Words and Water: Katrina Ten Years Later – a poem by Christopher D. Sims

Neighborhoods-Sunrise-9th-Ward1

This poem formed, brewed inside of me
Like you did Katrina before the levees broke
As you rushed forcefully, undeniably
into New Orleans.

This storm of words inside me took
their time. They aligned with thoughts, feelings,
emotions, tears, devastation, loss.

So many lost everything: lost family; lost pets;
lost homes; lost a sense of belonging; lost their
ability to return home.

This is jazz and blues for the displaced; the
people who were called refugees. Easy, no
the rebirth of New Orleans has not been.

Gentrification has pushed the poor out. Young
Black men cannot find jobs. Isn’t it odd
That the people who created the culture, the dance,
the music are not benefiting financially?

Katrina’s wrath can still be felt ten years later.

These words are brewing still. My memory
takes me to images of bodies floating in high
waters, to the eyes of the distressed, the shocked,
to a president’s response that was too little and too late.

I wait.

I wade in rivers of words.

I listen to spirit and sound.

I remember Katrina rushing through the Lower 9th.

It’s been a struggle to arrive at these ten years.
These words are the Mississippi in the form of tears.

© Christopher D. Sims
 August 27, 2015

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The Art of Performance Poetry with A Lively Writer’s Group

Performing spoken word poetry.

Performing spoken word poetry.

Yesterday morning, after an early and fairly quiet drive to Winnetka, Illinois, I went to the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop to be featured with a discussion focused on my ” The Seven Elements of Performance Poetry.” The group was very lively, and interested in what I had to share and to say about my techniques as a seasoned spoken word poet.

I put together a defined workshop that spoke to each element – available as a Word document if you’re interested in viewing it. I was concerned about not having enough material to carry me through, but that quickly vanished when the lively group of seasoned writers and literary enthusiasts began asking me questions about my knowledge of performance poetry and/or Slam poetry.

The questions carried us through most of the first half of our electric conversation. I am glad that I have been performing as long as I have, and was prepared with a memory of what it takes to be a performance poet. The questions they asked kept me on my toes!

I learned of the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop through a local poet’s husband during a conversation we had at an event where his visual art was on display, and where her and my poetry was featured in a live reading in downtown Rockford. I remembered the name of the group and went home and found their website. I reached out to them expressing my interest in being a presenter. I shared what I could present and it was accepted.

The Seven Elements of Performance Poetry is my go to workshop for highlighting my tactics as a spoken word poet on stage. It consists of pieces of knowledge and information that I feel will help any poet seeking to become a performance poet – which, as I explained to the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop group, is taking written poetry to the stage.

The group consisted mostly of women who listened intensely and made sure they asked the right questions. Performance poetry is not simple, and I believe only the brave poets want to take their writing to the level of performing and reciting it.

I have been performing since the late 90s as a spoken word artist. My early start was in Memphis, TN at the former Sidewalk University in midtown Memphis. I remember that first experience like it was yesterday. Going to an open mike to share my poetry live was something I had never done. It was a new genre for me. Although I had performed as a budding rapper at my elementary school in the mid 80s, there was something different about reciting poetry to a group of people I didn’t know. Later on, after learning about the weekly open mike at the former Precious Cargo in downtown Memphis, I become hooked and haven’t looked back since.

Years later, here I am in Winnetka, Illinois at the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop sharing what I have learned all of these years. I have come full circle as a spoken word poet. I am glad I had the opportunity to showcase that there with that lively and kindred group of writers and literary enthusiasts!

I hope to get back there some time, even if it is just to listen to them and learn about what they are doing with their writing. Happy National Poetry Month! May the muse be with you!

Hip-Hop Memory and Meditation (Number 1)

This is the first memory and meditations I seek to write to archive, and most importantly, to share.

I grew up on early rap/hip-hop music. It is one of the earliest of sources of creativity that helped define me and inspire me. Growing up on the west side of Rockford, IL (northern Illinois) rap music was a profound discovery young people of color, especially in the inner city, were growing to love and delving into deeply. I was one of those young people who quickly fell in love with the raps, the rhythms, the rhymes.

