The Poetry of Detroit
I have written many words over the past year. Today, I will be (largely) silent.
Instead, I bring you the poetry of two Detroiters: Myriha Burton and William T. Langford, the winners of the 2010 Detroit Jazz Fest Poetry Slam. I offered to host their words on the blog, and I'd like to live up to that promise.
These two extraordinary poets are to be celebrated. Read their words aloud if you would – an old professor taught me that trick…Poetry isn't for the eyes. It is for the ears.
Background: The Jazz Fest presented the “Rhythm, Roots & Rhyme” event with the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and InsideOut Literary Arts Project. The competition had youth and adult sessions. This was the first such event, and it wasn't easy to win.
Both poets are alumni of InsideOut's Citywide Poets — Burton in 2010 and Langford in 2007.
InsideOut Literary Arts Project places professional writers in Detroit classrooms to expose youth to the literary arts, publish their work and improve school performance. As an InsideOut student at Cass Technical High School, Will Langford edited his school's literary journal. He also joined InsideOut's Citywide Poets, an after-school club of Detroit teens who work on the craft of writing with adult poetry mentors and perform their work in many community venues. Through CWP, Langford represented Detroit in the Brave New Voices National Youth Poetry Slam and took state and national awards for his poetry.
Will attributes much of his development as a poet to IO. “InsideOut is a story that doesn't get told. You get exposure to poetic form. That's important for young poets. You're taught a reverence for classics while being encouraged to embrace contemporary art. I give it a lot of credit for helping me to become a whole artist.”
More on Mr. Langford: Born and bred in Detroit City, William T. Langford first fell in love with the poetry of Langston Hughes and Cluade McKay. His love for SLAM poetry came soon after. Once the high school years at Detroit's Cash Tech were over, William headed to Michigan State University, where he discovered a lack of a program tailored specifically to SLAM poetry. Hence, the founding of the MSU Slam Poetry Team. Langford is currently a senior-level English major, with specializations in communication and sociology. He will attend graduate school in the fall in a literary studies program. He is looking to Yale, Princeton, and Columbia, among others for his graduate studies.
More on Ms. Burton: Bred on the east side of Detroit, Burton's elementary and high school education was through the Detroit Public School system and her middle school years were spent at a charter school. During Myriha's 10th grade year, the best thing possible happened to her; she joined an after school, community service based program called Teen H.Y.P.E. At Teen H.Y.P.E, Myriha wrote her first of many poems for a play in one of their projects. During that same year, Myriha hit the youth poetry scene with a bang. She landed a spot on the 2008 Detroit Youth Slam Team to represent her city at the national youth poetry slam better known as Brave New Voices.
Myriha went on to join Citywide Poets to help her hone her creativity. She was given the opportunity to work with award winning writers from all over. She credits both organizations for the development of the person she is today. Citywide helped with the technical and business part of her growth and Teen H.Y.P.E has been the family outside of her home that many kids from the inner city need to stay out of trouble.
During Burton's senior year of high school, she sought out to be a member of the most recognized urban arts collective at the University of Wisconsin-Madison called First Wave. This collective offers a full-tuition scholarship for all four years and it's based around building an artistic community on campus. It was perfect for what Myriha wanted to do, which was pursue arts, and her financial situation, which was rough. Though it's still tough financially and being 430 miles from everything she's ever known to call home, she's happy for her decision to attend school out of state (even if it's Wisconsin).
Poets and Men
William T. Langford IV
There are two types of people
Poets and men
Those who realize that the
Revolution will not be televised
And those who think they're watching it unfold
Like they folded it up in our city for ABC*
Who can't see that on February 6th (200)
Our homeless population
Scattered like roaches when the lights came on
From the rug we swept them under
Thinking that for one night they might forget
That it's cold outside in The D'
The only city with as many churches as liquor stores
As many priests as whores
As many beauty supplies per block
Promising afro-sheen* dreams
And synthetic locks
As there are pregnant teens on my block
There are poets and there are men
Those that watch “Action News”
And those that say, “That's the news!”
