Why Dr Joshua Bennett is so important to poetry

Image by Rog Walker
Watch here: Joshua Bennett on Russell Simmons’ Brave New Voices

I first heard of Joshua Bennett on a YouTube crawl at what feels like a very long time ago now. It was a typical night; bedtime routine, candles and some light reading then, Def Jam Poetry before sleep came. He appeared on my feed as a recommendation, and I first encountered a young man from Yonkers, NY reading a spoken word poem called ”10 Things I Want To Say To A Black Woman.” He called out to the female viewer,  ”I’ve seen you crucified too, spread out on billboards to be spiritually impaled by millions of men with eyes like nails.” I’ve been preoccupied with his words ever since.

Next, Russell Simmons’ Brave New Voices based in Philadelphia where a nineteen-year-old Bennett performed ‘Adam and Eve’ so passionately, how were we ever to forget him? They called him the grand slam champion and he went on to prove why. “It’s no longer physical chains that bind. It’s this mindset that forces me to TEVO rap videos and press rewind.”  Weeks later, and I was still hooked. I listened faithfully to ‘Balaenoptera’ on a loop, whilst working at a job I hated, memorizing the sweetness of this narrative he pieced together so beautifully. ‘Darling. Did you know, that a blue whale has a heart the size of a car?” Then ‘Transatlantic Love Manifesto’ revealed his tenderness, his patience, and his delicate need and want for love.  He asks his woman “how about we write a joint letter to the Department of Age and ask for a refund?” His poetry was fresh, daring and exceptionally memorable, his words making fans identify with his predicaments, groan in approval of his stanzas, and click, click, click at the live shows in awe of his talent.

To me, Joshua is king of spoken word. He’s elevated the craft; the distinguishing feature always being that he expresses knowledge and sense through his own eyes. He understands and absorbs his craft, pulling at readers/listeners heart-strings by way of language. This is the making of a great poet.

We were introduced to his family through ‘Levi’ and ‘Tamara’s Opus’, both wonderful and sentimental visions of his siblings.

”I waited
was patient numberless years
anticipating the second
her ears would open like lotuses
and allow my sunlight sentences to seep
into her insides
make her remember all those conversations
we must have had in Heaven
back when God hand-picked us
to be sibling souls centuries ago.”

  • Tamara’s Opus

Levi’s story is revisited in ‘The Sobbing School’  through ‘Still Life with Little Brother’ and Bennett’s take on understanding autism and it’s place in the world. His angle both times on his brother Levi is beautiful and will for sure stir your insides.

”Levi is my brother’s name
& I wrote a poem
about him once
& it wasn’t about him
as much as how fear stalks me
like an inheritance, how I fear
for him with all of my love,
how I know the world
like I know the names
of famous poets & the world
has claws, Levi.”

  • Still Life with Little Brother

sobbing schoolBennett’s parents play a vital role in his writing, starring roles even. He dedicates his published book to his loving mother and father ‘who dreamt of other worlds.’ Their influence on him is rich, resulting in some wonderful poems emerging in ‘The Sobbing School’ centered on family relationships. Bennett revisits his past with his mother and father often but also recalls his parents historical telling of their own upbringing and surroundings. Here, Bennett creates a captivating narrative where his poems reference ”back in the day” or ”my mother claims”, as well as his own memories of his parents like ”I knew Mama was nothing to be fooled with” and ”my father showed up that day dressed up as a man with a son with a rage problem.” His family life is reflected in an open and honest fashion, Bennett giving a true insight into his surroundings growing up in a Latino neighborhood and attending a predominately white private school. His world is vibrant and his probing and examining of it is sensational.

strivers rowJoshua Bennett was once a member of spoken word group, ‘The Strivers Row.’ He introduced the world to such pieces as “Praise Him”, “In case of an emergency: Letter to my nephew”, “Still life with Black Death” and “16 Bars for Kendrick Lamar.” Even amongst a very talented group of six poets, (including Miles Hodges, Alyssa Harris, Jasmine Mans, Zora Howard and Carvens Lissaint) Bennett stood out for me. It was his importance, the urgency to hear his poetic voice. On stage, he is a force. His readings are bound to give you chills; his passion and emotion lingering through his words like electric currents, never seizing to impress and educate. Most importantly, the subject matter is always significant and didactic. Bennett’s poetry has always been alive with current American culture, and a fascinating perceptive understanding of the world. This is also reflected beautifully in his published work.

