Less than a month remaining in this series! It's been going on since the beginning of July and now the end is in sight. Missed an article? No problem! You can catch up on all the articles on my profile. Stay tuned as well for the final month of poets in this series!
This week's Poets of the Week are none other than Danny Strack, the Texas poet who is the former Slammaster of Austin Poetry Slam, and Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, author of best-seller The Crown Ain't Worth Much and MTV Award Show Writer and the list could go on and on. Here's what these two poets had to say about their poetic beginnings, creating holidays, swapping lives, and instilling change.
Q: At what age did you first begin writing and performing poetry?
Danny Strack: I started writing poetry when I was in middle school, but didn't start performing until I was 22.
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib: I think I probably STARTED at a much earlier age than I started taking it seriously, like so many other folks. I remember writing a bad and controversial poem about Jackie Robinson when I was like 12. My mom was like “uhhhh, this isn’t the move.” But, I came back to it. I started writing and performing poetry very seriously in 2011.
Q: If you could swap lives with one poet, living or dead, for one day, who would it be and why?
Danny Strack: Dr. Seuss (while he was still around). I like the simplicity of his verse… and generally the way his mind ticked.
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib: I’d swap lives with Bukowski for a day so that I could get him a job doing anything else other than writing.
Q: How have you helped change people’s perceptions of poetry and art?
Danny Strack: Interesting. Well, when I'm feeling generous, I hope I've helped to show that "slam" poetry is a genre where one can be successful using a variety of styles and writing on a wide range of topics. I like writing poems on subjects that other poets aren't covering, and then trying to get audiences engaged with these new ideas.
I'm also a big advocate for spoken word being accepted in academic circles as legitimate poetry. To this end, I've spent a lot of time studying the history of verse in order to gain a better understanding of the split between the "page" poets and "stage" poets. This has led to some good conversations with poets that don't have much respect for slam poets, and I hope I've been able to change some perceptions here.
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib: I don’t know if I can confidently say that… but I do hope that, in some ways, my work has allowed for an expansion of the personal narrative in this art form.
Q: What was the absolute coolest event you were able to be a part of this past year?
Danny Strack: After a five year term as Slammaster of Austin Poetry Slam (APS), I was pleased to be able to pass the position to our new Slammaster, Jomar Valentin. [Interviewer Note: You can read Jomar's article here.] We held a big show earlier this year to mark the transition, and I invited all of my favorite poets and past teammates to perform. It was like a big family reunion, and was incredibly moving.
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib: Well, I had a book drop in July, so I’ve been lucky enough to have some book release shows take place all over the country, with a lot of friends. My fam and Echo Hotel Collective partner Eve Ewing joined me for two. It’s just good to be able to connect with people in that way, stretched out across the country in small bites. I’m always interested in the places I haven’t visited, or haven’t visited in a while. How the work resonates there.
Q: What does poetry mean to you?
Danny Strack: Poetry is an opportunity to share ideas with the world in a thoughtful and interesting medium. Sometimes the world even pays attention.
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib: It means I get to, at least for now, find new ways to write into the constant unraveling that is this often overwhelming and confusing world.
Q: Who is your favorite musical artist?
Danny Strack: Mocean Worker. He is an electronic musician from NYC who performs jazzy dance music, including electroswing, drum'n'bass and French-inspired house music.
Q: If you could create a new national holiday, what would it be?
Danny Strack: A national day of fasting on the day before (or the day after) Thanksgiving. I don't think it makes sense to have a day of feasting to show that we are thankful for what we have. I believe it would be more impactful to deny ourselves for a day to give thanks.
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib: Replace Columbus Day with Reparations Day.
Q: Looking back five years, did you see yourself where you are today?
Danny Strack: This is a tough question. Five years ago I had recently taken over as Slammaster of APS, and had big dreams for the future of the show and the organization. Many of these plans worked out even better than I had hoped – so from the perspective of my slam career, I'd say yes. However, I didn't expect to be both married and divorced within that five-year period, nor to be behind where I'd like in my prose writing career and still doing online marketing. I guess I'm just happy to still be alive, happy and writing/performing poetry as much as possible!
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib: Oh, absolutely not. I was just learning to take poems seriously, so I wasn’t entirely sure where it would lead. I started in slam, and I thought I’d do a couple slam things over a few years, and then bow out. Poetry, and writing in general, has taken me to places I’m incredibly thankful for. I often wake up overwhelmed, but thrilled with all that I have ahead.