Reading prophesy from graffiti
Tattooed on brick walls
Political poets, gone religious asking
“Where's my God went?”
Def Poets* and men, deaf to the sound
Of crack vials crushing beneath gym shoes
Bland to the taste of the sugar-coated-
What poets know is agent orange
Future crack fiend hoop dreams
There are poets and there are men
Those who watched “Hustle and Flow”
And thought they knew something bout pimpin.
And those that added hustle to their flow
Poets, pimping the pen
Purging this placid plane
For the perfect verse
Those that blame this acid rain on barometric pressure
And those that know
This rain is
Sweat from the backs of
Blood from the knuckles of
The unconsciously conscious
The world is cold
And grow old
On stories told of yesteryear
There are poets… and there are men
Those that see broken souls
Beggin' for a quarter more in the Cass Corridor
And those that see limbs and torsos and feet
That used-to pop-and-lock to a 70's hip-hop beat
Those that look up to the
“Give me the people and free my soul….I love rock and roll”
And those that know
Here, the dope boys are the rock stars.
There are the socially adept & the socially inept
The sympathetic, the apathetic and
The past pathetic
That steal souls with contracts and dotted lines
Contract our flow (constrict our voice) restrict our verse
Till we really are DEAF poets
Till we rock poems and metaphors at the top
Of our lungs
That can't be heard
That all serve the same purpose
To differentiate between these lives
And end with these lines:
There are poets,
And there are men
Every morning I walk my
Nephew to school.
I stay two steps behind him
Because nobody else seems
To have his back.
I've heard kids on the
Playground tease him about
Having his auntie fight
But since teething rings
And baby rattles,
I'm all he's had.
No smiling bullets,
Is what got a hold
Of my brother,
His mother works 16 hours,
But needs 24 hour rehab
Because every since that
Incident that took my
She can't sleep at night.
So she pops O.C's and Vike's
Hoping that it'll help her
That the same country
Her husband left to fight for
Left three shells by his slain body.
My nephew's name is Robe'
And I'm the most influential
Figure in his life.
Every morning I wake up
Baring the responsibility
To teach him wrong
Because the last thing I want
Is for my nephew to become a number.
Like the 1/7 people in Detroit
the 3/5 with an STD
or the 4 digits printed on a toe tag.
I tell him to not get comfortable
With the number in
His age because
Even that's temporary.
I try to distract him with
Childish games such as
Zing zing zing like a washing machine
To keep his innocence clean.
I don't let him play with water guns
Because I don't want him
Familiar with the feeling
Of clips in his palms,
Triggers on his fingers,
And pointing barrels at targets.
Some people may call me over protective
But this world just hasn't done
An adequate job at protecting.
They say children are the future?
Well that's synonymous with saying
That the future is dead.
Because anytime back in Detroit
a boy can be executed
In his own front yard by
And receive nothing more
Than a seven line newspaper article,
And a closed casket funeral,
There's something fucked up.
And I feel like I haven't done enough
Because all I could give Jamar Pinkney Jr.
Was a haiku-
The great will die young
But there story will live on
With them forever.
However, I don't want my nephew
To be one of those,
“hey do you remember that kid that…”,
Urban myths .
I'm trying to mold him into
One of those,
“hey, did you see that kid just…”,
It's a damn shame that my inspiration
For writing this piece is rooted
From a conversation.
I said “Robe',
What do you want to be when
You grow up?”
He didn't say that he wanted to be
Or a lawyer,
Some Tom Sawyer writer,
Or afire fighter.
Hell I would've been fine
If he would've told me he wanted
To be a puppy.
At least then would
He be expecting a great change
My nephew looked at me
When I grow up,
I just want to be alive.”
The only thing more startling
Than his response
Was its validity.
Every morning I walk my
Nephew to school.
And I stay two steps behind him
Hoping that somebody else
Will join me on this journey
So I won't be the only one
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