Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Third Poetry Reading

Tonight, I read at Live Lit, which is this event the Department of English has begun this year. Basically, you submit a manuscript to three judges (English professors, mostly), and, if they like your work, they allow you to read as part of an event with four to five other undergraduate writers.
I’ve always wanted my poetry to be read out loud and for people to like it, but I was still a nervous about this event. I tried to get a friend to apply with me, thinking that if he was doing it too I might feel like I have a comrade, but he wasn’t interested, so I decided to do it myself.
It was such a pleasure, getting that email that said I could read, but once I realized I had to do it, I was back to being a wreck. So, as always, I practiced. Not just the poems themselves, but the stories in-between, which my friend Lia told me were necessary to reengage the audience.
And then I got up there and do what I do best: myself.
I don’t talk about it often, but I come from a performing arts background. I was one of those kids who took dance classes, acted in plays, sung in choirs, trained as an opera singer, directed plays, performed in student news programs and at my high school’s annual Forensic’s Day. I turned to writing, on a lark really, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m still a little unsure of the performance aspect of poetry, but I felt so good about tonight. People laughed at my jokes, they enjoyed the poetry, and I knew they listened and cared. I must say, I totally rocked it, and from what everyone else said to me afterward, my fifteen minutes went over really well.
When I was up there, I felt like I was the most beautiful thing on the planet, if only for a few minutes.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad

Heavy Metal in Baghdad is a documentary following a metal band named Acrassicauda, composed solely of young Iraqi men. In the film, these young men attempt to play gigs despite the invasion by US troops and the sectarian violence that has become such a typical part of what Americans imagine when they think of Iraq. As the occupation of the country becomes too intense, the band defects to nearby Syria. Although they were originally profiled in an article for Vice magazine and have become well-known outside of Iraq as the only Iraqi metal band, they struggle in the film not only to be a coherent band but to find work and support themselves and their families. The film leaves them in Syria, impoverished.
You can't help but feel sorry for these young men. They yearn for freedom to do something as simple as grow out their hair (which is illegal in Iraq) so that they can headbang. Watching them attempt the same kind of hair moves that have so long been a staple of the likes of Headbang's Ball to the point where it's mocked in America makes you consider how something as basic as the hair you have and what you choose to do with it is not necessarily a part of other people's freedom.
The film is an example of how American pop culture integrates itself into surprising places. No one here in America would associate metal music with Iraq, and yet there are obviously fans. The film makes the argument that one of America's best exports is its pop culture. One of the first things that anti-American states do is outlaw American television shows, movies and music, because those governments understand how seductive our culture is. On some level, it has become our best ambassador, since it manages to capture the imaginations of so many and show them that America, despite being imperfect, still strives to be the land of the free. Through metal music, these young men not only have a way to express themselves, but have bought into aspects of American culture.
MTV has created a great film for starting a discussion on the effects of the US's occupation of Iraq. You could easily see this film used in a high school class as a way to get students interested in the issues and to relate to other young people. Iraq is the fastest growing refugee crisis, which often isn't discussed in the American media, and this film gives a human face to a small group of Iraqi refugees.
If you've seen the film and you're wondering, the band members have since made it to America.

Friday, March 19, 2010

“Your war drums ain’t louder than this breath.”

One of the many things I do in my spare time is work for MSU’s Center for Poetry. I love it. It’s been a good opportunity to meet a lot of talented people, and I think it may have rubbed off on me.
Tonight, we had Suheir Hammad perform for us. We don’t do a lot of slam poetry at the Center, but it’s always a nice change of pace.
Hammad was amazing. I’m always impressed by a good slam poet (I’m looking at you, Shane Koyczan and Mos Def). I love that she was not afraid to by funny or silly. And I loved that she wrote poetry about women. Slam poetry, at least in my mind, is a male dominated art, and sometimes I see slam pieces that hate on women (And for that, I’m looking at you, Kanye.) Her last poem in particular, she asked us, as an audience, to imagine “the feminine.” I imagined my Feminism class, how we’re reading French Feminism that talks about that. And I thought about women. The poem was about women who are broken, and I couldn’t help but think about every woman I’ve seen make her body up like she’s her own doll, and how every time she comes home she doesn’t feel any better.
If you ever get a chance to see her, do it. You’ll be glad. You’ll walk out feeling stronger.
Attached are a few videos are her. This one is incredible. Political poetry is so hard, but she totally pulls it off.

This next one is the poem she opened up on. I loved it. Again, such great alliteration. It’s a perfect combination.

“Your war drums ain’t louder than this breath.”
The only thing I would say about these videos is that she is much more intense live. I was sitting less than three feet away from her, and when she looked into my eyes, I know she saw everything.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Manifesto

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

Ranier Maria Rilke

A week ago, I went to a Festival of Listening, which was a poetry reading of poems all in foreign languages. Someone read the German version of this poem, which I’ve fallen in love with.
I’m particularly enamored of the first line. This is exactly how I want to live my life: in ever widening circles. I love learning and discovering new and different things, and I want my life to be full of that feeling you have when you’ve stumbled upon something important. I want to keep finding important things.
My goal with this blog is simple: force myself to have new experiences, either in the world or through art, and write about them. I want to challenge myself to keep thinking and striving to be something more.
I want to keep circling that primordial tower, but honestly, I’m not sure if I need an answer to that last question. I’d be happy to be one, or two, or three of those things. Or something else entirely.