My older brothers began collecting and playing the 1970s and 1980s rap/hip-hop music I owe a lot to. They were playing all kinds of rap music, mostly from the east coast. It was a new form of music that would not only identify what was going on in the inner city streets of this country, but would also change what was going on here. It became our soundtrack, our collective voices, our messages to the world.

Break dancing was beginning to take over as well, so these two elements of the hip-hop culture were allowing young people of color, especially Latinos/as to to express ourselves in the most creative ways. The older people didn’t understand it. They would look at us crazy wondering what we were doing, what was going on. We stuck to it. Rap especially was the sound of the day, we had our own music to dance to and to sing along to.

One of my earliest memories was going to a local convenience store not far from where my family and I was living at. That store sold cassette tapes and rap was one some of these cassette tapes. I saw one that said “Funky Technician” by Lord Finesse and DJ Mike Smooth. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted that tape. I had to hear that music! It didn’t take me long. I got enough money to buy the cassette and went and bought. That was probably my first purchase of music. It was one of the best purchases I ever made.

LordFinesseAndDJMikeSmooth

Funky Technician, the first project by Lord Finesse And DJ Mike Smooth is a groundbreaking rap/hip-hop recording. I had heard nothing like it at that point. Lord Finesse was on top of his lyrical game and the beats by Mike Smooth fit the raps perfectly. My favorite song on the project “Funky Technician” I bobbed my head to many times. I can remember this like it was yesterday.

I spent hours in my room listening to this cassette tape. It introduced me to a lyricism and production I had no idea existed. All of the tracks on the project has a unique flavor, all of them definitely are funky, creative. DJ Premier produced a track on the album. I didn’t really know of his work back then but you can see that Preemo – as he’s called – was definitely a producer on the rise back then.

This is a meditation. A memory. Reminding me of where I came from as a lyricist and a poet. I learned from poets like Lord Finesse and it is nice to meditate in this, to document it, remember it. We’ve all been inspired by something or someone. Let us take note of this as we strive and thrive as Creatives.

In Deep Peace, Christopher D. Sims a.k.a. UniverSouLove.

 

Black Thought’s Freestyle And What It Means For Hip-Hop And Black Lives Matter

Black Thought appeared on Hot 97 with Funkmaster Flex and recited one of the best rap performances in recent times. If you haven’t heard it yet, check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prm.

I’m a longtime fan so I come from a history of listening to and studying his rhymes for quite some time. As a matter of fact, my crew the Sungod Foundation at Rust College in Holly Springs, MS used to go crazy when a new Roots video was released. We would hurriedly go purchase their latest release when it came out. We knew early on that Black Thought was someone special and was one of the best back then. That was the early 90s.

Back to Black Thought’s epic verse:

Someone here on Facebook commented on how long his verse was. I can understand that. My respect for Black Thought’s verse is not how long it was, but what he had to say within those incredible lines. What I am proud of and excited for is that Thought kept his lyrics revolutionary. Despite his gig with The Roots as the house band on a late night show, he’s still talking about Nat Turner and the red, black, and green flag. He’s educating young people and showing us that he’s still the conscious lyricist that we need to keep us ready for the fight that’s ahead of us, especially during Trump’s presidency. He even said that he “wished Obama had four more years.”

This piece may only appeal to rap purists. I’m looking at how Black Thought used his words and where and when he chooses to rhyme. He is super-focused, sharp, and has a battle-type hunger when he flows. He mentions the young and the old as he drops and drops. New people will learn of his legendary status and people like me who knew about him will love he is getting the credit he deserves and be happy for organic hip-hop music. Hip-hop needs to know that there are lyricists, poets like Black Thought still around and are the people who make up the backbone of rap music. Black Thought is only the reincarnation of Kool G. Rap and Big Daddy Kane. He’s done impressions on these supreme MCs on an earlier album.

If anything Black Thought has re-energized rap music for the good. He has shared a lyrical lesson that’s a blessing. I know, like myself, other rappers will be studying what he did and stepping our game up or listening and listening to be inspired by Tariq Trotter a.k.a. Black Thought, a Philadelphia-born MC who still stays true to the City of Brotherly Love by mentioning it whenever he gets a chance to. The grittiness of Philadelphia is very evident is his galactic flow.

