I will sometimes receive questions from students for papers or writers of interviews and in an effort to provide certain information to said inquisitive minds that at times I do not always have the wherewithal to stay on top of, I've listed below a number of often-asked questions with answers. If they’re of any help, feel free to use any of them. At the bottom is a list of links to interviews scattered around the web which may also additional questions.
Why do you write?
I write because:
–I have the creative need to.
–It helps me make better sense of the worlds inside and outside of me.
–I want to attemp to use words beautifully.
–I love stories and my imagination desires to tell them.
Is there any reason you were interested in art?
I’ve always just been drawn to it. Growing up it’s what I enjoyed and what I was good at, and what made the most sense to me.
What is your advice to young artists?
Work, work, work—don’t be afraid to make things that are unsuccessful or “bad.” Observe everything around you and store up its inspirations, so you don’t have to wait for inspiration to arrive—it’s simply and hopefully always present. Learn from others. Learn by copying. Learn always by doing. Introduce yourself to your voice at the right time. Be honest with yourself. For the times you can’t or don’t know how to do this, have someone or someones that can, and listen to them. You don’t have to let the audience dictate what you create, but you do need to have an audience who will receive what you create. This is good and a wealth of a classroom. Give. Follow your heart and that which will make it happy. Don’t be afraid—be fearless in risk-taking. Don’t be afraid to go the movies by yourself or eat in public alone. Ride your bicycle with a helmet. Don’t be a dick.
Who are your biggest inspirations, and why?
So many but here’s a few.
Frank Stanford for his rawness and beauty and imaginative originality. I love how backwoods and mythological it feels.
Lucille Clifton for how direct and seemingly simple she writes, while still speaking volumes.
Richard Brautigan for his whimsy and surreal playfulness, his imagination. his simplicity.
Bukowski because he’s unapologetic, honest, real, and finds beauty.
The beat generation, especially Gregory Corso and Kerouac, for how they approached the work and their lives, with freedom and without apology.
Anne Sexton. Because she’s simply amazing. Amazing.
Jack Gilbert. He writes differently about the same things, and writes the same as everyone else about different things. I don’t know–it’s like he’s using the same language as we’re all familiar with but in his hands a word has five extra sides than we thought it did. His work is simple and beautiful.
Harper Kee’s To Kill a Mockingbird because it keeps my childhood present.
Scott McCloud is a comic book artist who wrote an amazing book called Understanding Comics that I think anyone who is an artist should read. What he writes about is applicable to every and all art forms. He takes the ideas and processes of storytelling (which I believe all art making essentially is–communicating an idea or “story”) and breaks its elements down, on historical, emotional, psychological, and aesthetic levels.
Describe yourself: (I know it's hard, but try your best)
Little. loud. pretty funny most of the time. Sometimes annoying. Loud. Kind. Messy. Creative. Loud.
What are your parents like? (personality, traits you associate with them)
My folks met in college and have been married for nearly forty years now.
My pops is from Iran. He came over when he was 18, 19 years old to go to school. He’s an engineer, has worked the same job for almost forty years, his second job out of school. He’s a pretty logical and rational thinking guy though he’s pretty funny when he wants to be.
My mother’s black and grew up between her mother in New Orleans and her grandparents in Mississippi. She’s spunky. Talkative and opinionated. She’s always done things with books. When we were growing up she ran a children’s bookstore and she did that for quite a spell, then was a school librarian, did that for awhile. then she left that, needed a change so she taught english in China for two years. And is now a high school librarian back in New Orleans.
How has your cultural background, upbringing influenced your performances of poetry and slams?
There is strong oral traditions in both the Persian and the African-American cultures, so perhaps there are things inherent in my cultural history that are inherent in me. More tangibly though, a lot of my upbringing has infused my work. I was raised by parents that thankfully recognized the importance of art and thus it was something present in the rearing of us, and any endeavor by us with creativity was heavily supported. I was raised a Baha’i and so much of this has infused my work over the years. The Baha’i Faith is one that rests upon the principle of unity amongst the races and religions. The writings teach of the inherent nobility of man, of our worth and the power inside all of us, at times latent. This is amazing to me, and more amazing that too many people in the world are told the exact opposite! This idea of how great and special we actually are, as well as how much more alike we are than different–is important to me as a person and much of these ideas find their way into my work.
