Mindful U Podcast Episode 86. Tai Amri Poetics: Beautiful Ashe

Mindful U Podcast Episode 86. Tai Amri Poetics: Beautiful Ashe

Tai Amri Headshot

The newest episode of our podcast, Mindful U, is out on Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher now! We are happy to announce this week’s episode features Tai Amri Span-Ryan, graduate from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. He is the recipient of the 2016, Kansas Langston Hughes Poetry Award. He has also been a chief editor of many different publications, as well as a writer, poet, preacher, teacher and father.

Tai’s Book is out now:

Beautiful Ashe: Memoirs of A Sweet Black Boy and Other Poems

Full Transcript Below

Full Transcript

Tai Amri 

Poetics

TRT 46:56

 

 

[MUSIC]

Hello, and welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. I’m your host, David Devine. And it’s a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions — Naropa is the birthplace of the modern mindfulness movement.

 

[MUSIC]

 

David:

Hello, everyone and welcome to another episode of the Mindful U Podcast. Today we have a very special guest with us Tai Amri Span-Ryan. Tai is a graduate from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. He also is a recipient of the 2016, Kansas Langston Hughes poetry Award. He has also been a chief editor of many different publications, as well as a writer, poet, preacher, teacher and father. So welcome to the podcast. How are you doing today?

 

Tai Amri:

I’m doing good. How are you?

 

David:

I’m doing great. So, it seems like you’ve done a lot of things. So, I wanted to start kind of like at the beginning. I was reading your website. And as I was reading your bio, I learned that your parents were very artistic and involved people in the writing space, writing haikus, historical fictions, operas, music, and many other pieces. This had to have impact on your journey from the start of being exposed to this as like a child. And so, I’m curious, what was your experience growing up in an academic environment? And how did your parents shine light on your emerging interests in writing?

 

Tai Amri:

I’m thinking about my dad first, who is a haiku writer, Dwight Lamont Wilson. And he also has written several historical fiction novels about our family. So obviously, I wasn’t reading historical fiction haiku when I was little, but he was a — he was a huge fan of jazz, and just a lover of music. So, I recall a lot of his creativity influencing me at a young age because he would listen to everything from like John Coltrane to Cyndi Lauper.

 

David:

Oh, wow.

 

Tai Amri:

You know, I was just exposed to a wide breadth, and he just never stopped listening to music. He had 8000 records on vinyl growing up. So, I just was like, immersed in music all the time. And then my mom was a music teacher. So, she primarily a pianist, and a vocalist Niyonu Span. She — she went to Oberlin Conservatory of Music. So, she was always playing the piano out on the solarium while my dad is like playing records in the living room and reading tons of books. So, music was a really big influence on me from a young age. And then, when I got a little bit older, in like Junior High, High School, that’s when my dad started to introduce me to some of his writing. In particular, the first book that I remember reading by him was, was like a retelling of the Gospels of Jesus as if Jesus was born today. And like, he was like, black and indigenous, born in the inner city and super poor, and it was like, oh, this is just super relatable. And I — I just was like, I didn’t know you could do that. I didn’t know you could rewrite history like that, you know. So, I realized that in my poetry, I bring in so much history, my family’s history, and also events in history that I think have really influenced humanity. I try to write about that. And when I say history, I mean, current events as well. I’m also — that’s a big inspiration for why I write which I think comes from my dad, and the music — the music comes — comes in, I try to be as musical as possible with my writing. I can’t sing as well as my mom, but I can sing a little bit. So, I try. I try something times in my writing. So yeah.

 

David:

What is it you actually mean when you say musical in your writing, how? The way it flows, the cadence, the words being used?

 

Tai Amri:

Oh, it’s a lot of things. I mean, I — I quote, music a lot in my poetry. And then there are times when I’ll — I’ll sing a poem, part of a poem. And I also have been influenced by a movement of poets called the breakbeat poets who take a lot of their influence from hip hop, you know, and I take a lot of influence from hip hop, but you know being my — my father’s son, I also am very influenced by other forms of music. A lot of black music, but like black music off of — you know, from the fringes, like black banjo player. I play the banjo, so that’s a big part of my identity as a creator. And black punk rock music is also a big part of my — my influence as well. So yes, there’s definitely some — I’ll definitely be sharing some of those influences through some of my poetry as well today.

 

David:

So just throw it out there. I actually got really involved in jazz because I’ve been playing drums for a long time. And I came across jazz drumming, and I was just like, oh my God. But Tito Puente is my favorite jazz artists in Esperanza Spalding — some my favorite jazz. Latin jazz just really does something to me. I’m just like, oooh.