His verse will change how we look at delivery, breath control, and what it means to be live spitting on a verse that people are anticipating. I ask if you are not aware of what he’s done before, please go listen. I am not at all surprised by what he did because he’s shown that ability in recent and early recordings. His verse on Hot 97 is a blue print that MCs will follow in their own way. We will either build on it or use it to better our bars and verses as we write or freestyle. I hope the young people are listening and taking notes. I bet a lot of you are and have. Black Thought is a universal MC who has connected with the young and the elders of the Hip-Hop community. We need an MC, a storyteller, a griot who can bridge our generations to educate, inform, and inspire us. Black Thought has done that with his epic verse.

What I do want to focus on is some of the most revolutionary verses in the freestyle that is helpful to the Black Lives Matter Movement. These in particular, should encourage us to think or act on:

“How much more CB4 can we afford?/
It’s a like a Shariah Law on “My Cheria Amour
How much hypocrisy can people possibly endure?
But ain’t nobody working on a cure…”

These words should not be overlooked. They are some of the most important lines in this rhyme. Black Thought has always been known for writing and reciting rhymes that attacked racism, inequality, and poverty. He should be respected and commended for this. check out his earlier recordings, most of his material has been about bringing attention to the impoverished and the hellish conditions in the streets across the country. He displayed our conditions very well in this verse of his that should stick in the minds of his listeners and his new fans who are unfamiliar with what he’s done thus far.

I’m thankful for what he did. He’s inspired me. I listen to the verse like a sermon, like a meditation. He’s breathed new life into the way I go about looking at lyrics and how an MC recites his verses. He’s encouraged me in that rap music is not dead and creativity still rules in the art form.
It will be so that Black Thought’s freestyle will give birth to new writers, poets, and MCs who want to be the best at what they do and tell the truth no matter how much it hurts.

Ase’! Amen.

Copyright Christopher D. Sims
December 27th, 2017

Human Rights – a poem by Christopher D. Sims

Our beloved, sacred human rights
take flight the day we are born.

Born into a world of injustices,
harms, hindrances, limitations
People of color are slapped in the face
from nation to nation.

As a universal concept, we all should reject
any notion against any person’s worth, dignity.

We all have voices. We all have minds.
We all know what bigots and dictators are,
especially in these political times.

Your rights are mines, my rights are yours:
a mantra true and righteous forever more.

We dream, we hope, we unite, we fight
For the liberties that come along with
the power of human rights.

From nation to nation, there’s a war
going on. The youth are becoming educated
the elders are getting strong.

We sing a song crafted by the trials in our paths.
Justice is a love word that will always last.

Power to the people in Africa, in Haiti, in Palestine.
Power to all the people who have been in shackles
for lifetimes.

We need compassion, resources, and loving-kindness
shared with the downtrodden. Human potential is
the best weapon against those who have been overlooked,
forgotten.

We collectively, virtually sit by the camp fire
at night. The moon glows brightly despite
what’s happening in communities where
crying is being unheard. We know we’re on
the verge of a huge turnaround, even when
loud tears hit the ground.

The sound and sight of people of all races and classes
coming together, means, human rights will be that much better.

©Christopher D. Sims
February 25, 2017

An Animal World As One – a poem for a Unitarian Universalist Conversation

This poem was written for the First Principle Project led by LoraKim Joyner. We’ve come together in words and in discussion questions to look at our First Principle, which is “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

In the inner city, the concrete jungle,
we are animals inside a cage surrounded
by hate and rage. We are engaged in
activities that call for peace, unity, civility.

The concrete jungle adjusts to
whoever is in office. I many ways,
it is just us. No real justice.

As a person of color in the concrete jungle
I am concerned about my sisters, my brothers.

My hermanas and my hombres just the same,
because the concrete jungle has us singing
a collective blues, feeling the same pain.

As we harmonize, there’s a jungle
with wildlife we are not connected to.
About this disconnection what should
we do?

I say we leave our lairs to go outside
and breathe deeply fresh air. Say a
universal prayer that recognizes
our collective worth and dignity. Under
our glorious sun that’s how it should be.

