and imagine them beckoning from the park benches steaming in wet morning heat…wisps of smoke rising to balconies draped with flowers laundry tv sets bikes slipping into alleyways filled with poverty love confirmation…always always always a confirmation celebration of age. Dignity. Grace. Acceptance.
I hear Mister Toe’s taxi incessant horn in morning traffic like bellowing from barges on the pulsating sighing unrepentant river. “Come, come. Sorry, Sorry I overslept…” We. Rob. Dave. Me. Cramming our oversized bodies into impossibly small car. More beeping weaving avoiding. A mass (a liturgy almost) of traffic people bikes scooters busses trucks. A city so huge expanding towering with belief in tomorrow acceptance of today democracy of common life. We are all here. We are all here. It has to work. It has to. It does. It really does. It stretches the clothes of my perceptions preconceptions prejudice anticipations. I wear the disbelief like a shawl in the rain. In the tangle of work obligation progress crossing dodging manoeuvring there is no anger—no words to take back regret amplify justify. No righteousness, fingers, pissed off anythings. Simple reassurances that no one is alone. Listen I we you are here. We are not travellers. We are embedded like silk in a fluid tapestry. We are was is.
It has to be a word: isness. We are dropped into the isness of what simply irretrievably is… We are dropped into a warm busy teeming broth of humanity. We shake like dogs on muddy banks and run to our buildings. Work. Work. Work. It is all work. It is all family. It is all friends. It is all there is—a jigsaw of sameness oneness isness. It is a common world of commonness. Fair and unfair in the same accepted fated breath. My head still can’t wrap around it. I am an American. Damnit. An American. I let go of worrying that it matters. The private goal is the collective goal. I am not sad detached wandering wondering. I am going to work. I am going to do what I need came want should must do.
The kids are waiting for us. Us. Me. Rob. Dave. Old americans. Proud americans. Proud americans come to teach preach perfect tentwelvethirteenfourteen year olds and young startled dreamy suddenly beset by reality sweet loving accepting yearning teachers. A few days ago experts now we are common and is. Three waiguo ren clambering laughing going to have to work. Three teachers going on a Sunday field trip to pick grapes on a farm—a muddy farm outside the city clung between city and mountains. Purgatory. God on one side. Maybe both sides. Maybe purgatory is perfection. Maybe. But today is action not reflecting dust of yesterday. Old peasant women lead us to grapes in groping heat smiling pointing painting coaxing cajoling. Their faces wear long march Mao hunger I have been there and there and there. There too.We nod our vocabularies in gestures and broken guttural primal vestal sounds. The kids meanwhile are kids. kids. kids. Nothing is unreal, unexpected, overdone impressive. More isness. Love. Compassion. Ballets of energy stories leaping stretching reaching towards bundles of fruit—putao, yaomei, pinguo—grapes, strawberries, apples: Sameness. Isness. Happiness. Yes. True happiness. America. China.