 

Tai Amri:

Oh, that’s awesome you say that. Because, well, first of all, I’ve always like — like, when I listened to jazz, my favorites, were always the drummers like Art Blakey is my favorite jazz musician, you know, so, but also like I’ve gotten — you know I grew up with Tito Puente but Tito Puente has taken on a new significance for me as I’ve gotten older because of my spiritual practice. I practice see African tradition of Ephod from a Yoruba land is Nigeria. So, I listened to a lot of music that is about that spirituality. We call them oriki in the tradition and so I listen to a lot of stuff from Nigeria, but then if I came over into the new world in Cuba, it became Santeria and so salsa is like, you know, the music of orisha you know, so I listen to a lot of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz and those drums are — they definitely influence my work as well. In particular love, like the polyrhythmic African — you know, and I — I try to layer my poetry like they layer their drums you know, so yeah.

 

David:

Man, polyrhythms is a hard — they like tear your brain apart while you’re trying to do it.

 

Tai Amri:

I can’t play with it on the drums. I definitely cannot but —

 

David:

It takes a long time. I can do like simple polyrhythms. I can’t do anything complex or — this is awesome. So, I almost want to ask you like, does reggae influence you like Nyabinghi, dancehall, reggaeton, because jazz, you know, black music, and then reggae is also kind of black music as well. Do you get enhanced by both of those style genres?

 

Tai Amri:

Definitely. I mean, you know when I’m talking about spirituality, reggae, and also Rastafari has influenced me as a spiritual practitioner. But also, a lot of my poetry is very deeply rooted in my — in black spirituality. So, you know, so I try to eat well, which is, you know, the [00:07:40.16] eye Tao, the eye Tao view of, you know, how you treat your body and your body being sacred. And also, the earth being sacred — so those connections. I find like reggae is very grounding when I’m feeling spun out, stressed out, I’ll put on some reggae. But I grew up with Bob Marley’s legend, like my dad played that all the time growing up. And so, I actually have a few poems that are in direct conversation with Bob Marley. So, I definitely draw inspiration in my writing from reggae as well.

 

David:

Amazing. This is awesome. So — so you were born on the East Coast, outside of Philly, having highly involved parents in academics, and music as well that I’m hearing. I’m curious, like, what was your journey like becoming a writer? Because you actually just mentioned you didn’t really read your dad’s books until high school? And it almost took a little bit to be exposed. It took a while to be exposed. Were you feeling this path early? Or did it take till high school? Or was your dad kind of waiting for you to want to accept it? Or what was that like for you?

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, my — so my parents are super cool. I mean, they’re — they’re definitely hippies, but like, you know, black hippies. So, the jazzy big afro, you know, trying to eat vegetarian sometimes kind of hippies. And so, they never like, were seemed all that invested in like me being, you know, following a certain path. You know, there were certain — there were certain things like I was expected to go to college, that kind of thing. But like, they don’t really care if I wrote poetry or if I played piano, like, I picked up the guitar when I was in high school, and they were — they’re fine with that. And I started playing punk rock, like they didn’t, whatever do your thing. But — but my earliest, like, passion for writing probably came from comic books, honestly, like my — I had two older brothers, and they were — they were always drawing. And I would try to draw like them. And I was like, I suck at drawing, so I’ll just make a…and then I think it was middle school where I was like, I don’t know how to get girls. So, I’m gonna like — maybe if I write them a poem, like that kinda was like my first, you know, dabbling into the world of poetry. And then in junior high, I think I — I started to really love poetry when I had a teacher who she would, for our final projects, each semester would just let us — she’d expect 2000 words of anything — anything. One year, I did 2000 words of a comic book. The next year, I did 2000 words of poetry. And it was like, oh my god, the stuff that was coming out of me. I was like writing about black angels and stuff. And I was like, where is this — like, I had no idea where I was getting these images from, and it was — I just tapped into something. And I was like, okay, not only do I love doing this, but I can comm — I felt like I could communicate something from another dimension when I was writing poetry. And so that was kind of where that love really started to blossom in seventh, eighth grade.

 

David:

Wow, you’re just like channeling something. That’s so awesome to hear. So eventually, you made your way to Naropa University, which has a very unique educational experience as you and I know, from personal experience, and it mostly focuses on the contemplative aspect of learning process and the intentionality of the internal growth within the academics. And I’m curious, how was the direction of learning developed and informing your writing and style as your career manifesting in front of you? And also, like, did you have any other educational experiences before coming to Naropa, like college experience? Or was Naropa, your first college experience?