As the reflection in the mirror looks back
at me, I contemplate Black Lives Matter
and the plight to include other beings.
Possibly creating new language in complex
times when people of color find our voices
still not being heard.

The animals, our relatives, have feelings
too. A polluted and warming planet they share
with us. Imagine what they’re thinking
as we lose Gaia’s trust.

How do we take care of the oppressed
and protect the animals in their habitats?

The climate is changing fast so we need
to organize, react. We need to create
policies and solutions that benefit people
and our fellow beings.

How about conversations that leads
to Unitarian Universalist legislation
that honors every being without creating
a segregation of life? I think we have it in
us if we crafted it right.

© Christopher D. Sims
February 4, 2017

Find more here about the First Principle Project and what is being proposed: http://www.firstprincipleproject.org/.

 

Anxiety In America (After the 2016 Presidential Election) -a poem by Christopher D. Sims

There is anxiety in America,
a deep unease after the 2016 presidential
election. The selection of Donald Trump
has many scared, nervous, or down
in the dumps.

America is in a funk; Americans
who are confused are singing a brand
new blues; a blues with heavy woes
as we continue to be divided,
political foes.

Who knows what this new administration
will bring?! As women, immigrants and
people of color sing the saddest of songs.

The division and separation is strong.
Conversations and debates are taking
place about who belongs here – leaving
many in fear.

There is anxiety in America, a deep
unease after the presidential election.
Many are screaming “Not my president!”

Canada is a location where some of us
want to take up residence. Hesitant about
what this new administration will
bring. How will community organizers,
activists, and leaders sing a new song?

How will we react to the coming wrongs
of newly selected political leaders? How
we will fix political wounds that may only
get deeper, and deeper, and deeper?

There is anxiety in America. For this
new administration many of us are
not prepared. Our girls and women
are scared. There is a change that’s
coming and you can feel it in the air.

Daring to travel to DC are a million
women who will march with justice,
equality, and togetherness in their
hearts.

The Arts is in danger, I saw it in
the subject line of an email. I can
only imagine what else, will being in
America feel like we’re living in hell?

There is anxiety in America. What
will your new tune be? Will you choose
to fight harder for the rights of you and
me? How will we make sure the future
of our children is not filled with worry?

Let’s a take a moment to breathe, to be,
to relate, to call to action, to gather, to
meet, to pray, to say what’s on our minds,
to find common ground, to create a new
universal sound that we can all groove to
and benefit from.

The work is just beginning. Our time has
just begun. The work is just beginning. Our
time has just begun. The work is just beginning.
Our time has just begun.

© Christopher D. Sims
January 2, 2017

2016-presidential-election

Smuggling Poetry Across Boarders

I have a confession to make:
In one of my earliest days as a
spoken word performer, I smuggled
poems across the boarder to Canada.
I told a white lie to get in, those words
needed a stage, freedom.

That was the beginning: knowing the
poems I was penning were taking
me across interstate lines was the
most ultimate of times, of times.

Lines on paper traveling on buses
and airplanes to arrive to be unpacked,
spoken, or slightly rapped.

Sacred Woman, I took her to Washington, DC
with me; I Met Her at A Book Store, we went to the
Memphis Black Writers Conference & Film Festival;
Word Warrior, we cruised out to Chicago to the
Chicago Poetry Festival; She has Breast Cancer
has traveled with me to Cornell University.

These are poems with miles on them – frequent
flyer miles where they received applause, praise, smiles.

They are packed, packaged, unpacked. Poems, rhymes,
rhythms, raps packed, packaged, unpacked.

Poems, rhymes, rhythms, raps
Tucked neatly inside of my bags. Traveling
vocab. Traveling vocab.

They’ve helped me develop a following
and a name. Poetry written, but born to be
wild. Experiencing long bus rides, just as
tired and worn as I am. Just as tired and
worn as I am.

I open the bag, then let them breathe. They
have come to achieve. Been places you
wouldn’t believe. Smuggled consistently
ready to please.

Happy to satisfy, especially after they’ve
been requested or ordered, are the poems
of mines smuggled across boarders.