Do you believe Poetry slams have a direct correlation with hip-hop, and R&B Rap?
I think there are a number of correlations between the poetry slam and hip-hop. Being that there is so much in hip-hop’s roots that deal with braggadocio and battle rapping and that the Slam is a form of competitive wordplay, the two can elicit a similar spark in some folks. What’s great about Slam is that it’s not meant to be exclusive–anyone is invited to participate. You don’t need a dj or a beat for you, just you and an audience. And so it allows an outlet for folks attracted to rap and hip-hop without having to deal with all the extraneous things like money or equipment. I think that’s attractive to many performers.
If you were to classify your genre of poetry with an original name, what would it be?
There are definitely ides and themes I enjoy exploring. In regards to performing work, I work at keeping it as u-npresentational as possible, hoping that anything theatrical in it comes organically, as a result of the piece itself and being connected to that piece. But I wouldn’t want to define a specific genre for this. I just write poems :)
What is your response to the younger generations of poets, and the influence of technology of this form of the arts?
When I first started writing and performing, there was no new work to be seen unless someone from out of town came through to perform–this with regards to performed poetry– which didn’t happen often and if it did, all you had was that night that performance. And maybe a book, maybe a cd. I remember searching on the baby of the internet for a scrap of something from inspiring poets. Now Youtube is overloaded with everything a young poet could want to be inspired by, which leads to both sides of the coin. On one side, having so much exposure to so much work can be harmful to artists allowing themselves to grow individually, while on the other side they get to hear such a range and wealth of work. It just depends.
How do you feel about the nature of competition in poetry slams, and what is competition's influence of the poetry?
I love the competition for a few reasons:
1. It can provide a fire, urge, and catalyst for writing and performing that otherwise might not be there.
2. It gives the audience power to reject bullshit from the artist. This makes the artist responsible and accountable for what they are making.
3. Having such an immediate reaction to work from people and having to strategize, can allow an artist to better explore and understand the psychology of people, something that as an artist I think is extremely important–if one is attempting to communicate ideas to others, one needs to understand how a body of people collectively and individually receive and process information.
4. It provides the audience with excitement and a hook to get introduced to poetry.
Competition though of course can take a negative affect, I think it depends on the individuals. It can be used as an excuse for why a poem isn’t working, blaming an audience as opposed to reflecting on one’s own role in the piece. It can also infuse the shaping of the poem, thus crafting it simply for a certain response from audiences. But I think those are hurdles in all art forms.
What religion are you affiliated with (if any)? How did you come into this religion?
I’m a Baha’i. I was raised in it and have continued with it best as I can. It’s a young religion that began in Iran less than two hundred years ago but is a global faith. Its main belief is that of unity, professing the oneness of God, of humanity, and of all the religions. What I love about it is that for me it makes sense on a spiritual level as well as on a logical level. It also is an empowering faith, allowing its members to bring to the table their traits and personalities. As opposed to having this one idea of what it means to be a “Baha’i” and asking people to adhere to that, it encourages all people to bring with them their cultures to add to the mix. The Faith believes that the faith of all individuals is a personal journey, that the nature of one’s soul is on its own personal journey to find the truths of the universe and that while we learn from and teach one another, one’s spirituality and one’s relationship with God is one’s own responsibility to develop and figure out.
You received a bachelor's degree in fine arts of comic books at the Savannah College of Art and Design; what inspired you to pursue a career in performance in contrast to design?
I wasn’t necessarily seeking a career in it, nor was it something that was on the other side of the fence or something completely different. I know it seems like it is, but ultimately I see art as art and the making of it as the making of it–it just has different tools that are more or less appropriate for what one is trying to communicate. The whole time I was in college studying comics I was writing poems. Time that I wasn’t performing poems, I was painting. It wasn’t a separation. The things inside of me just took shape in different ways.
That being said, when I was done with my BFA, I was pretty burnt out on the idea of comics. I started graduate work in performing because I was able to work for the school in exchange for my MFA and because these studies were turning on a different part of my creative brain. My creativity was being activated in new ways that were exciting to learn and study. When I was done with school simply put I was still interested in continuing this. I was inspired by the thought of being a part of NY’s spoken word community, so I moved to there and jumped in.
"Shake the Dust", and "Closer" are two or your most acclaimed and inspiring performances, do these poems have specific significance to you? Individually, what inspired you to write them?
