Each Wednesday, Rocks Off arbitrarily appoints one lucky local performer or group "Artist of the Week," bestowing upon them all the fame and grandeur such a lofty title implies. Know a band or artist that isn't awful? Email their particulars to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About six months ago, we interviewed a performance poet named Outspoken Bean for this here column. At the time, it was the first time we interviewed someone from his genre. Naturally, after his feature ran, we received a small snowstorm of emails from other poets who were looking to be written about. It's the same thing we see whenever we write about anyone, really. The majority of them were pretty much terrible (again, not unlike what happens week in and week out). One of them, however, seemed more than deserving of the Artist of the Week crown: Tina B. Tina B. is almost exactly what you'd want a performance poet to be: observant, eloquent, charismatic and able to keep your interest long enough to make you realize that, despite all of the goofy stereotypes you want desperately to apply to the slam poetry genre, it is legit. We nabbed a few minutes of her time to ask her whether or not slam poets are more genuine than all other artists, why there are never poets on Cribs and why they're always preaching about single mothers with HIV. Go.
Rocks Off: How does one decide that they want to be a slam poet or a performance poet? It seems like a weird thing to aspire to be. We don't know if that sounds negative or not, but it isn't meant to be. Weird is cool; well, not all weird. Dungeons and Dragons weird isn't cool. You get the point.
Tina B: Yeah, it is an off-beat profession compared to the norms we learn in school. But if you're thinking about slamming, you should definitely be real with yourself first: Are you a performer or not? For most poets, what you see on stage comes from within. Of course we all work on our crafts to be better performers, but the majority of what you see starts inside us. I remember a line in one of my favorite movies, Sister Act 2. Whoopie Goldberg says to Lauryn Hill, "If when you wake up in the morning you can't think of nothing else but singing, then you're supposed to be a singer, girl." For some reason, that always stuck with me. I think if you have the talent, your decision should be "do I want to work on it," which you should. Marcus Buckingham and Russell Simmons say it best when they say stick to your strengths and do you. RO: Are there any rich poets, or is it a salt of the earth type of art? We don't think we've ever seen a poet on Cribs.
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TB: I see what you're saying and I agree. Not every poet is on the Common and Jill Scott level, or making crib money like them. But I think it's still early in the evolution of the spoken word industry. It may be just the salt of the earth now, but there are big names that are helping push poetry to a forefront, like J. Ivy in "Never Let Me Down" with Kanye and Jay-Z. Tell me that's not a hot song and I'll call you a liar! [laughs] But it's just a matter of time. RO: If there aren't any rich poets, then does that make you all more artistically genuine than other arts where people can get rich? Like, does knowing beforehand that someone will never really make a lot of money by doing something give them undeniable integrity, or does it just make them foolish?
TB: Nah, not foolish. Like I said, doing you and staying true to who you are is such a great reward in itself. Frankly, I don't want to work for money. Ever. I want to work for fun, thrill, excitement, the challenge; all the intangibles that are priceless. See, that's my cake. Money is the icing.
RO: Can performance poets possess levity? It's like every poem I've ever heard had something to do with a single mother getting HIV or how urban teenagers always end up in prison. Has anyone ever written a poem about Butterfingers? Butterfingers are delicious. T: Absolutely! And it's actually funny you ask. Some members of Prairie View's Productive Poets wrote a poem about McDonald's; funniest thing I ever heard. I also went to a slam in Austin in April and it felt like I was in a poetic comedy club. Poets were talking about the most random things like grooming their thick beards, owning a dog, being a nerd, mutual habits with Michael Phelps, the list went on and on. And it wasn't corny poetry either. It was pure comedy in a very tasteful, creative and artistic kind of way. None of the depressing stuff. Congrats to Faylita Hicks and the Austin's 2009 Slam Team! Get more info on Tina B. and her upcoming performances at www.tinabpoetry.com. She also sells custom Poetic Paintings® and custom poems in Larson-Juhl frames. Buy one for someone. It's certainly better than that "Name A Star After Someone" thing you were considering.