What makes Bennett so remarkable is that he is unafraid to question American society, white or black. He is at his most impressive and true when discussing race, and his tumblr account “square dancing with giants” is a good place to feel this. His poignant interest in race is clear as the theme of blackness is explored through images and quotes.

Square Dancing with Giants
http://joshuabrandonbennett.tumblr.com
josh smile
‘‘He doesn’t talk much, about growing up under the iron fist of 1963, but when he does you can almost feel the police batons against your skin.’’

To put it simply, Dr Joshua Bennett’s voices resonates. As an admirer of his poetry, my admiration for spoken word poetry has been heightened and has allowed me to invoke a poetic voice within myself, I never knew existed. ‘Algorithm & Blues’ and ‘The Sobbing School’ have become my most treasured collections of poetry. Through these racially charged anthologies, Joshua reflects the youth and their challenges at school and the workplace in light of being black in America. His delivery not only echoes the astonishing beauty of language, but he is also able to convey clarity, personality and powerful messages in his words. Many can strongly identify with his working-class family background but also his passionate voice, his intriguing stories, and his New York vision. As a black African, I feel his work is notable and current in light of police brutality, but also culturally I feel his work is able to respond to other types of discrimination.

To say I am an admirer of Dr Joshua Bennett, would be an understatement. In my eyes, he is crucial to poetry and vital to young black readers. He is most definitely notable and a force to be reckoned with. His work thus far has changed me; influencing my daily writing and moving me beyond words. Dr Bennett has affected me greatly since that first night I watched his spoken word poetry online. Due to his inspiration, I went on to study a masters in English and Creative Writing and write poetry of my own. In my personal statement when applying, I wrote with his work and voice in mind.

”I’d like to take my writing to a critical place; a place where through honoring myself, I’m able to create work with the potential to change the perceptions of every form of me. Be that for women, Somalis, Black and African people, Muslims and twenty-somethings. I write for my love of the process, the craft and the contentment it brings me. My great joy derives from reading the work of writers who rouse something in me, the ones whose names I can never forget. Staying true to my childhood self (who was a dreamer), I intend to make myself proud by creating work others can love just as I have. My primary responsibility is to write with a sense of vulnerability and at times a reckless imagination so that I may make my work, to a stranger, worth remembering.”

Joshua Bennett greatly opened my eyes to the use of language. Through his work, I’ve been washed over with the creativity of poetry, viewing blackness as a study and of believing in my own vision, my words and life events now becoming art. He has the power to show young black people, wherever they reside, that they too can become a doctor. They too can choose to not be a stereotype or a statistic and are able to use their life experience on the page. Through his inspiration, they can excel, educate themselves and dream big.

I’m sure there are people out there with their own stories on how they discovered Joshua Bennett’s greatness. Comments on countless videos begging for written lyrics of his poems, requesting for more or simply showing him love. I’m the most intrigued by his mind. I’d like to read what he reads, understand his vision even more and watch his career soar to whichever plateau it takes him.

If you ever read this Dr Bennett, I’d like you to know you are one of my heroes and you have made a change in someone. You are so important not only to me, but to poetry.

josh bennett

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Why I must be best friends with Busy Philipps

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I’m sure you recognise Busy Philipps from classic shows like Dawson’s Creek, E.R, or Freaks ‘N’ Geeks maybe? How about that girl she played on 2004‘s White Chicks ; the one obsessed with the rich creep, who embarrasses her? There’s a chance you recognise her from ABC’s Cougar Town, alongside Courtney Cox where she played the hilarious party girl/assistant Laurie Keller? Or like me you’re obsessed, and extremely jealous of her friendship with actress and bestie Michelle Williams. It’s understandable to desperately want a Sandra Dee style sleepover with them both ASAP!

