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Line Breaks with Marc Bamuthi Joseph

While I was in Madison over the weekend, I went to a poetry slam that was hosted by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. The Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI) and UW Arts Institute in conjunction with the Wisconsin Union Directorate Theater Committee sponsored the Youth Speaks Wisconsin Teen Poetry Slam Finals. The finals consisted of teens ages 13-19; most were in high school with the exception of one 7th grader and one UW-Madison freshman. Of the 13 contestants, 4 were women. There were two rounds where the 13 were narrowed to the best 7. The two scores were averaged and then the top three were sent to Youth Speaks. This Hip-Hop Theater Presentation was absolutely fabulous! I loved the young poet’s work and their attitude. Many dug deep to personal lengths and pain and some spoke on politics. I had one favorite by the girl who took first place, I believe it was called honey sweet handsome. There was one poem that I took issue to based on my own opinions and beliefs, but I understand where he was coming from and what his point was supposed to be. DJ was in the second round when he performed “And You’re Supposed To Be A Man?? The reason I did not like this poem was because in it, he was preaching to women to hold on the themselves (a.k.a. their virginity) because the men who want to have sex aren’t looking for wives and they will just toss women aside – and you’re supposed to be a man? Moving past that, the second round was very amazing. The kids brought out the secret weapons and really reached out. One teen named Cory did a poem between his two personalities, a kind of devil/angel take on hip-hop. One boy stood up and did a take on America where he stated that third world countries are America’s broken condom. And that is just a taste of some of the hits thrown at America or society at large.


After the slam, Marc got up and performed for all of us. He addressed issues like What is real hip-hop? He states that it is NOT the misogynistic “club? music that is heard everywhere. He was forced to come out of the club and look to not-so-mainstream forms of hip-hop. He started doing “poetry with motion? after teaching a sophomore-level Black Literature class where he would use poetry to teach the kids about the reading. His poetry overall was very moving and difficult to catch, but what you did receive was very influential.

Of snakes and trees
Like adam and eve
From leaves to roots
fascination with family is a taste for strange fruit
So strange looks like a darker version of you
Our story is a sojourn on the back of a snake
crossed the seas in pursuit of the music
Settled in the space where drum and bass
And blood and sweat kneel down to pray
Eden is evening by the fire with flute
family tree
Transplanted in America
Bears us
Strange fruit
This “strange fruit? idea was present throughout the entire performance. I must say, that my favorite part was when he was talking about his friend Molly and his adventure in Senegal. Apparently, Molly was the first African American he had ever met and she was a white skinny girl. He decided to go to Senegal and have somewhat of an adventure when he was stripped of cash and called Molly to save him from being stricken to the streets. She took him with her to the “middle of NOwhere? to discuss female genital mutilation with village leaders and try to convince them to reconsider their traditions and cultures to make way for more modern ideas. When they visited one village, there were hundreds of people outside of the building Molly and the leader were in when Molly came out to tell him to distract the people so she could talk to the leader. Somehow, through a form of tap dancing and making a fool of himself, Molly got the deal with the leader. Overall, quite a strange day for Marc. He now has a very different view of ‘word’ because in front of these people, he could not speak to them in a language that they would understand. This was a very big deal for him since he IS a poet.

I admired his movement and integration of his argument for “old school? hip-hop rather than the misogynist “club? music. The poetry slam and Marc’s performance were very moving and gave me a different perspective on other’s lives. These young people had a lot to say about the differences between mainstream society and ‘where I come from.’ The series is called Line Breaks and I saw the series kick-off on Saturday, 2/24 at 7pm at the UW Union Theater.

Line Breaks Presents:
2/26 – Jeff Chang, author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation and Rennie Harris, editor of Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop

3/3 8pm – OMAI/DANE DANCES DanceFest (a benefit for first wave scholarships) featuring “In Black N’ White? and Sambadá.

3/5 7pm – Alix Olson, queer spoken word artist.

3/? 7pm – Kamilah Forbes, Executive producer of Russell Simmons’ HBO Def Poetry Jam

3/19 7pm – Danny Hoch, director of ‘Pot Melting’ and ‘Some People’ and writer of “Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop.?

3/26 7pm – Dennis Kim, one of the founders of ‘I Was Born With Two Tongues’ and co-founder of ‘Typical Cats’ and has released two albums and Mayda Del Valle, who is AWESOME.

4/9 7pm – Lauren Whitehead, a senior at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who is “considered one of the premier young spoken word artists in the nation.?

4/16 7pm – Rafael Casal, the youngest poet to appear on Russell Simmons’ Presents Def Poetry on HBO and Dahlak Brathwaite, a member of the Berkeley Slam Team.

4/26 8pm – Grammy-nominated Omar Sosa and his Afreeconos Quartet as a benefit for first wave scholarships with an Isthmus Jazz Series Event.

Youth Speaks Wisconsin is “the first University-based spoken word and urban arts center in the country, initiated in 2005.
The Line Breaks Series is held at the Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium at 816 State Street in Madison. You can find more information here.