Sadness, thinking, wanting, remembering (screaming almost in a vacuum) for my own children to just be here. Not there. Engulfed awed renewed in new hampshire summer camp. Cool clear waters. Stars plucked out sky summer camp. Away. Happy without me. For me. Because of me. Alongside a clay shored quiet stream I share pictures of my kids with these kids—my students—precious precocious indefatigable youth. I need them to know that I am as real their mothersfathersunclesaunts. Each image turned and studied like a textbook. This is what we all learn. This is what we all learn: love. Today’s lesson is love and picking and dancing and remembering and wanting and being indefatigable youth. Infinite tomorrows and yesterdays cloven and jammed into the impossibly small taxi of today. Beeping horns of love in every direction. These are my children. My children in america. They were born when you were born. Cried when you cried. Woke in terror-filed nights like you. Laughed in school-yards like you. Jammed into expectations like you. We them they are together altogether the crazy world of stitched cultures woven by old men and old ways with broken dreams and unbridled ignorance—children together altogether born again in games of minecraft, tag, hide and seek, pushing unwanted food away, grabbing devouring celebrating…They are born and will be borne. Within. Without. Beside. Before. They are. Need to be: every thought every action every dream. My family is our textbook of love. Denise is the mother. I am the father. Here is our universe. Our textbook. Endless flow of sometimes words sometimes action always love always is. Isness of opportunity chance fate desire hammered in the mystic forge of love determination persistence stubborn clinging to flotsam idyllic isles key wests of dreams words nods limits distant horizons figuring out giving a damn…
In the city again playing team tag in an empty mall detritus of progress. The children lead me hide me cajole me protect me old and vulnerable behind columns arching over western sloth: armani, hilfiger, levi, scotch, shoes, handbags. Lean away as if this floor is a diseased ward: typhussed smallpoxed malarial—a story cried in bold decay and impeccable ruin. We win the the game. We win the running man game: Me. The old teacher. Old Laoshi. The youngest kids. Smallest kids by far. We won. We won, I said, because we did not attack. We protected. We won candy. That was all the mattered. Grabbing devouring celebrating turned over to parents eager for harvard princeton mit. Turned over to endless days nights life of work homework absolute perfection. What is your favourite game Shelley. (I asked her on Friday) I said—you must have a favourite game. I do not play games she said she meant it lived it was it and today she played as if there was no tomorrow. Just the isness joy release of a penitent shorn of sin. I pray. I really do. Pray that today had enough rebar to sustain the weight of her play. Play Shelley. Play. Parents maybe only happy she says goodbye to us in english. We. Dave. Rob. Me. We are from Boston. Good schools in Boston. But today. Today was a better school. A mystic forge. Orb resting on pinnacle. East. West.
I wished I shouted—You should see the small towns. Go to the small towns. It is all I know. All I can teach live pray do. It is my is. Go to the mountains that cling to your horizons west of the city of hangzhou. Small villages pocked by endurable endless persistence perfection of patience forbearance love. Do not go to shanghai to the east. It is too close to boston harvard princeton mit. Pick grapes strawberries apples. Fresh fruit. Pithy flesh hung on bones. What Mao could not let be. What we you can’t taste. Rich soil. Soil fed depleted fed depleted fed depleted. Irony. Displacement. The high huge glassy towers of hangzhou sucking in the countryside. Families cleaved apart at the juncture of sinews. Depleted. Fed by wisps of dreams promises borne on trains scooters carts sodden shoes. Here is heavy coal diesel haze parade of weaving dodging fate of progress regression progress regression. Dreams. Unforgivable dreams. Trapped. Living. Celebrating. Coins trapped in mud, sledge hammered into mastheads of concrete steel glassy towers beaked cranes endlessly lifting dream on dream on dream with spindly cables. The captain speaks. The ship sails: straits of Skylla. Ahab. Odysseus. Hydra. Whale.
The only way out is through. We. Rob. Dave. Me. Resist exhaustion easy to return home to sleep morph ourselves into another taxi-cab to the markets on hufang jie—the street near west lake: mad market of many everything every pedlar ever peddled. I try to film the scene and spin slowly. Then delete everything. It tells nothing really of what the scene is doing to me in me through me. More of that isness which really is what I feel: senses synapses bursting lighting arcing thought to thought sense to sense. I find myself drawn to old china: the old artists patiently waiting for anyone no one to pay 300 kuai for a ten minute portrait flash in the enormity of life. I just say wo meiyo nemmo duo dian. I do not have that much money…and try to get words palpable breath memories from them to me. Some kind of connection that is nod-like real conversation betweens souls and not cultures. They smile and get it. No painting is real just the finger pointing at the moon.
But not the moon itself. Not the moon itself.
The wizened ancient woman sitting waiting on a bench with me waiting on the bench warm smile big laugh looking at me and sway smiling in the closing hours of the day while menwomanchildren pass by stare. Munch: crabs four to a stick spitting out pulpy entrails brittle shells. Whole fish speared on skewers eyes pleading smothered gasping in air bellies ripped quickly skewered over fire. Sucking duck heads taste good really boiling in languid bath of oily broth. Squid speared too and tied with flaccid tentacles clove hitch bowlines fast to boom of death continuance birth and rebirth. Depleted. Fed. Depleted. Fed. Joy. Everywhere joy. Families. Lovers. Friends. Eat. Drink. Twist their ways through pulsating crowd hawkers beggars who always find me. African engineers diplomats. Some few americans who too cool maybe want need to avoid me or maybe just embarrassed to be american mistaken for tourist. I am your thorn. I want to call your bluff expose the absurdity of your truth. I am the proud american who says hey first who always never turns my head down sideways askance. Practiced feints. Enervating avoidance. Are you alive as me I want to say.