busy and michelle

Philipps recently rose to Instagram fame with her unique and entertaining Instagram stories, where she relays her fun filled gym sessions on trampolines (sweating enough to fill a whole bath) and narrates her life in a sitcom style, giving advice and explaining this world that is hers, all the while keeping viewers safe in her pocket as she goes about her LA day to day life. She updates us, weighing up pros and cons like pink hair dye VS voting. Her sarcasm is charming and the captions on her posts never seize to put a smile on followers faces. Philipps is also wife to screenwriter Mark Silverstein and mother of two beauties Cricket and Birdie (I mean come on, how Busy are those names? I love her!)

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“This is not who I am now. This is who I’ve always been.”

She is me and she is you; on that day when you feel spotty, bloated and simply in pain for some unknown reason. She’s not afraid to voice her opinion and her valley girl accent only adds to the chaos that is Busy; this beacon of hilarity and whole foods recommendations. She ricochets from amusing escapades to paid ad posts, equally as much as she captures moments of honesty, recommending good health and self love.

busy phillips

The best part. Busy has now teamed up with her 6’6 giant friend Steve Agee, for their new podcast ‘We’re no Doctors’. Steve and Busy are both known hypochondriacs who’ve joined forces to discuss all things awkward about our bodies. They manage to easily seize a nice blend of tender and horrific storytelling and recall ludicrously funny/scary moments about sickness and near death experiences. More often than not they do so through intriguing anecdotes and vivid description. They discuss everything from childbirth (natural & C-section), legalizing marijuana, to being knocked out. Then come viral infections, stomach inflammation and so on – you name it. A recent episode centred on the dangers of sugar, presents the hilarious good-natured comedian Dean Delray explaining how he juiced himself into diabetes and how he fixed it through healthy eating.

no doctors

Philipps had no qualms in sharing all the details of her own ovarian torsion and hospitalisation while on the set of her husband’s movie ‘‘I Feel Pretty.’ The rare condition left her hospitalised but once more she proved to be a familiar friend. One whose able to share, care and be there and still claim, she’s no doctor.

So go follow her Instagram, subscribe to her podcast and binge on Cougar Town! And then you will understand exactly why, I must be best friends with Busy Philipps now please.

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Studying Brent born Zadie Smith at Postgraduate Level

It was the first summer lecture on the Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck University 2017. We were discussing how a writer finds and defines their voice and their territory. The set reading was Zadie Smith’s 2007 essay, ‘Fail Better’. The essay eloquently discussed failing honourably in literature and the responsibility of a writer. It seemed to resonate deeply with the entire lecture hall. It was compelling and utterly honest, sending me into a frenzy. I wanted to know who Zadie Smith was. zadie

Turns out Zadie was born in Brent and her first novel White Teeth (1999) was set in Willesden. Smith nurses an intricate kaleidoscope view of London, whereby she embraces and celebrates London’s melting pot of cultures, embodying the city as a ‘state of mind.’ After reading Zadie’s books, one may observe Smith’s storytelling gives special attention to areas reflective of her humble beginning, places that ring the north circular like Wembley, Neasden, Kilburn, Harlesden and her beloved Willesden. Zadie still lives in Brent for half the year and resides in New York for the other. Zadie is often praised for her realism in her writing, much of that stemming from her use of slang or of her realistic portrayal of London through mirroring the streets of Brent. She is clear in her understanding of the needs of her local community, and the characters dwelling through these parts and their potential. Multiculturalism is a solid theme throughout her work, alongside her character as a writer who clearly holds Brent dear.zadie novel

Pop culture podcast SRSLY by the New Statesman discussed the television adaptation of her popular novel NW. The reworking of the 2012 novel was reviewed in link to social mobility, a theme ever present in Brent. The podcast discussed Zadie’s relatability to her characters struggles of ‘getting out’ of social housing, an ideology she to this day feels associated with, but also described as blurred. As an accomplished writer, Zadie may have ‘escaped’ her humble beginnings, yet currently lives in America in what she describes as a place that looks, and feels like a tower block. On the contrary, it lacks the community she once had. The television adaptation was beautifully shot in Kilburn, reflecting the themes of change and movement effectively.

