“A breakbeat poet moves through world with the culture and the music as the soundtrack for the way they think and the way they see.” —Quraysh Ali Lansana
Don’t miss The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, scheduled for release this week by Haymarket Books.
Eileen Tabios interviews me about my ongoing series of b-boy sketches. Read it at Our Own Voice mag.
My Playlist for Halloween
Monster Fun, Mammatapee
Nightmares, Dana Dane
Thriller, Michael Jackson
Somebody’s Watching Me, Rockwell
Monster Music, Mos Def Ft Cassidy
The Boogie Monster, Gnarls Barkley
Running With The Night, Lionel Richie
Walking Through the Darkness, Tekitha
Give Me the Night, George Benson
Murder She Wrote, Chaka Demus And Pliers
Cash Still Rules/Scary Hours, Wu-Tang Clan
Black Cat, Janet Jackson
Freaks Come Out At Night, Whodini
Dr. Funkenstein, Parliament
Monster, Lady GaGa
Slippin’ Into Darkness, WAR
Right on for the Darkness, Curtis Mayfield
I Hear Voices, The Juggs
Green Eyed Monster Girl , Sly Stone
Nights (Feel Like Gettin’ Down}, Billy Ocean
I Fear The Night, Tyree
Night Of The Living Baseheads, Public Enemy
Monster Jam, Spoonie Gee feat The Sequence
Children Of The Night, Kevin Irving
Berangere’s Nightmare, John McLaughlin
The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, John Coltrane
Boogieman, The Spaceflower Show
Nightmare on Chill Street, M.C. Chill
Ghost of the Past, Prince Lasha
Cold Blooded, Debarge
Monster , Rhianna feat. Eminem
Zombie, Fela Anikulapo Kuti & Africa 70
The beast within, Madonna
Release the Beast, Breakwater
Dear Huffington Post:
I hadn’t seen that video of The Company’s routine at Vibe IX in Irvine California. But I’m thrilled by it. I’m a former b-boy (c. 1981, Majestic Force Crew, NJ). Old head like me, I’m not really a fan of choreographed hip hop, but I can appreciate it. What I have a question about is your description of the dancers: they “might be robots”; “looks like they are sharing a collective consciousness”; and your Facebook headline reads, “There’s No Way These Dancers Are Human”. (At the bottom of the article, you have a slideshow titled “Robots, Cyborgs, and Droids from TV and Film.”) I don’t find it offensive exactly, but these are really the only observations that Sarah Barness makes about The Company’s routine. And her language has a whiff of that really tired (and persistent) stereotype of mindless, robotic Asian-Americans. You know, we don’t have a mind of our own; we are obedient and unfeeling.
I’m not making an academic argument here. If you’ve ever danced for three minutes – I mean danced hard – choreographed or not, if you’ve ever caught a groove on a dance floor or subway platform or dollar-store aisle, let me tell you, there’s few things more human than that. You can’t just move to be a good dancer. You have to feel.
There are so many other ways to comment on this video. Yes, “incredible”. Yes, “amazing”. But “robot”? A “collective consciousness”? How about the fact that so many of the bodies wouldn’t nearly make the cut in a European dance tradition like ballet? How about not just the synchronization, but the synchronization of varied body types? Slender and thick. Tall and short. Isn’t there a metaphor somewhere in there? Isn’t there some democratic wish embedded in that performance? And how can a big crew like that dance without feeling?
Years back, an aunt I loved very much died. We were eating at her house in between viewings at the funeral home. My cousin (daughter of the aunt who had just passed) and I were sitting next to each other with our Styrofoam plates on our laps. The room was grim, silent, but she suddenly stood up, put her plate on her seat, turned around to face the half dozen of us sitting against the wall and started to dance. No music – at least no music the rest of us could hear. She just danced – with her whole body, hands, hips, and hair. She kept going until she was almost out of breath.
A year or two later I asked her about it and she said, “Sometimes you just don’t got words. So you dance.” We trace our family to the Philippines. My cousin was born there. In the video of The Company’s performance, I count faces I could easily see in my mom’s barrio or in the provincial capitol. They are Southeast Asian and East Asian. I’m going to bet there are a bunch of Filipino dancers in the crew. I bet they come from some really similar traditions as my family, which is to say, we were taught, if you got sadness or grief or exuberance or confusion, you work it out through the body. Sometimes that leads to fights. Sometimes it leads to song — and dance. I’m telling you, the dance is human.
Instead of relegating the work and love of these young dancers to a robotic mind and body, it would be terrific if you profiled the dancers themselves. I would like to know what love drives them – and what troubles too.
I get that Ms. Barness was trying to be ironic. But the irony comes a little too quick and too easily. If I understand it properly, true irony must contain its opposite, which is ardor. In Ms. Barness’ piece there is little to no ardor, and so her irony fails. But the dancers, it’s clear to me, they themselves are fire.
My first book, Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive is 10 years old this month.
I had no sense of the literary world. I was just writing poems out of the stories of my family and the guys I grew up with. So grateful that it made it into the world.