And then this old woman lady maybe once madame on shady bench makes me more alive sucking vestigial memories wisdom lessons pain loss everything that humanity wears probably like (or is) Penelope and me maybe I have returned to hearth destroyed by vagaries of fate. But no gods to praise thank remember resist blame. My temporal isness. Her isness. My fraud of words no match for hers—Go. Go. You go slowly. Through life? Next stall bench store hawker home? I do not take any more pictures. I look for Rob. Obscenely tall american god. Dave’s loud laugh cleaves the market like a village on the edge of mountains. The waypoints of this journey descent ascent. Drawn to siren songs. Us. Them. We and eddie and bill…We are in orbit around each other sucked in by gravity of familiar mutual assured levity and forbearance. Necessity. Will. Mere inclination.
Together we laugh and laugh and laugh. Trundle. Limp. Like old beggars under sacks knocked kneed backs bellies twisted by raw fish frogs roe jellyfish snake chewing sucking bones fat sinews of fated fowl flesh noodles grain liquor. I am like a child twirling in an arc bound to them following them completing them each other. We wend like untethered box cars towards hazy mountains draped in wispy belching of young factories insistent on more and more for them and we and me always wanting never really resting on that pinnacle orb. West Lake first sun in days floating outside of gravity. Sidewalks stretching cars busses people skirting going to ignoring beckoning the sun reminder of impermanence setting into west lake antiquity.
Out of tune street singer croaking swooning moon river beside crazy intersection maddened crazed by plastic steel sticky tar of importance. I have to need to want to do grab his guitar. Please. One song only. Crazy foreigner. Proud american. Lean on me I sing and mean it more than ever in pub club grass engulfed gazebo in small american town. I am an amalgam of vanity pretence sorrowful primal need to be will be heard. This is me. This is me. This is me. One song only and leave flattered full of plastic importance towards dissolving sun woven into perfect random intersection of elm sycamore willows leading beckoning drawing us to the lake. West Lake. Like faith. Unerring assurance of the improbable happening before us. Rob the improbable god. Daves unerring laugh and me scrunched on impossibly small bench lapped by ancient waters temples herons cleave the sky. Carp swirl to the surface. Cicadas scream from lowing branches. We. Rob. Dave. Me. We are a small sea. Mouth of river. Still cove. Dribbling stream awed and attached to dynasties. Histories. Stories. Mystic forging of lost regained recreated stories. Meticulously recorded guarded preserved in amber. Tradition. Remembrance. Disassembling the moment. Isness of this day. This perfect day.
Xenia. Peace. Disbelief of fate luck circumstance. We are the same stream melded out of all waters retreating returning cleansed. We buy soda from a machine. Check our phones. Remember to remember something. Fed. Depleted. Locked and freed by common things needs even dreams. We. Rob. Dave. Me. We hail a cab and return home.
I am a speck in this night. A single lamp in a concrete tower trapped high above the qiantang river. I do not have the power of the distant barge—dark shadow in moiling water carrier of mystery reality actual substance. I’ll go to sleep and dream: simple dreams unfettered dreams. Cranes. Skeletal steel wires pulleys resting on unfilled towers tentacled to muddy earth earth sucking shores sheathed in mirrors dated in hope need want. Escalators ascending descending everywhere. Hades. Heaven. Home. Solid places. Joy of with for in spite of because of kids. Indefatigable. And maybe please please please always release me from vanity terror of myself just give me me and you and your love—Isness. Perfect perfected solidity of remembrance.
Creating a Slam Poem
I honestly do not know the rules for a slam poetry competition, but I have seen my fair share. Below are some thoughts which “might” help you. The best thing is to read my screed and then watch the videos. Decide for yourself if what I say is true or not.