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, so my Naropa experience was just so wild, okay. Because of like, where I was in my development. In high school, I was like, a really big Christian, like that was my identity. Like, I was like, I was on the path of saving souls. You know I wanted to be a missionary, like that was my — that was my dream job. And I also felt like I wasn’t fully accepted in the church, because my church, most people who went were white, and it was really conservative. So — so a lot of my poems were about, like wanting that full acceptance from my community and not feeling it, but also like having intense Godly love. And then, after high school, I ended up going to Temple University for — for one year, and took a bunch of black studies courses. And some of them were on black aesthetics. And so that opened me up to the world of Black writing, drama and poetry. And then it also opened me up to like colonization, and so I got disillusioned with the church. Didn’t know where to go, found Thich Nhat Hanh’s, Jesus and Buddha’s brothers and told my mom, I’m really into this, and my mom being the spiritual woman that she is was — was like, well, there’s a Buddhist university. Have you ever heard of it? Not really. So, I applied and got into Naropa in I think it was 1999. And it was — and they had just opened up a Sangha House, which was a dorm. And I don’t think that Sangha House exists anymore. But it was very experimental. And I didn’t live in the dorms, I lived off campus, but I hung out in the dorms quite a bit. And to my, like, very sheltered Christian eyes, you know, I was — I was blown away, you know, I had never — I had been sober my whole life, I had never had sex. And so, all these things were happening around me. I don’t know what to do with this. So, I just wrote — wrote it down, wrote about my experience, and I wasn’t going to Naropa for writing actually, even though I had — I knew that I love to write poetry. I actually went to Naropa, because I wanted to explore spirituality, and in particular, wanted to learn more about African spirituality. And at the time, there wasn’t anything that was focused on African spirituality and also struggling with this idea that I had to prove my experience of racism was real. And I was getting a lot of likes, well, you create your own reality. And I was like, what I didn’t create racism, like this is fucked up, you know, like it was —

 

David:

That’s some bypassing right there.

 

Tai Amri:

Oh, definitely so much. And there’s like a lot of privilege, white privilege that I had never really experienced before on the East Coast, not realizing that the struggle that people go through who aren’t born wealthy and white, was really starting to bother me and it was like, what am I — and I was just — I was spending all day and all night writing and I was like, I need to just get in the writing department. I’m not going to try to be you know, religious studies major. I’m just going to do — do writing and — and I love to have that experience and being able to workshop my stuff.

 

David:

It’s so wild to me that you went to Naropa going for the spirituality part of your education, but not realizing the type of writing program that they have. So eventually you found your way to the writing program. And you ended up graduating from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, which is a really rad beat poet vibe. And it’s a very unique experience. And I’m curious, what does disembodied mean to you? And is there any insights or experiences that you want to share about your involvement in the program and how, you know, the program developed your writing and helped you along your way?

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah. So, I think that there — there were definitely experiences that I had to go through as a writer, that all writers have to go through. But the feedback, the critique that we would do in classes that was, you know, that was something that I learned, I had to learn how not to take it personally, and how to see as something that would improve my writing. So that was a big part of it. I didn’t know anything about beats honestly, when I got to Naropa. I didn’t know — it’s embarrassing to say like, I didn’t know who — you know who Walt Whitman was, or Allen Ginsberg was even, you know.

 

David:

Who’s Trungpa? What’s going on?

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, I didn’t know who Trungpa was. Like, I literally Thich Nhat Hanh. And that was — that was my entire world. And maybe like, Jim Carroll or something like that, like there was nobody that I’d studied at a school that I had heard of before, especially in my very sheltered Christian high school experience. I didn’t — I wasn’t looking at stuff like that. So it freed — definitely freed me you know, a lot of those early poems were just laced with curse words, and like, Fuck God and stuff like that, you know, I was doing a lot of acting out and like, you know, trying to shed some of the — some of the weight that I had on me of guilt and repression that I had experienced in high school and my church. So, I noticed that that being in the Jack Kerouac School Disembodied Poetic was really important for me to be able to do that, like I don’t know if a lot of other communities would have allowed me to be that openly, irreverent. And I know notice you have a podcast with Candice Walworth on here. And she was huge. I mean, she was basically the reason why I went into the writing department because she had a classical socially engaged imagination, and we would workshop stuff, and I would like come in, and I would share something. And then everybody would be — they’d like, silence for like, five minutes after I shared it. And I’m like, oh, people are really thinking about what I’m saying — it’s important. So maybe I should do this more.

 

David:

Being heard feels powerful.

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah.

 

David:

You know, and I think when you have a good message to say, and you have a community that listens to you, you feel so heard and impactful to the space and so that’s cool and Candice is a intellectual juggernaut, you could say.