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Listen to SRSLY here:

Zadie’s contribution to literature and Brent’s legacy have come hand in hand throughout her career. She steadily employs her fame to shine light on the potential of the area. Her adoration of Kilburn high road is reflected in NW, as well as through her voluntary contributions to the borough. In 2016, Zadie campaigned for children centres in Kilburn, Granville and Carlton. To support the cause, she read extracts from an essay concerning the importance of local services.

zadie 2Zadie discussed the ‘Brent Youth Orchestra’ in her 2011 short story ‘Sweet Charity’ for the New Yorker and reminisces on the Willesden Green bookshop which she strongly believes shaped her writing in The Guardian. She’s also spoke candidly defending Brent Libraries on how they were essential to her growth as a writer and places weight on Willesden libraries importance to her acceptance into the pearly gates of Cambridge University.

Smith is a force to be reckoned with amongst mainstream writers and additionally is a great candidate to reflect the borough of Brent in the mayor Sadiq Khan’s London borough of culture 2020 bid.

#mylocalculture #backbrentsbid

Confidently lost in Sabrina Claudio – About Time Review

sabrinacTwo words came to mind when I heard Sabrina Claudio’s ‘About Time’. Milk and honey. Claudio’s sound is instantly intoxicating, permeating the bridge between her last mix tape Confidently Lost and this wistful tale of love and questioning it.

Twenty one year old singer songwriter Sabrina Claudio releases her second mixtape ‘About Time’ at a period when music’s sensuality has been pushed to the brink. Rather than a hard sell her r’n’b melodies, Sabrina writes eloquently on love, youth, identity and time in a soothing angelic tone accompanied with poetic tempo. Sabrina’s voice can be described as moody, romantic and hypnotising. Her songs are perfect to console sadness but also to renew your view on these themes by blooming, wilting, rotting and starting over.

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The young singers’ approach is captivatingly mysterious, in that, her lyrics are somehow depersonalised with more focus on the form of the songs. The simplicity of her lyrics are relaxing, so much so that you may find yourself singing the drawn out notes over and over. The tracks house a gritty bluesy tone, with if possible, even more urgency in her tone when discussing the grand theme of love.

Though only twenty one, Claudio’s lyrics are mature and deeply nostalgic – a personal reason as to why I enjoy her music so much. In her fan favourite track ‘I Belong To You’ she muses  ”take care of me, talk all day then at night fall in deep.” It’s melancholic and its simplicity is free of flaws. ‘Unravel Me’ mirrors an analytical Claudio, one with philosophical predetermined ideas about love and ending it. ”And how my mind is ruptured, wired, and I’m tired of it.” She is strong in her pursuit of ending this relationship, and swears he will never unravel her in any way. The enticing ‘I Wanna Know’ will be the one you hum for days on end. Sabrina questions if her touch is felt as heavenly by this man or ”when you look at me, do the voice of angels start to sing?” She asks the questions some women may never ask, and if the answer is not yes, she proclaims  ”I can’t be in love with you.” Though the album is dreamy and bluesy, there are also a few upbeat tracks like ‘Used To’ , ‘Wait’ and the remix to ‘I Belong to You’ ft 6LACK which are sure to make you hit that repeat button.sc2Many have questioned who Sabrina is directing these songs to, and assume she has been through a lifetime of heartache. She says ”with this album, I have had people saying, “Whoever Sabrina is talking about is done with life. I’m not talking about anyone in particular. I’m a pretty non-romantic person in life. I love to write about love, but I don’t like to love in life. I love my family and friends, but when it comes to men, it’s a tough one.”

Sabrina’s music is delicately crafted with intricate vocal arrangements drawing from an array of genre’s, but amidst this she focuses on a R’n’b smooth sound.  She presents this collection in a beautiful fused form reflecting her Cuban/Puerto-Rican heritage angelically through sound. This voice is magnetic and her sound is uniquely dazzling along with her stunning visuals in her music video.