What is a Slam Poem: The million dollar question…
A slam poem is a performance poem that attempts to capture the big P’s of writing: poignant, profound, personal, persuasive, and powerful—and in many cases, you can throw in pissed-off, too, for a slam poem is perfect for attacking and/or exposing something that is just not right.
How long is a slam poem…
Most slam poems seen to fall within three to five minutes in length, which is pretty much the length of an average song you hear on the radio—and about the limit of the average attention span.
It is certainly not a bad idea to consider your slam poem a “song” of sorts, for a slam poem needs to work its magic on the first take. It is not like a Robert Frost poem where you’ll be willing to re-read, re-think and re-consider the poem.
A slam poem lives in the here and now! It lives through you reciting on stage. It lives because you are brave enough to wear your head and heart on your sleeve and to bleed your soul in a profound incantation of your humanity. It lives because you can also laugh and make people laugh and then cry and make people cry. It lives because your audience can walk out the door at the end of the night and know it was time well-spent—that their lives are in some measure richer and fatter and more meaningful because of your poetry.
A Way To Write a Slam Poem
Notice that I did not write “how to write a slam poem,” for I know enough of poetry and my own limitations to ever tell you how to be a poet (except, perhaps, to live like one!) and I know that there are enough permutations of poetry to fill parallel universes—and I am not the one to define the best model.
My words of advice and caution, however, can fill two or three universes, (so read on with caution, lest I spoil the broth of your soup!).
- Teach Yourself: If all you do is rely on me to help you along, you will probably never reach your full potential. Study on your own. Go online and see for yourself what is considered good slam poetry. Decide for yourself what is bad slam poetry. Resolve to never be a bad slam poet!
- Tell a Story: we are born to love stories that are well told, and I have yet to experience a slam poem which is not, at its core, a simple story, well told.
- Stick To What You Know: And stick to who you are! Slam poems and fiction are a bad combo from the start.
- Focus on a Problem: a story without a conflict is like an egg without a yolk. In a slam poem, the problem is front and center—and in many cases in our faces! You don’t have to solve this problem, but you do have to deal with it: explore it, maneuver around it, destroy it, contain it or overcome it.
- Hammer Home the Theme: Like Melville said: “A mighty story needs a mighty theme,” and as a write of slam poetry, it is your duty to unify your poem round a mighty theme, or else it won’t work. It might be funny, but dumb. It might sound profound, but really be just a jumble of confused thoughts. It might sound awesome, but be meaningless.
I often tell my students that a good song is like an essay, except the song has it easy. A song can hammer home its theme every time the chorus comes along. A slam poem (as a hybrid between essay and song) should find ways to continually re-engage the theme.
- Use Every Trick in the Book: Really! Pull out all of the stops. Use every poetic technique you know. Add a flair for drama and theater. Use your body, your tone, your gestures—anything that will help (not hurt) your performance. Most importantly: be you! If I have any criticism of slam poetry, it is that too many slam poets sound like the other slam poets, so it is hard to tell who is real and who is just doing a really good job of appearing real.
Here are some writing tricks….
~Really, really vary your sentence lengths: Teachers tell you this all of the time, but few students seem to listen—but in a slam “everybody” listens; hence, the effect of variation is massively important. Since a slam poem is a poem after all, short, choppy sentences are often effective vehicles for carrying poetic thoughts.
~Use Similes and Metaphors: Again this sounds really dumb and obvious, but do it! Don’t let your slam poem be a bunch of self-righteous statements and astute observations: give your audience cool and interesting imagery and actions to give palpable form to your words. Like Raymond Carver writes: “He smelled like a plumber’s handkerchief…”
~And Don’t Forget Parallelism: Thou Shalt Use Parallelism…The effect of parallelism has been proven time and again since before the days of the The Commandments. If not overdone, repeating phrases, openings, word types and patterns is always an effective poetic technique.
~Be Original: I should get a PHD for all of my amazing ideas here. I know. Telling someone to “be original” is not very original. But just try! Try to phrase your words in ways that just might never have been done before. Invent words if you have to…Just don’t be what most people are. If you use cliche—use it for a reason.
