by SPIN El Poeta
for National Poetry Month, April 2020
Wajxaqib’ Aq’ab’al (Escrito)
Jun Toj (Editado)
Keb’ Tz’i’ (Finalizado)
Saludos familia, desde el territorio ancestral Cree e Inuit de Whapmagoostui/Kuujjuarapik.
I AM a Guatemayan refugee, child of a single mother, keeper of the sacred Mayan Cholq’ij calendar, spoken word poet, rapper and youth advocate. I AM the founder of the spoken word series LA3 Raza Open Mic designed to feature Indigenous, African Diaspora and Latin American artists in a BIPOC intentional space for intercultural learning. I AM also the sole proprietor of arts education enterprise One Mic Educators founded to uplift the minds of racialized youth because they are gifted and their voices matter. It’s my pleasure to share reflections on my world of poetry. Due to the theme of this essay, I’m not providing translations for my opening lines. I challenge you to find the meaning. This essay is interactive so feel free to click the links as you read for art and more as you read!
What a year!
Mama earth is finally healing.
Humanity is hurting
Coronavirus has gripped the world.
Conservative trump has managed to boondoggle the US response along with everything else he’s done during his presidency. Our liberal prime minister and his BC NDP lapdog Horgan have been deadest on setting up man-camps and build pipelines on unceded Indigenous territories without consent of the Heriditary chiefs out west.
Three political spectrums of government screwing over we the people. Ironically, my autocorrect doesn’t recognize the word unceded (add it!). Small wonder the government doesn’t either. Particularly jarring is the hypocrisy of the Provincial NDP government in BC enshrining the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) into law…and then proceeding to desecrate that declaration by arresting and removing hereditary chiefs and matriarchs from their land in the pursuit of this blasted pipeline!
What the hell does this have to do with poetry?
It would be an absolute disservice to my DNA to leave these injustices these injustices that weigh heavy on my heart buried in silence.
During the last decade, I have brought over one thousand youth from inner city neighbourhoods out to Indigenous territories, particularly the Six Nations Territory of the Grand River. Through One Mic Educators, and funding from Canadian Heritage and the Canadian Network of Arts & Learning, I coordinated a youth video poem focused on Immigrant Indigenous Friendship, supported Indigenous youth in the creation of poetry on their territories and coordinated black youth consultations in Toronto for the Michaelle Jean Foundation, presented and mobilized youth to present at international conferences in Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax.
I must say ǧiáxsix̌a to my Haíłzaqv family out west who welcomed me into their territory in repeatedly to teach poetry to the babies through the funding by the League. In 2019, I had the privilege of working with elders in this nation who taught their 14 000 year old language to the youth poets. I then witnessed youth share their art at a community open mic we organized. Mere days after this powerfully uplifting experience I landed in Vancouver (traditional territories of the Coast Salish Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh First Nations) to represent the Toronto Poetry Slam at the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam (CIPS). At CIPS, I competed among 32 poets for national spoken word supremacy.
What is a poetry slam you ask?
It would be my pleasure to tell you, Jonah Hill wasn’t too far off the mark. A poetry slam is a goofy-ass competitive genre of spoken word where five audience members are chosen randomly (or should be…) by the slam master to score spoken word poems immediately following the performance. The poet with the highest scores at the end, wins. I have 4 poetry slam champ titles under my belt including a provincial and national one that Toronto routinely crushes. None of which means anything of course, except for a modest bump in my booking fees. In fact, in 2019 when I was crowned Grand Slam Champ of the Toronto Poetry Slam in front of 650 people I ridiculed the whole process during my victory speech. My winning poems that night were Micro To Macro and Dear Progressive White People.
Back to CIPS, Vancouver, April 2019
I placed 4th in the country. My well respected and talented peer Nisha Patel took the whole shebang. While many of us had to win (or should have) local qualifiers, “storm poets” were able to just sign up randomly without much hoopla and compete nationally. Nisha was already planning to be in town for a concert and signed up.
THAT, if anything, is the beauty of poetry slams, the randomness!
Everything else is absolutely goofy!
My poems at this competition were Made In Canada, Adam & Eve, I Face My Fears, My Mama Raised Me Proper, Refugees Onkwehonwes & Canada, Dear Progressive White People and Belonging. I believe I would have placed higher if I would have made time to meditate and prep for the second round instead of having dessert with my Mayan/Kanienʼkehá꞉ka homie at Salmon n Bannock. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing! The food was awesome, she’s my homie for life and poetry slam is goofier than ever!