 

Tai Amri:

Yes.

 

David:

Awesome. So, you know, you kind of alluded to this earlier of what inspires you and what inspires your writing? Is there any, like writers that have really stuck out to you throughout your career that have really inspired your style and your writing? And also, is there any other inspirations that are beyond writing itself that inspire your writing?

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, so the writer that I think of is like, I’m doing my — my Star Wars ranking, my grand master Jedi is definitely Sonia Sanchez, just because she’s Philly. I got to meet her, you know, at Naropa she was always coming to the Writing Program — summer writing program. And I’ve gotten to hang out with her in Philly, too. She would always, you know, come and share poetry at various events. And whenever she’s around, she like gives these like super warm hugs. She’s just like — I mean she feels like Yoda in your presence. It’s like, I am safe and loved right here by this woman. And then — and then her style is just like, oh, man, I wish I could read poetry like that. And then I’ve always been really bad at memorizing my poems, and then sharing them like, every time I’ve tried, I’ve like forgotten and then panicked. And she was always like, no, I’m gonna have my paper and I’m still going to have as much life as somebody who doesn’t have a — and I was like, oh, I can do that. And so that’s how I do it. And I don’t you know, I’m not apologetic about it. I’m just like, yeah, I have a piece of paper and you’re still gonna feel me, you know? So, Sonia Sanchez is definitely the juggernaut. And — and then I just love plays. So, Walt Whitman being from South Jersey and — and then Mary Baraka being from North Jersey, like that’s like my trinity, you know what I mean. So those poets definitely influenced me a lot. Yeah. So, I would say that would be my lineage.

 

David:

It’s the counsel of the force, but Star Wars. Awesome. So, I want to take this opportunity to offer you a moment to share — you said you had like three poems, two short, one long. So, I want to give you this opportunity to share two of the short ones, and then we can go to your long one later.

 

Tai Amri:

All right, sounds good. We’re talking a little bit about musical influences. And — and this one came to mind, because it’s called a Elegba and I took Harlem Renaissance at Naropa with Akilah Oliver, who’s now an ancestor, and she would talk a lot about Langston Hughes and blues poem. And so, this is my attempt at a blues poem. Elegba: Part one. Went down to the crossroads, with a banjo in hand, told my old lady, I’m going to see the man. Dressed in black and red, it’s a God dangling in his mouth. A fist full of rum, stank of that dirty, dirty south. I’ll call him by his true name, Elegbara of the path. If he accepts my chicken, well, now you do the math. Turning in a spiral, kisses on the neck. Shouts to the heavens. He sends me a blank check. Because I’m a holy roller. Got the Mojo in my pouch. Yes, I’m a holy roller. I’m not trying to be no slouch. Oh, I’m a holy roller. Mojo in my pouch. I’m a holy roller. Not trying to be a slouch. Two. Now that the way is open, broken bones everywhere. A death rattle. A baby chokes. An ice agent turns away a homeless family locked in cordoned white tape. Elegba in rags. Elegba and the soft skin of a bae — Elegba collapsed in ventilators. Elegba in our sickness of greed. Warrior behind the door. When the streets of Yoruba land goes silent. And South America bleeds capital. Can you take this offering and tell our ancestors we’re sorry, we didn’t mean to squander it all. And if we pour out a libation, can you tell us the way home again? Ashe?

 

David:

Yes. Okay, I see what you mean. Like your read singing it. I’m like bobbing to it. I can hear like a little shuffle pattern behind there. And I’m just like, okay —

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah.

 

David:

Flows.

 

[00:23:11.17]

Tai Amri:

I’m actually working on an audio book version of Beautiful Ashe. And so, and I’m working with a production company, my mom’s production company. So, she’s — I’m like, yeah, I want music in my audio book, you know. And so, I — I totally hear like banjo and harmonica, and you know, all that good stuff in there.

 

David:

Very cool. Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I was reading through your website, and I realized you and a co-founder found a group called B.L.A.C.K., which stands for black literature and arts collective of Kansas. And I’m curious, could you give our audience an idea of what this group does? And how it was created by you and the others involved? And essentially, what inspired you to create this project?

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, so first of all, I — B.L.A.C.K. kind of came out of the Langston Hughes awards that take place in Lawrence every year. I actually submitted Memoirs of a Sweet Black Boy, which is a group of poems that’s in Beautiful Ashe, because my wife was like, you should really submit your poetry to this award ceremony. And I was like, yeah, okay, whatever. And then I did it and that I won. And I was like, oh —

 

David:

Wow.

 

Tai Amri:

So, it was like, nobody wants to hear these poems about this black kid from the east coast in the middle of Kansas. Like —

 

David:

Yeah, we do! We do want to hear them.