~Be You: You are the pure and ineffable you. You may not love yourself, but you certainly know yourself. Your life and mind and heart and soul and being is an endless mine for you to dig and sift through. There are scary places, for sure. We all have those places, but be brave enough to look deep within yourself–and share if it feels right. One of the greatest gifts of the poets is to share what most of us are afraid to share. Some philosopher once wrote, “A feeling is only made real when put into words.” I agree with this, and following this is the cornerstone to my life.
~Use Real Life Examples: If I had my way, I would make Fitz’s Law #76 that states that all statements must be supported by at least two interesting and vivid images and examples from actual real life. Too many slam poets end up sounding like predictable, political windbags with nothing new to say. They make proclamation after proclamation as if his or her insight is interesting. Your slam poem is not a podium, it is a stage to present your view of a slice—a small slice—of the world and your audience needs to see whatever image that is in your mind!
~Give a Damn: As a teacher it is aways tempting to give the kid who doesn’t give a damn a bad grade. 90% of the time, I can tell when someone is just going through the motions—eager enough for a good grade, so that it meets some minimum standard, but always less than his or her actual potential. The only reason don’t give out the horrible grade to these students is that other 10% who are working hard, but are just having a hard time with the assignment, and I want to be able to reward them for their efforts.
Giving a damn is an action, not merely an attitude. Accepts your gifts as an opportunity; address your shortcomings in the same way. Give a damn and do something with it or about it.
Sorry for the long ramble. Glean what you can and plant what you will…
Slam Technique #1
Here is a cool little assignment that works well as an introduction to slam poetry genre. It’s also a nifty way to add a little technology fun to the classroom by learning how to create a podcast on Garageband, though any recording platform is fine to use!
One Minute To Get Rid of It
We all have “things” that bug us, and it is a human need to get things off our chests; otherwise, we explode. The “One Minute To Get Rid of It” slamcast/poem exercise is simply a new and different way to create a mini-podcast and introduce basic slam poetry techniques.
I honestly don’t care if you call it a poem or not–as long as you follow these rules:
- The podcast needs to be “exactly” one minute long. Set the metronome in GarageBand on your iPad to 60. Your poem will need to be exactly 15 bars long with the last word coming in on the 60th beat. The metronome should be audible during the recording.
- There is one clearly articulated theme
- You have at least five specific images and actions
- You utilize at least three similes.
- You utilize at least two metaphors.
- You use at least three different forms of parallel structure.
- You back up any assertions you make with real-life proof
- There is some kind of background music or loops.
- It is exactly 60 seconds long
- You publish your slamcast
•Create the podcast on Garageband on the iPad or on your iphone–or on your computer at home!
•Save it to Soundcloud. Upload to your blog as an embed code.
Include the text of the piece below the podcast. Each line should be read as a breath; if there is more than a two second pause between lines, create a new stanza. If there is a change in subject matter, tone, or direction, then create a new stanza. It is up to you to structure the poem so that it will be “read” the way you wish it to be read.
Scratch & Dent Dreams
Fallin in “Like”`
~Big Poppa E
What Teachers Make
I Will Not Let an Exam Grade
Determine My Fate
What Kind of Asian Are You?
What Guys Look for in Girls
Love Looks Like
Some 8th Grade Slam Poems…
I Will Not Let Stereotypes Bring Me Down
I got a wonderful story to tell you.
So this guy comes to me right?
And he says
“How Asian are you?”
Well, I could go on and on and on about how I’m Asian yet American at the same time.
By the way, that’s called being Asian-American.
Wanna know how I’m related to Jackie Chan?
And how I can ace every math test?
I’ll show you how I can eat rice every day,
And how gooder than most people my English is.
Oh all Asians are Chinese?
That’s like saying:
“Oh you’re white? You must be German or Irish, or some other kind of white!”
How many Asians are in Chelmsford?
I know right? Totally none in Lexington or Acton.
I’m a FOB… Fresh off the boat, or nowadays “Fresh of the Airplane”.
