Monday, July 03, 2017

Bards & Brews: Spotlight on Poet Michael Harriot

Michael Harriot performing during Bards & Brews at the Central Library 

Michael Harriot is a poet, a full-time feature writer at The Root, a prolific podcaster, and a YouTube personality.  He regularly performs at Bards & Brews as well as other spoken word poetry events around town - and around the country.

How long have you been performing spoken word poetry?

I first performed spoken word on May 18, 1994, in a clothing store in Auburn, Alabama called Behind the Glass. I had always written poetry but had never performed it until I had the bright idea to host a poetry night during my fraternity's (Omega Psi Phi) week of activities.

I haven't performed continuously since then, because I've moved a million places, lived outside the country and strayed away from performing (never writing) at times.

Since moving to Birmingham in 2008 I have performed regularly.

Who are some of the poets or writers that have had the most impact on you?

My mother was probably my first inspiration. She was a writer, and she homeschooled my sisters and me, so she formed the base of who I read as a youngster. I go through phases with "favorite" writers. I was a Mark Twain fan until I went to college. I became entranced with Chester Himes and the entire Harlem Renaissance in college. Then Amiri Baraka. The Beat Poets. The Glass Family series by J.D. Salinger.

For the past few years I'd have to say my favorite is Paul Beatty -- whose style of both prose and poetry echo my own, but I admittedly cherry-pick things from everyone I read.

Which of your poem's has had an unexpected reaction by an audience?

Unlike a lot of performance artists, I don't ask for the audience to like or sympathize with me, which is freeing in its own particular way. I acknowledge that I have a tendency to provoke, so much of my work doesn't attempt to explain or rationalize. It seeks to lay anger, fear or any other emotion on the table and unapologetically say "here it is. Make of it what you will."

I perform a piece called "Of Jesus and Amnesia, or: Why Black People Tend To Forget" that addresses black people's historical ability to forgive the atrocities committed against them, and why the world should be grateful for that "superpower." It usually evokes a strong response from both sides. I performed it in a poetry slam once and a judge gave me a 0.0. writing "commie" underneath it. I travel around the country often and I have yet to meet another poet who has received a zero for a poem.

Do you have a request of the readers of this interview? 

Anyone reading this should attend a poetry event if they have never attended one, and if they have, they should take it upon themselves to bring someone with them who has never attended a poetry event.

Do you have anything you would like to promote?

I have a digital magazine called NegusWhoRead, I am a full-time feature writer for The Root, host  of "The Black One" podcast as well as a Game of Thrones review web series called "Dem Thrones." I also designed and sell the 'Black AF' t-shirt (among others) and it can be purchased at Need That Tee.

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