On one level, they don’t have any more or less significance to me than any other poem of mine. However, they do speak in a pretty direct way, reflecting the ideas and philosophies I have about people and the life we have been entrusted with. And for whatever reason they are two pieces that connect with a number of people. and because of that, because of the bit of goodness and joy that I can hopefully leave people with as a result of those two pieces, then that’s the significance they hold for me–that they are of service to some people. That’s nice.
In regards to the inspiration for them, I couldn’t say really. “Shake the Dust” was written sometime between 1998 and 2000, so I can’t remember, it was just another poem that I was writing. Most of my work isn’t the result of direct inspiration and ideas, but rather simply writing, seeing what happens, and then shaping it. The spark from it may have come from a section of the Baha’i writings that mention shaking the dust from one’s feet when one leaves a town, but it was so long ago I couldn’t say for certain. As I said, most of my work comes from sitting down and writing as opposed to locking in on a singular idea at the start, and “Come Closer” is no different. I want to say that elements of it came from wanting to convey to others that they are of worth. The idea of someone living their whole life without a single person revealing to them how beautiful they actually are, but again it was just another poem I was working on, so I can’t speak directly to it’s specific process.
Do you have any mantras you live your life by?
“Noble have I created thee” –Baha’u’allah
How would you describe your childhood?
Pretty great I recall. Grew up in New Orleans, a city I cherish. New Orleans smells like magnolias. That’s what growing up there smells like. I grew up on Willow St in an Uptown neighborhood known as Riverbend, cuz it was by the bend in the Mississippi. On one corner of our block was the abandoned gas station rusted and falling apart, on the other was the laundromat that also sold candy and spicy pickles in a gross jar and pickled pigs feet in a grosser jar, and in the summertime, snowballs, which are like snow-cones but better cuz the ice is shaved fine enough to make it feel like ice cream almost and they have a lot more flavors.
The streetcar barn was a block or two away. Continuing up past the barn on the corner of Willow and Carrollton was a former auto mechanic’s shop turned Mexican restaurant, Cuco’s. Around the corner from that was Sidney’s the video store we rented from. Before we had a VCR we would sometimes rent a VCR player, which back then the ones one rented were these giant black heavy things enclosed in a big plastic suitcase type thing so you could carry it home. We would get one at birthdays and such. And after we got our own I often rented An American Tail and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Kitty corner to Cuco’s was Nix Library. It was brick and stone and air conditioned and smelled of old books and dark light.
We grew up not far from school. But as we were usually running late in the morning it was rare for me to walk there, but in the afternoon I would usually walk home. It wasn’t far, probably 10, 12 blocks on Willow. Flanked with giant oak trees making such a canopy of branches and leaves that it was always kinda dark. At home I would watch cartoons until five o’clock then do homework and then dinner. If it was nice outside we would sometimes play ball. Football in the street or kickball and soccer on the gas station’s lot. If I didn’t walk home then I stayed in aftercare at school or would walk to the bookstore. Our mom had a children’s bookstore so we would often go there after school. I’d spend my time there reading, pouring over any and everything on the shelves. On Saturdays, after morning cartoons, we’d often end up playing ball at the gas station.
We weren’t poor but it never felt like we had a lot. But it kinda felt like no one really did. I asked my mom recently why that was, she said it was cuz Reagan was president. I had a good chuckle over that.
We were in that neighborhood until I was 12 or thirteen. The neighborhood had gotten progressively worse. Our house have been broken into a few times and when I was ten or eleven, my sister came home screaming and crying about how mom was going to get shot, cuz some guy had stolen mom’s purse by gunpoint in the driveway and she had jumped into the car to try and look for him. After that my folks started searching harder for a new place. We moved to Broadmoor, another Uptown neighborhood and that’s where my folks still are. Not too far away, nothing is far in New Orleans.
Do any of your other hobbies influence, or incorporate themselves into your performance poetry?
I’ve been wanting to combine my own music with my poems both recorded and live onstage, and have wanted to explore the mixing of film with poetry.
I also find that the most important things I’ve learned about poetry were infused by the lessons I had studying comic books/sequential art. All art is communication, essentially telling a story of some sort, and that’s all comic book art is. Being taught storytelling fundamentals ended up being the most concrete influence for writing poems.
What are your priorities?
Trying to write and make art. Trying to better myself and be a good person. Being happy.