My eyes are small. I get it. I’ll tell you this:
If you ever laugh at my eyes, I’ll laugh at your grades.
Why are their stereotypes in the world?
Obviously they come from somewhere,
True, false, somewhere in between,
That’s the only difference.
Do stereotypes have any truth to them?
Or is it just the way people say them… That make them sound true?
There will never be a way to get rid of stereotypes.
When we do, another one will develop
“Oh your parents don’t own a dry cleaner or a restaurant? You’re not a true Asian”
Only stereotypes inspire and motivate us to defy them.
Rather than deny them, it’s best if we just accept them, because there will never be an end to stereotypes in the world,
But in any situation, you can never let stereotypes bring you down.
All hold expectations
Expectations that you are expected to follow
Expectations that you should achieve
“Tonight work on your paragraph for an hour”
That is what they expect
For us to go home
And work on our paragraph for an hour
But what about Social Studies
Our social life
Have they forgotten about those?
“Tomorrow will be a test”
Do they expect us to prepare over the night?
Because we don’t
We go home
Our minds a battlefield between
Expectations and reality
That makes our emotions explode
But that is not what they expected of us.
“Try as hard as you can and you will get a good grade”
Parents try too hard to be optimistic
But all they are doing
Is triggering a spark
A spark that will trigger our emotions to power on
Our stress to come to such a high level
That we start to think
To think about what it would be like
To fade away
Because these expectations
Are impossible to live up to
Because we can never do our best
It is impossible to do our very best
Every time they expect us to
“I bet you got a good score on your SSAT”
Is that what defines me?
Just because I am in the highest math class
That means I am good at everything?
Is that really what defines me?
Because if I am your friend
Just because my mind is quick
Then say goodbye
Because you should see my heart
Before you see my mind
And you should see my heart
Before you see anything else
Because maybe I didn’t get a good SSAT score
But I didn’t call myself stupid
Because I know that you expected me
To do something that I couldn’t do
Because I am not perfect in every way
It is impossible to be
But that is what they expect of us
To be perfect in every way.
“I can do this”
But what if you can’t?
Have you ever thought of that?
What if you can’t live up
To the expectations
That you set upon yourself
By setting expectations
That you can’t live up to
You are slowly ticking down a
That will blow you up
Into a mess of sadness anger and stress
And every time you think that you can do something
The bomb is one step closer to explode
You are one step closer to quitting
Because it is impossible to live up
To even your own expectations
And when that bomb explodes
Your sense of logic will explode with it
Throwing away all opportunities
That you could have pushed for
Could have reached for
But now they are out of your grasp
Because those expectations were too much to handle
My bomb has gone off
That is the eternal problem.
Equality among races.
When confronted people rarely know what diversity is.
It means that one should acknowledge one’s differences,
And not judge them for those differences but rather welcome them for who they really are.
Looking beneath the surface is what really matters.
However, that is not always the case.
Even in my own school community,
One of the places I feel most safe,
I feel alone.
I am one of a small number of colored people in the grade.
There is no place I can truly be myself if I want to fit in.
The Diversity Committee has been taken over,
By people who could care less about furthering the equality of races,
And more about furthering their extra-curricular activity list.
Everyone claims to be diverse.
They say they treat people of all races the same.
But it is hard for people to ignore
The one black dot on a piece of white paper.
Day by day my culture is torn apart.
To fit in, I have to change to way I am.
Everyone always says to be yourself,
But how can I do that,
When there is no one who can truly understand me.
My friends would argue
That they don’t treat me any differently.
But I’ve been around long enough
To see that it isn’t that simple.
I can hear the jokes about race that people make.
And I try to pretend that it doesn’t get under my skin.
So I laughing with them,
Hoping it won’t hurt as much.
But it always does.
I feel as if I’m worth the color of my skin.
Or that I should only stick to studying because that’s what people expect me to do.
Or that the only job I’m suited to get is behind a desk.
And every time someone lumps me in with different nationalities,
Like they think we are all the same.
It tears away who I really am.
I feel angry when people ask if my skin was naturally that color or if I just fell asleep in the sun.