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, they were like, super into it. And after that, the next year, I went and I was like, whoa, I’m really feeling these poets here. And I reached out and said, you know, we should try to start something together. And the next recipient, I believe, was Alex Kimball Williams who’s like, Lawrence is like — she — I feel like she’s like a lineage holder in Lawrence. She’s younger than me, but she feels like an elder already. And so, we started the collective, mostly because I — Kansas is really, really white. And so, sharing my poetry can be difficult, you know, because I’m talking about my racial identity and something that I felt would be helpful was if I had a collective around me who was like, you know what sharing stuff is hard, and we’re gonna share with you, you know, so you don’t have to share by yourself. So, I feel like that’s really what B.L.A.C.K. was about. But I also feel like I can’t talk about B.L.A.C.K. Lawrence without talking about my experience at Naropa. Because I started Allies in Action at Naropa, while I was there as a student, and also was the editor of Tendril, which was a journal on diversity. And that really came out of my feelings of like, man it’s really hard, being black in Boulder, and being black at Naropa was also very difficult. And — and I was getting triggered all the time, and micro-aggressions, which I didn’t have language for at the time, I just like, I’m not gonna be able to graduate from here, if I don’t do something to try to change it. And Allies in Action was really like, how do we address unaddressed privilege and oppression in the school environment? And I feel like B.L.A.C.K Lawrence tries to do a lot of that, as well as how do we create space for black creators in a place where there’s not a lot of us? So —

 

David:

I mean, it seems like a lot of your writing deals with your identity, and where you’re from. And I’m curious, like when you talk about your poetry, when you say your poetry, when you read your writings, how do you feel like it’s heard from the white community and or communities not of your own? Do you feel like those are the people mostly listening to it? Like, who do you share your poetry with? And how is it received, I guess?

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, I mean, that might be one reason why I decided to write a book is because most, you know 90% of the audience for poetry in Lawrence is white. And so, I was like, well, my friends across the country are not 90% white. So, if I write a book, then I’ll be able to share it with them as well. I think in Lawrence, because there’s such a spiritual component, that poem Elegba, talks about an African deity, named Elegbar also known Eshu and so I think people recognize that, oh, he has a knowledge about African spirituality that we don’t hear often. And I connect that spirituality with social justice issues. So, I get asked to share at rallies or — or the Unitarian Church wants to have someone come in and talk about racial justice. So, they — they’ll call on me, you know, so I think that spirituality and racial justice is really where that intersection is really where people are looking to hear my voice share.

 

David:

So, you’ve mentioned Allegra? Elegba?

 

Tai Amri:

Elegba. Yeah.

 

David:

Elegba, a couple times now. And it sounds like it’s in your poetry and it’s also in your heart and your spirit. Can you speak more about this deity to us? Can you let us know what it is?

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah. So Elegba the reason why I often start with Elegba is because there’s many deities in my tradition — I should say. I was introduced to this tradition at Naropa too through Lou Flores, who is now my teacher, known as [name] but he — he was a student at Naropa while I was a student there as well. And he introduced me to the pantheon of Orishas which there are hundreds of Orishas, but in the pantheon, there’s an Orisha who opens the door so that you can speak to the others and you can speak to God, you can speak to ancestors and his name is Elegba. And so — and one reason why I talk about Elegba in conjunction with the banjo or with music is because Elegba is often — and it’s just like a really smooth — he’s like a really smooth, handsome devil if you will, right, so and the colonizers thought that Elegba was — was the devil but really he’s like a trickster God, he has some layers of trickster’s gods but you would go to the crossroads and you hear that story of Robert Johnson going to the crossroads and asking the devil to help them play a guitar. Well, that devil at the crossroads is Elegba. Elegba is at the crossroads and Elegba helps you walk down the path. If you want to walk down a path you got to go through Elegba first. And Elegba says okay, you can go down this way. I see that as Elegba, the handsome devil, who is like alright, here you go, here’s your skills. Which I also you know, when I got my banjo I was like Elegba helped me play my banjo, you know so — so that’s a little bit about Elegba.

 

David:

Is Elegba connected to a musical sense or could Elegba be connected to like a physical sports or career based sense or is it strictly to music?

 

Tai Amri:

Oh, I mean, Elegba is one of the first Orishas if not the first Orisha. So, he is infinite. So, all of the Orisha have a physical manifestation. So, if I want to talk to Elegba I go to a crossroads like Elegba is the crossroads, but Elegba — it’s like the polyrhythm thing. Elegba is all of those things at the same time. He is the crosswords —

 

David:

It’s where the polyrhythms meet on the one.