In fact, I damn nearly lost the opportunity to build family ties with my favorite creative chaos of all time, Valeen Jules (Nuučaan̓uł & Kwak̓wa̱ka̱wakw nations) because of slam. One morning, a group of us “slam poets” chose to spend our time at Denny’s reminiscing over poetry scores instead of being decent human beings and including Valeen in relatable topics. To this day I give thanks to creator that Valeen patiently waited out the irrelevant discussion to host my homie Jennifer Alicia and I. Incidentally, as I was looking up the appropriate spelling of Valeen’s nations, google pointed me to an article titled “5 ways to experience aboriginal culture in Victoria”…which is just a brutal title. If you see nothing wrong with it, I invite you to reflect until you do. BRUTAL.
As I write, I should be in school teaching brilliant Cree and Inuit youth poetry. Motivating them to find the confidence to believe “Our Voices Matter” but COVID-19 has gripped the world and forced us to fast which in turn is helping mama earth heal abundantly. I pray those of us still standing when this madness ends remember how much healing the global halt of capitalist life brought our planet and treat her better. Sadly the pipes are still pouring into unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. Just the other day, thousands of us nation-wide marched in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people chanting #shutdowncanada and then…mama earth took over.
My heart goes out to all those gone and hospitalized from this virus, to our precious elders and to all First Nations without access to clean water. Nations helplessly watching government officials tell us to wash our hands often. I myself am at risk as I am working on intermittent fasting and clean eating to regenerate my body and bring my blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels into healthy ranges. I lost 23 lbs from the comfort of my couch in the month of January by cutting out fast food, carbs, dairy, sugar and salt. To those of you facing similar struggles, I highly recommend reading The Diabetes Code and The Obesity Code by Dr Jason Fung as well as The Complete Guide To Fasting. If ever there was a time to heed this advice it is now.
I give thanks to creator for the resources, protection and high favours to have me where I am in the world at this present moment. I continue to pray for those with less as I continue to create and support the creation of art even in the midst of this global pandemic. You see, my world of poetry is deeply rooted in community. While I have family ties with some of the nation’s finest poets, I also have a hate-hate relationship with the national slam poetry scene as a whole. This is mainly due to the murmuring, toxicity and gossipy chit chatter that exists among this venomous lot. Some of which I’ve addressed through my craft, all of which I will lay to rest in my new poem, Dear Toxic Poets of Canada.
I firmly believe I have a responsibility with my words, they are a gift from creator. I have misused them in my past and hurt many loved ones over the years. With that said, I AM ever so grateful that testicular cancer healed me from toxic masculinity. Long as it took and much as it cost me…(from losing contracts due to the chit-chat to supporting my first wife’s decision to leave me in order to protect her peace)
I AM here.
Healed, patient, guarded, loving.
I AM not my past.
I AM present, blessed, highly favoured and protected
I believe in the Power of Now, this very moment that I AM writing, this very moment that you are reading. This very moment is precious. I AM certain my words have pierced a typically white wall and probably caused some cognitive dissonance.
I choose to write as such, because I know no other way.
As a cancer survivor I know just how precious life is and I refuse to let a single moment slip by without sharing my truth. My craft, MUST serve a higher purpose. I’m not only concerned with uplifting my self as an artist, I’m looking out for my One Mic Educators squad, Jayda Marley Glowz, Yungstar Millz, Aaleem Rasheed Mohammed, Milika of Kiss The Rhythm, Emilia of Forajidos, Sahra Yousuf of Write Away Workshops, Estella Joan, Naima Hassan and my family Amoya Ree, Randell Adjei of RISE, Jennifer Alicia, Nathan Baya of Jane Street Speaks, Valeen Jules, Tha Poet D and Kenny Thinks I have also now been welcomed into an incredible family at inPath who is providing artist residencies in Indigenous territories across Turtle Island and has introduced me to numerous amazingly powerful Indigenous and racialized artists from coast to coast. I invite you to google us all, download our music, watch our videos, BOOK us!
We are here.
As part of my quest to build Immigrant Indigenous Friendship, I intend to move a motion at an upcoming AGM of the League. The intent is to rebrand us as the League of Canadian and Indigenous Poets so as to not force Indigenous artist to adopt a colonial identity just to access much needed resources.
I leave you in these uncertain times of COVID-19 with the words of John Forte’s verse in the song Dying To Live
What are you doing with your moment?
You just read what I do with mine.
SPIN El Poeta is an internationally recognized Guatemalan spoken word artist, sole proprietor of One Mic Educators, founder of LA3 Raza Open Mic, inPath artist, child of a powerful, loving single mother and aspiring stand up comic.