I feel scared when the teacher says everyone’s name perfectly,
except mine because it is so different.
And I feel weird being the only colored person in a room and having all eyes on me,
like I’m going to explode and they don’t want to miss the show.
And I feel sad when I’m excluded because quote on quote “I’m not cool enough because of my skin color.”
But I still feel pride.
I still feel Asian.
I still feel Indian.
I still feel American.
But most importantly I still feel like me.
Treating People Differently
Every Single day you go home and your mom asked you how was your day
You reply good and walk away
You are too afraid to talk everything you saw today
Everyone bullying each other and every treating people differently
It seems if you are not one kids friend he hates you
He will treat you like crap
When you walk down school hallways it is like a war zone
Every 20 feet there is a group of friends talking shielding everyone and everything away
It feels like world war three is about to erupt one little thing and boom fights break out
Just because people were treating people differently
Everyone is trying to make you into that perfect kid
High Schools and colleges make standards for kids to get in
Friend groups have certain standard for you to be their friends
Everything and everyone is treating people differently
Why can’t everyone be treated the same
Would did they do to you
Why are you treating them bad
Look in the mirror and ask yourself why
Why are you acting so rude
Why is everyone trying to be jerks
Why do you hate kids for no reason
Well let me tell you why
You want to be known
You don’t what to be that kid in the back of the class
You want your friends to think your tough
But really it shows that you are weak
It shows that you are broken down inside.
Why are you treating people differently
Blessed Is the Chaos
Thoughts are everywhere, nowhere
Coveted, by those that can’t make themselves
But do themselves
This isn’t an assignment
Isn’t it all an assignment?
Free souls drift empty halls
Socialize with lost dreams
Flirt with reality
And float among life as it is meant to be
Nobody notices the bustle of those halls.
The ones you see crossing those halls completed your assignment,
and are traveling from room to room
With a purpose that they don’t understand but know is there
He wanted to be a doctor
So he made the hallway a hospital ward
He studied the sicknesses of those that crossed the halls
Those that ended up in the rooms,
He can pick his poison
I was once only feeling
I was once only feeling
Working and writing others
I was safe and alone
But I am from narrative
From creation and created
I am from red-hot bloodshot eyes
From untold, written lies
I am from the books unread on my shelf
I was once myself
I was the plastic and shattered horde
Before the scratched, shining sword
I am from the black mask against the sabre
From white plastron against labor
I am from cameras and pens
From uninterested friends
I am left unable to blame
For not wanting to bite the fame
I always was from movies
But now I have become the action
I was from jokes of power and pride
Until I became the punchline
I am from a sense of humor
I am from my brothers
I am from computer parts and broken discs
I am from dead pixel monitors
And untaken boring risks
I am from four AM rants
Last minute cant’s
I am from made-up chants
In ripped and torn underpants
I am sleep lost
I am from the face-down mat
From tuition cost
Taken from a long chat
I am from air-mattress home
I am from arm-wrestle parents
From New Jersey grays
To Massachusetts whites
I am from moving calm
I was an unused keyboard
I was friends without motives
I was never looking for reward
And still with emotions
I am from change
And I am now strange
I am because
I have become narrative
I am now only creating
And I have become my own skin pale canvas
They call themselves your friends
Except your friends are people who want you to stay you;
Not change you, mutate you
Into somebody they like better
Putting themselves into your life
To benefit only themselves
Friends making you smile every time they say:
“You’re the best!”