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, he’s the trickster guy. But he’s not the god of darkness. He’s also like a little child who likes to play and eat candy. And he’s also you know this old, decrepit man who’s like, kind of cranky — you know what I mean he’s like, all these things at the same time.

 

David:

Very cool. Wow. All right. So, if you’re at a crossroads, and you see a child, a cranky old man, or some handsome looking devil, you better propose a good question.

 

Tai Amri:

Yes, and be — and be respectful, because — because it can come back to you.

 

David:

Yeah, yeah, you don’t want to mess with a handsome devil. So, I like this. So, writing has the ability to empower the reader and allow them to engage in thoughtful dialogue. And my question to you is, why is this important to have the capacity to be willing to hear and listen to content that sparks our minds and hearts? Like why is it important to like be challenged or to be insightful when we’re hearing things? Like what does that do to you? And what do you think it does is the listener?

 

Tai Amri:

Oh, man. So, this relates to another big influence on me, which is another deity or Orisha named Obatala. You know, I used to think — when I was at Naropa, I was like, all right I’m trying to wake people up to the realities of the world with my writing. So, my writing was super, you know, like, in your face. Like, I was like, Spike Lee, I want to do what Spike Lee did, you know, with my writing, you know, and now I’m at a place where as a practitioner of…Obatala, has become the Orisha that I actually identify with the most and that he’s — he’s the Orisha of peace, calm, and the expansion of consciousness. So, when I think of expanding consciousness, I think of how do we realize the breadth of reality is that harsh reality, but it is also like, spiritual evolution at the same time. And part of how I go about doing that is going into extremely decrepit or traumatic experiences or events in the world and trying to find where there is light, where there’s beauty and trying to be an expanse there, you know. So, you know, one thing, that — one symbol that has resonance for me is the tree. I often will like, try to imagine myself as a tree and how do I be the tree? How do I be like that nurturer? The one that breathes life to all of humanity. But also, the tree is a site of so much atrocity in the black community because we were hung from trees. So how do I go to those trees of those places of a lynching? And how do I heal the roots of the tree? So those are like both what I am trying to do with my writing?

 

David:

Yeah, wow, that’s powerful. And I can resonate with that. I think as we get older, we’re kind of angsty, we’re kind of like roar, you know, we got some claws, and we want to pounce, and we want to just like claw at things. And then as we become more skilled and more mindful and conscious of our craft, we become a little bit more gentle. And the word I just thought about was like beautifully honest, you know, it’s like, you got to say what’s up, but you got to, like, hold it to, you know, so it’s like, we’re beautifully honest, you got to say what’s real. But you got to do it in a way that people are willing to listen, because if you’re just gonna, like swipe at them, they may not hear your message, even though it’s super powerful.

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, and that was — that was really a gift that I learned a lot about, at Naropa was like, being at like a town hall meeting. And someone would say something that was like, super triggering or like, you know, a microaggression. And my friends were like, oh, my God, fuck that guy. Why — what an asshole and I would go over and be like, hey, I just want to ask you like, why you have that perspective? And then I’d have a conversation. Like, that’s interesting. And this is my perspective. And they’re like, how do you talk to that? How can you talk to that person now? And I’m like, well, I don’t know. I just, I thought, how can they change if they don’t hear any other perspectives? Like, that’s so much what we do is we hear someone who has a different perspective. We’re like, fuck that person. I’m not talking to that person. And what we really want is for them to not hold that perspective, when we have a dialogue with them about it, you know, so that was something that I — I figured I wouldn’t be able to change anything if I wasn’t able to open up to other people’s perspectives more. And something I’ve really strived to do.

 

David:

Yeah. And I mean, you know, it’s not really your responsibility to go make sure this person isn’t micro triggering people. But it’s also their responsibility to understand that they are micro triggering people. So, it’s super powerful that you can just — other than saying, like, fuck that guy. You walk up to him and you’re like, hey, like, I’m curious, why did you say that? Like, where does this come from? And — and it’s not your responsibility to do that. But it takes a lot of power to be able to do that. And, you know, and they probably just don’t even know what they’re doing until they’re confronted. And they’re realizing there’s different perspectives out there that are maybe conflicting to what they’re saying.