© Christopher D. Sims
March 7th, 2013

Cool Christopher wearing A Cap

Listen to a recording of this poem with music here: https://soundcloud.com/universoulove/smuggling-poetry-across-1?in=universoulove/sets/internacional-sounds-words

Remembering Michael Brown – A Poem by Christopher D. Sims

Four and a half hours your body laid there
flat on hot summer concrete untouched, unmoved,
not cared for. Your people in  Ferguson started
crying and fighting back, fighting back and crying.

Dying harshly seems to be young Black men’s plight.

Death knows our name all too well. It’s either death
or jail and prison cells.

Your tragic story is all too commonplace in the thick of
the hate and inequality of the United States.

We are remembering you Michael. We are remembering
the lies, the pain, the struggle, the voices that followed
in those Ferguson streets. We have yet to find justice and
peace.

It’s been a year but it feels like yesterday that your death
sparked an uprising; a resistance; a movement; movement
building. Black Lives Matter is not yielding!

I’ve remembered you in marches since then in St. Louis,
New York,  Illinois, and New Jersey. Marching with the
masses in what is a state of emergency.

We breathe the horrible air of American injustice that you
won’t ever again. We are fighting, igniting, engaging, and
conversing about race. We are taking over space after space
to be heard.

And the name Mike Brown sits proudly our tongues as we
fight and fight until we have won. Until we have won.

I am remembering you lost soldier who died with your hands
up in submission. Because of what happened to you, we are
making sure the world listens.

Copyright Christopher D. Sims
August 10th, 2015

michael-brown

Black Superman (against Police Brutality) – a poem by Christopher D. Sims

I want to be my people’s Black Superman;
Savior; saint; sophisticated thinker tackling
issues too difficult to solve in just one discussion,
workshop, or social media post.

I want to be Black America’s Superman; a man
with a tan taught by elders who has read all
the right books about our story and pending liberation.

I want to help save this nation from killing itself;
Fight off the racism, classism, sexism, and all other
forms of isms that will be the end of this poisonous
country still stuck in an unpromising past.

Black Superman I can be. Black Superman let that
be me. Black Superman I can be. Black Superman let that
person be me.

I want to show up at every traffic stop of every Black
person who has been pulled over by an angry cop. I’ll
yell “Stop!” My super powers will be reason. And if
she or he continues to harass or threaten persons of color
I’ll be that brother that’ll stop his bullets or baton. I want
to save Black people’s lives because we continue to die,
because we continue to die.

Here I come flying through the sky with my eyes on places
like Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Cleveland,
and New York City with the ability to apprehend the women
and men who are corrupt across the states with hate and
disrespect in their hearts: Black Superman!

I’d posses the power to put out black church fires with
water flowing from my mouth. We still need justice
and protection in the dirty south!

‘Cause it’ll take superpowers to devour what’s taking place
in our communities and cities. It’ll take more than legislation
and demonstrations. It’ll take more than protests and arrests.

I’ll be your Black Superman. I’ll be the brother that has your
back when you are under attack. I’ll be your Black Superman.
I’ll be the brother that has your back when you’re under attack.

The way some of these police act threatens all of our humanity.
All of our humanity! Black Superman: here to bring us some safety
and sanity.

© Christopher D. Sims
July 26th, 2015

BlackSuperman

The Ghost of Sandra Bland – A Poem by Christopher D. Sims

The ghost of Sandra Bland wants us to understand
That the lives of Black people in the United States
are fragile; are for the taking; are worth nothing when
a cop is confronting you.

The ghost of Sandra Bland haunts me in the day time,
and even in my sleep. She creeps among us fresh from
a suspicious hanging – her life physically not remaining.

The ghost of Sandra Bland watches us watch what happened
to her on social media and on the evening news. She watches
her devastated family sing the blues. Sing the blues.

The ghost of Sandra Bland knows what happens.

She’s waiting for us to find out. She’s waiting for us to demand
justice and cry out!

The ghost of Sandra Bland is just as strong as the young
black woman who knew her rights; who lost her life; who
went down in a fight just because she was black and determined.
Black and educated. Black and situated hoping for a better life.

The ghost of Sandra Bland is among us all.

Will you hear her call?

Copyright Christopher D. Sims
July 22nd, 2015

sandra-bland