But making you wince every other word of
“Annoying” and “hey stupid”
They can’t be your friends;
Eating you away from the inside out
And always stopping to thank you
As if you appreciate them using you
Picking you last for everything;
Making sure that when you play dodgeball
That you get pelted not only with their gators skin balls
But with their insults and lies
Mechanically made from years of
“No”Stop that” and “Cmon man”
Using you for what you have to offer;
Picking the apples right off the tree
The only thing is that this isn’t seasonal
It’s year round
Taking what you have and ripping it to shreds
Then taking those strips and throwing them away
Like they didn’t matter;
Weren’t good enough for them
Like a witch using dark spells to change you
From real you to somebody artificially made
Only to deal with you
For who you really are
They can’t be your “buddies”
Because maybe you will find one friend
Who stays with you
For who you are;
Not for what you offer to them
Most of us fall for it;
But, in a forest filled with deserted trees
Left with no apples
There is one, one ripe with many
Because he didn’t fall for the gimmicks
Didn’t fall for the word “friend”
Because there is only one you
One real you
That has the power to leave their footprint
On the world
With a different shoe size
Than everyone else
Not to become someone
Who you were not meant to be
You were not born to fulfill
No, you weren’t born just as a human body
You were born with a mind and soul
To make you somebody different from the rest
You weren’t not born to give up what you have
No, no, no friending mutation
Is a one-way ticket to being
Just one more normal person
In this averaged population world
Taking advantage of you
Your need to have somebody in your life
To be there
But they can’t be your friends
Changing you and your life
And day by day
They take an apple off your tree
And take a great big bite
Act Like You Mean It
In case you hadn’t seen it yet,
At some point the world became completely full of fake people.
Oh, and I’m not just talking about nose jobs and photoshop here,
I’m talking about the intrinsically dishonest way that people
Walk and talk and live their lives. There oughta be Oscars for everyday people
Cause if you can convince me that that smile you’re giving me is genuine,
Then by god that’s two astounding acting performances.
The problem really isn’t fake people, it is the need for people to be fake
In order to not get into a major brawl with society.
The problem is that the guy who served me my lunch and said “Have a good day”
Really wanted to say “I hope you choke on that burger.”
The problem is that people are raised to think and talk politely,
But somewhere along the line they learn that they can just think crudely and talk pretty,
And ain’t nobody gonna be the wiser.
Except for me. I’m gonna be the wiser.
Cause no matter how pretty you walk and talk
I still see your teeth grinding when you turn away,
And I still hear you mumble under your breath
And I still can feel your eyes, like a wood axe, hacking into the back of my skull.
The way people act hasn’t changed totally, just the way they act
For the sake of everyone else. Cause if I weren’t around, you wouldn’t
Say anything about those dying trees, would ya?
If I weren’t around, you wouldn’t anything about those starving kids in the streets,
Now would ya?
When you stop listening to me, you might clap
or you might not. You might go along with your days, doing the same old fake routine. But I implore you, to stop being people of two faces; you gotta choose to be mean and act mean,
Or be nice and act nice. You Either gotta do nothing and say nothing,
Or ya gotta get up, Feed those kids, save those trees, quit grinding your teeth, and serve that burger with genuine pride, and don’t you dare do it for the sake of anyone else.
Do it for yourself.
Maybe nobody will be able to tell. Maybe it won’t change a thing.
But no matter what you do,
you sure as hell won’t be a worse person for it.
So maybe, just maybe,
You ought to stop acting well,
And start living like well.
How can you get to that point? It’s simple. Work your way up.
Start small; Say thank you, smile and mean it. Eventually,
You’ll make it to a point where everything you do is genuine.
But how can you really start?
Well, you can start right now by applauding.
What Is Slam Poetry?
Well, but Fitz, he mumbles, “What is slam poetry?”
Fitz stares across the table
As if he had been waiting for this moment his whole life,
As if he had a whole piece written 5 years earlier just for this moment,
But that’s not what matters.
You can take whatever old
Rotten “by the book” definition
but that’s not really the way Fitz does it.
So he clears his throat
Gives us a glance
Slam poetry is what YOU make it
Slam poetry is YOU writing what YOU think
Because you don’t give a damn what anyone thinks
Except for you.
Slam poetry is taking your thoughts
And making them actions,
It is taking a bland opinion
And turning it into a raging fire of impression.
But slam poetry isn’t just about what you write,
It’s how you perform.
It’s standing up
And saying it like you mean it.
It’s taking your thoughts
And announcing them with authority.
It’s speaking with such a passion,
That when that audience walk out of that room
You have scorched their brain with the hot iron press of you
And taken one small part of their life and making that a little bit bigger.
Slam poetry is speaking from the heart
And taking that social norm
And molding it to what you think is right.
So now let me ask you,
What is slam poetry to you?