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah. And I also, you know, also learned from some amazing teachers of color at Naropa. And how they would navigate it too you know. One of my mentors is Soltahr Tiv-Amanda, who taught in the counseling department along with Malaika Pettigrew. And I took a multicultural counseling, I think it was, course with Malaika and I mean, like, people would say stuff, and Malaika was just trying to share various experiences of oppression for herself or for other people. And people would just constantly challenge her and be up in her face about it. And I was like, how is she staying so cool. And I just, like, would just watch her and I never really figured out what I mean, I knew she was — she meditated, but you know, I was like, oh, she’s like, super spiritual grounded, maybe that’s what I need, and you know, kind of pushed me more into spirituality. But, you know, I — I know when I need to take my breaks from that, and like, walk away from it. And I also know how to be skillful, because I’ve seen so many people do it, you know.

 

David:

Still frustrating. I hear that though. So, I just got one more question for you. And then I want to hear that last poem that you have for us. So, you talk to us about a couple projects that you have. And I’m curious, do you have any other projects or any other writings that you’re currently working on? And you’re excited in the moment about that you want to share?

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, I mean, I have so many books in my head right now.

 

David:

They’re just in your head?

 

Tai Amri:

They’re in my head. And I, you know, I think we started out like I’m a — I’m a father. So, I have an — I’m a father of like, young children. So, parents of young children are like, yeah, like, my youngest is three and my oldest is a six. So, it’s basically like, I can’t really leave the room. And then I’m a teacher, middle school English in Topeka, with really needy students. So, I’m pretty — by the end of my school day, I’m pretty like emotionally drained. Because these, you know, like, I’m basically a surrogate parent for a lot of these kids. So, I don’t have time to write like I used to. So, my projects tend to be more about how can I collaborate? How can I bring B.L.A.C.K. Lawrence together during a pandemic? And how can I reach out to the indigenous community? How can I inspire my students, like, a lot of my creativity goes into those avenues right now? You know, Candace, one thing she taught me was the first thing that you write — that you put out there, has got to just be like, you’re like getting stuff off your chest. And then the next thing you write is like your truest desire, and I feel like Beautiful Ashe is like, me telling my story. But now, like, I want to tell a story that doesn’t have to do with me, you know, I want to like — what I really want to focus on is like Afro-futurism and poetry. You know, what does that look like? That’s — you know that’s the next place for me. So —

 

David:

Man, I would love for you to be my English teacher when I was little. You seem like such a rad teacher to have.

 

Tai Amri:

It’s fun. I love — I love my students, for sure.

 

David:

Very cool. Okay, this is our time where I want to offer you another moment to read your poem before we say goodbye. So, do you have another one for us?

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, I do. And this poem is African Tradition, pouring libations is a necessity — pour out water to the earth and my earth is the page and this poem is to all of my ancestors and all of those — many teachers who have influenced me on this walk are named in this poem as well. So, I pour libations to all those people. This poem is called A Drinking Gourd.

 

A drinking gourd

 

To to mama wata, the iyami, the primordial mothers of the creator, the red black and green of Africa, the quiet warriors in swamps of seminole, the geechee/gullah on islands of rice and cracks of whip, the sarah’s on underground railroads, the Irish quakers with abolitionist maps, the preachers and poets, the singers and black banjo players, the Ida B. Wells a man was lynched today, the Howard Thurmans in the silence of blackness and the disinherited Jesus, to the gay commie Bayard Rustin, the full self Audre Lorde, the face smashed a crown in tact Fannie Lou Hamer, the children first Ella Baker, to spit talkin’ Amiri Baraka, to the black Chinese giant Grace Lee Boggs, woman and man and neither Kari Edwards, no gender, teacher of dreads Akilah Oliver, taking youth back to Africa Malaika and to the justice seer Vincent Harding, I hear where my grandmother is from, I see her

 

I see you in the depths of the belly

 

I see you on the slave block

 

I see you cutting your hands on cotton

 

I see you take those whips like a good nigga

 

I see you hiding the names of our gods in our songs and writing the words of the drum on our hearts

 

I see you drinking to forget the child sold down the river

 

I see you uncle tomming the hurt of your wife taken by massuh nightly

 

I see you stealing literacy

 

I see you writing the map to freedom in blood

 

I see you sanctifying nature with your strange fruit

 

And to the

 

People who think they white

 

I reverse engineered your dog whistle

 

Donald trump doesn’t care

 

About white people

 

When mama gaia gettin’ a fever

 

You will burn in the fire next time

 

Like the rest of us

 

Your ancestral savior, John brown, knew that

 

And went flame resistant

 

But you stand in picket lines

 

For potus

 

And tweet a petition

 

You excommunicate your grandmother

 

On Facebook

 

Cause she made the same choice

 

You would have in her shoes

 

You speak with someone else’s voice

 

But neglect your own

 

You’ve left your ancestors

 

In the old world and stole

 

New ones

 

Which you promptly burned

 

On magazine covers

 

You buried the magic of herbs and roots

 

