Kyle Tran Myhre or “Guante” is an activist, educator, writer and one of Minneapolis’ own. He is constantly pushing the boundaries of spoken word through his exploration of tough themes such as gender stereotypes and race. He has made a name for himself with his unique style and honest words that have already resonated deeply with the lives of many people.
What would you define as poetry? Do you think this definition is different from the traditional definition people associate with poetry?
Guante: There are so many definitions and competing thought-currents out there about this question, I tend to kind of side-step that discussion, especially as someone who is known a lot more as a spoken word poet than a page poet. What I can speak on, though, is the kind of working definition that I use for spoken word, which is “poetry that is written with an intention to be performed.” If I were to add on to that, it would be to affirm spoken word’s hybrid impulse, taking bits of rhetoric, theater, jazz, storytelling, and other forms and mashing them together with poetry.
Why did you start writing poetry?
Guante: At first, it was just for fun– messing around with words and sounds. I had notebooks full of stuff but I never performed it or showed it to people. Eventually, I got dragged to a couple of open mics and something kind of just clicked; with my personality, it’s easier for me to engage a big crowd of people than to have conversations or make small talk. Spoken word was a space where I could have a platform to talk about the things that are important to me, to engage with my community, and also to retreat back into myself when the performance was over. That was all very valuable– and very healthy– for me.
What does your process look like today when creating new work?Guante: So much of our work, as poets, is figuring out novel ways to make abstract things concrete– to take big ideas and concepts, and bring them down to earth in a more immediate, sensory way. So for me, it generally starts with a random idea for either a cool line that does that, or a conceptual “hook” for a poem. I’ll make a note of whatever that is on my phone, and then come back to it in a few days and attempt to build a poem around it. That initial process might not actually take very long– maybe a couple of hours. It’s the revision process that takes weeks, months, or years. Especially with spoken word, we have a lot of freedom to revise, to keep tweaking poems indefinitely. I’d also mention that this process if often intensely collaborative, that many poets do not create work locked up in some cabin out in the woods; rather, we send google-docs to each other, get feedback, have discussions, go to open mics, get more feedback, etc. It’s a community-oriented process.
How did you first decide to make your art your career and what was that process like?
Guante: Not to be cliché, but it just kind of all came together organically. I happened to grow up around artists, activists, and educators, so it was a pretty natural slide into doing work that put together art, activism, and education. The key, I guess, was sustainability. I’m lucky that there’s an audience for what I do, that people are actually hungry for the kinds of deeper conversations around social justice issues for which art is such a powerful entry point. I don’t feel like I’m just shouting into a void.
What is some advice you have for people wanting to write poetry/perform spoken word for a living?
Guante: I actually maintain a list of resources for aspiring artists at [http://www.guante.info/2014/02/resources-for-aspiring-spoken-word.html] There’s a lot in there both on the artistic side (the importance of concrete language, for example) and the practical/life side (like how to get plugged into these spaces in the first place). The biggest takeaway is probably to just dive in. Go to open mics, go to poetry slams, join spoken word clubs, create writing circles, and build that community that is so important to being able to do this. Again, it’s a little cliche, but you do learn by doing. And you may not end up doing it for a living– that’s difficult. But as a hobby, as a side-hustle, as a passion– there’s a lot of value in that too. But yeah, it definitely starts with just showing up.