Joshua Bennett is a young man about his business. If you have not heard his ’10Things I Want To Say To a Black Woman’ then you must not be keeping up with the times. He is a young spoken word artist hailing from NY, and currently pursuing his graduate studies in the U.K.
By the way: Tomorrow (January 13) he is set to perform at Le Poisson Rogue @6:30p.m. for the ‘Deans List’ event in the NYC!! Read the interview for more information on this phenomenal young artist.
Who is Joshua Bennett? Is he one and the same person as the spoken word artist?
Joshua Bennett the spoken word artist is actually pretty similar to everyday Joshua Bennett. His voice is slightly deeper, and he’s a bit more dramatic, but the key emotions carry over pretty well.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in the Bronx, but grew up in Yonkers, NY. Shout out to Styles, Jadakiss, and Mary J. Blige. Yonkers all day!
When did you first begin to write and perform poetry?
I started writing short stories when I was around 5 years old, and got into poetry soon after. As far as spoken word goes, though, I wrote my first full-length piece when I was seventeen, after seeing a Hurricane Katrina Relief Benefit at Sarah Lawrence College. The benefit event was the first time I’d ever seen spoken word poetry, and I was absolutely floored. Poets like Aja Monet (who also organized the event) Kesed Ragin, Carlos Andres Gomez, and Abiodun from the Last Poets, all got up there and told their individual narratives with a passion unlike anything I had ever seen. After that night, I knew that the art form was something I wanted to pursue. I wrote my first piece the next Sunday, in a yellow spiral notebook. I haven’t looked back since.
Poetry to me is a sophisticated way of telling a story with the brilliance of metaphors and such. What stories do you hope to convey to your audience? Matter of fact, who is your audience?
The stories I hope to convey to my audience are almost always intensely personal in nature, and usually center around the themes of love, faith, redemption, and the struggle to be understood by those closest to you. As far as your question about reception, I consider my audience to be made up of anyone that is willing to listen. It truly is a blessing that anyone takes the time to listen to me at all, and I want everyone reading to know that I do not take their support for granted. The messages, comments, and kindhearted tweets I receive from you all quite often serve to brighten my day. Thank you for the encouragement!
Your ‘10things I want to say to a black woman’ had me replaying it over and over again. What was the inspiration behind that, and what compelled you to say that to us?
Thanks for watching! “10 Things” started over a year ago, really, when I heard an amazing NYC-based poet by the name of Falu perform her piece “10 Things I Want to Say to a Black Man” in the Nuyorican Poets Café. A few days after hearing it, I wrote a reply to her poem. With the writing of the piece, I did my best to both reflect upon the experiences I’ve had over the years with Black women, in addition to thinking forward about the type of father and husband I would like to be, about how I desire to treat Black women in the future.
I’m a very visual person, and I felt as if you painted pictures with your words. This line had me utterly speechless: “The way to a black man’s heart is not through his stomach, is through the heaven in your hello, the echo of unborn galaxies that bounces forth through your vocal chords that melts ice grills into oceans, baptizing our lips”. That is passionate artistry right there. Where do you creatively zone out to when you start painting these words?
To be honest, I feel like I have played a pretty small role in the writing of my pieces over the years. Most of my pieces are based on life experiences, much of the writing is really just trying to capture the most powerful moments of those experiences on the page.
There’s a piano playing in the background, which adds a nice touch to your words, please tell us the artist and song playing
The score was actually done by Jason Edwards and Nana Kwabena, two brilliant musicians I know that are also fellow Penn alum. Over the years, we have taught together, laughed together and collaborated creatively with each other on a number of occasions, and so I can sincerely say that I am honored that both of these gentlemen were willing to come onboard and show their love and appreciation for women of the African diaspora through music.
In your Bruce and Carrie’s Son blog, http://myheartisaspaceship.blogspot.com/ you cite Dr. Cornel West as being one of your favorite speakers and Dr. Dyson as ‘…hands-down one of the greatest orators of our generation’. The art of public speaking and delivery has not been as profound with our generation (children born in the 80’s onwards) as it was with theirs, what do you think can be done to revive the passionate enthusiasm exuded by the aforementioned?
Honestly, I think a lot of that work is already happening. I know a good number of arts educators who are in schools, in organizations like Urban Word NYC and the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement, and out in our communities working with young people every day to remind them that they have a story that needs to be heard. For some of these younger folks, the most natural way to express what they feel inside isn’t through the medium of “oratory” as it is traditionally conceived. For a lot of them, it’s through MCing, through dance, the visual arts, athletics, the list goes on and on. Times are changing. I do think, however, that there are a number of spaces in which great young orators are being groomed and nurtured. We may just have to look harder than we did before.
Your ESU Review research piece you did as a senior at UPENN entitled: ‘Tracing the Scar’s On My Mother’s Back’ is particularly intriguing and full of cultural, historical and political symbolism. In relation to your ’10 things I want to say to black women’ strength, perseverance and resilience seem to be recurring themes was this a conscious effort on your part, or it’s just what it is?
I wouldn’t say I made a conscious effort to include those themes, as much as the people that raised me served as excellent examples of how important strength, resilience and perseverance are within one’s daily life.
You’ve been blessed with the opportunity of performing before amazing crowds, but your ‘Tamara Opus’ performance at the White House has to be hands down the best if not one of your greatest to me. Your tribute to your sister transcended from the phenomenal range into extraordinary. An excerpt that particularly struck a chord with me was:
‘I still remember, her 20th birthday/Readily recall my awestruck 11 year old eyes/As I watched deaf men and women of all ages/ Dancing in unison to the vibration of speaker booming so loud/That I imagined angels chastising us for disturbing their worship with such beautiful blasphemy/Until you have seen a deaf girl dance/You know nothing of passion/
Talk to us about Tamara and the impact she has had on your life.
My relationship with Tamara has inspired me in ways too numerous to properly recount. To be honest, it’s jarring to think about how different my life would be without her presence. Though we grew up in different homes, our interactions throughout my 22 years have taught me some difficult, beautiful life lessons about what it means to love someone not only with words, but with actions. We talk more often now than we used to, via the use of cell phones, Facebook, etc. and I can truly say that I am grateful for the work God has done to bring us closer as of late.
You have some collaborative projects in the works with the very creative and talented folks over at ‘Street Etiquette’. How did ya’ll come together and when can we expect this project to drop?
I met Josh and Travis on a crisp, autumn day in October via our shared desire to change the world through art. As far as the project, you’ve got to wait and see! Can’t leak details at the moment, but am definitely excited about it. I have the utmost respect for Street Etiquette, and truly feel honored to be working with them.
Talk to us in detail about your upcoming January 13th, Le Poisson Rogue, at 6:30p.m. ‘Deans List’ event in NYC. What can fans and newcomers expect?
Fans and newcomers can expect the most vibrant combination of poetry, stand-up comedy, interpretive dance, live music, and indoor gymnastics that they have ever seen. Expect elephants and elevators. Expect beauty!
You are currently pursuing your graduate studies in the U.K. What is your concentration?
I’m currently on a Marshall Scholarship, pursuing an MA in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Warwick. My thesis is essentially about the intersections of disability, Black masculinity and sound technology in the latter half of the 20th century.
What are the similarities and differences in the spoken word scene in the U.K. and the U.S?
I haven’t seen enough spoken word lately to give an assessment that I’m comfortable with, but I will say that folks on both sides of the Atlantic are creating some beautiful, honest work within the realm of spoken word.
You are currently managed by ‘The Strivers Row’ out of NYC, how did this relationship come about?
Been striving since birth, son. That’s all you get.