Dig it up again

 

And sell all your belongings

 

Back to the credit card company

 

That leased them to you

 

In exchange for your slave ships

 

And amistad friendships

 

Like we did before

 

The Irish were exploited

 

For their desperation

 

In a world built on hate

 

So we can halt the machine

 

Of our inevitable demise

 

And to the

 

People who think they black

 

I got my race card dog whistle

 

Let’s go back to Africa again

 

Where gods and goddesses look like us

 

Dark and queer as hell

 

Let’s go to the lynching tree

 

And heal her roots

 

Let’s shut up already and

 

Talk with drums again

 

Let’s dial 1.900.save.a.coon

 

Let’s have days celebrating

 

Some black folkx

 

Other than mlk

 

This Lawrence fiery Kansas

 

On Langston Hughes day

 

We whisper rivers

 

In the ears of our elders

 

Our words kiss black skin

 

On tiger dowdell day

 

We wear black gloves

 

And speak only black love

 

We pour liquor to

 

Martyrs of the

 

Cop’s gun

 

Erect monuments to

 

Black potential snuffed

 

And relit

 

What was snuffed

 

Get lit

 

Get lit

 

Ashe almighty

 

May the world

 

Get lit

 

David:

Oh boy. Wow, that had a vibe of getting something off your chest.

 

Tai Amri:

Definitely. Hopefully.

 

David:

That was some powerful stuff. I love hearing how you did interlace some of the like very potential people in your poems.

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, I hope that they felt me those ancestors for sure.

 

David:

I remember seeing a Amiri Baraka many times at Naropa. He was like a reoccurring guest and he — like he kind of blew my mind.

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah.

 

David:

So, hearing him in your poem, I was just like, oh.

 

Tai Amri:

I think one of those people who’s like, he could just — that fire, I feel like my fire like, I don’t know if it’s dimmer but it gets like, more contained and I feel like his just did not — it just was like always just like, boom, boom, like explode. I was like how does he do that?

 

David:

Undistinguishable .

 

Tai Amri:

Yes.

 

David:

Alright, so thank you so much. Before we go, do you want to shout out your book, your social media, where people can find you — like our audience, if they want to find more? Where can they go?

 

Tai Amri:

Yeah, so my book is Beautiful Ashe: Memoirs of a Sweet Black Boy & Other Poems. It can be found on blurb.com. I’m kinda like anti-Amazon. And so, if you look me up on Amazon, you will not find me. And that doesn’t affect Jeff Bezos at all. But that’s how I am. And my webpage is taiamri.com t-a-i-a-m-r-i.com. I try to have events once a month. So, get on those. The newsletter is a way, if you join my newsletter, that’s a way to like keep in contact. I would love to have people and I try to be online too, because so much of my audience is abroad.

 

David:

Awesome. Well, thank you so much. And it was so nice hearing about like your work, your knowledge, like all your projects, and just your passion for what you’re doing. And also, just like alumni to alumni, it’s just nice to reconnect and hear experiences from a different world and — and honestly, I think you should do the audio book. I think there’s something really beautiful there. And I would love to listen to that once you got that out.

 

Tai Amri:

Oh, yeah, it’s coming. It’s like for sure. I already have — I have grant money for that. And I you know, already working with the production company. So that is like 100% coming in the next year.

 

David:

Awesome. So again, thank you for your time. It was such a pleasure speaking with you and —

 

Tai Amri:

Thank you. Thanks, David.

 

[MUSIC]

 

On behalf of the Naropa community, thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at http://www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.


 

In This Episode:

-Influence of Music in Writing

-Black Studies & Black Aesthetics

-Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics

-Black Literature & Arts Collective of Kansas

-Tai Amri Original Spoken Poetry

-Elegba – Trickster God, African Deity

-Obatala – African Deity of Peace & Creativity

-Pantheon of Orishas

-Influential Teachers of Color at Naropa

Soltahr Tiv-Amanda

-Malaika Pettigrew

 

Musical Influence:

This Is Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers on Spotify

http://artblakey.com/

Tito Puente

This Is Tito Puente on Spotify

Bob Marley

Legend – The Best of Bob Marley and The Wailers on Spotify

 

Poetic Influence:

Sonia Sanchez

Walt Whitman

Amiri Baraka – Poetry Foundation

 

Get To Know Your Host:

Apple: David DeVine: An Intimate Interview and Mindful U Year In Review

Spotify: David DeVine: An Intimate Interview and Mindful U Year In Review

Your Next Noteworthy Listen:

MU 79: Anthony Gallucci: Re-Establishing Masculinity

Naropa’s Office for Inclusive Community

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