Power, Grace, and Noise – The Village Voice

Few poets can command a stage like Reg E. Gaines. For the previous 30 years, the charismatic artist has mesmerized crowds at just about each venue he has carried out in. The two-time Tony and Grammy Award nominee, for the Broadway hit Herald ’Da Noise, Herald ’Da Funk, was on the forefront of the hip-hop meets spoken-word motion of the Nineteen Nineties, and numerous poets have been impressed by his intense performances. “Reg E. Gaines was an original member of the Poetry Pantheon who bum-rushed the stage of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the 90s,” Bob Holman, founding father of the Bowery Poetry Membership and a former Nuyorican Poetry Slam emcee, tells the Voice. “That crew—Maggie Estep, Tracie Morris, Paul Beatty, Willie Perdomo, Mike Tyler, Dael Orlandersmith, Dana Bryant, Edwin Torres, Ron Cephas Jones, among others—would bring an energized audience and national attention to the Poetry Slam, which I imported from Chicago’s Green Mill Tavern.”

Holman describes Gaines as a “sly, rangy, self-deprecating” athlete-turned-poet. “His moves onstage mirrored his grace and power on the tennis court. His classic ‘Please Don’t Take My Air Jordans’ poem were the last words of a just-mugged teen lying bleeding on the sidewalk. Take my cash, take my drugs, but don’t take my kicks!” The poem was revealed within the influential arts journal BOMB, carried out throughout a Ted Discuss by poet Lemon Anderson, and memorized by writers throughout the nation. “When the Nuyorican Poets went on tour, audiences would chant the words to ‘Air Jordans’ alongside Gaines’s performance,” Holman notes.

my air jordans value 100 with tax
my suede starters jacket says ‘raiders’ on the again
i’m stylin … smilin … lookin actual imply cuz
it ain’t about bein heard simply bein seen
my leather-based adidas baseball cap
matches my faux gucci backpack
there’s no one on the market appears to be like good as me
however the shit prices cash it positive ain’t free
and that i gots no job no cash in any respect
however it’s straightforward ta steal the shit from the mall
dad and mom say i shouldn’t however i do know i ought to
gots ta do what i can to verify i look good

 . . .

come out a the station west 4th close to the park
brothers shootin hoops and somebody remarks
as i stated to myself … i likes em … i likes
they have been q-tip sort white and blinded my eyes
the purple emblem of michael appeared as if it might fly
not one spot of filth the airs have been model new
i had my pistol knew simply what to do
—Excerpts from “Please Don’t Take My Air Jordans,” by Reg E. Gaines

Perdomo, the state poet of New York 2021 to 2023, says, “When I met Reg, he had already cataloged most of the iconic poems from the Nuyorican School of Poetry and the Black Arts Movement in his memory, verse by verse, stanza by stanza. He was a walking anthology. His discipline was inspiring and his love of poetry is real. He can ignite your political consciousness with any of his haiku, and the full-length triptych vanity mirror scene in Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk was one of the most powerful theater moments I ever witnessed. Reg E. Gaines brings in the smoke.”

Gaines has revealed three books of poetry, together with The Authentic Buckwheat, and his work seems in anthologies reminiscent of Aloud: Voices From the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, and Bum Rush the Web page. With John Coltrane, Miles Davis, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Malcolm X as influences, Gaines has sought to attach music together with his poetry, mixing the 2 mediums each time he performs. “My writing is rhythm, I am not concerned about contextually what’s happening,” he explains. “I’m trying to convey complicated emotions. I’m picking words for imagery and musicality. It’s not about word choice or wordplay or use of language, it’s about what words are musical. So my whole process is picking words that are musical enough for me to convey my emotion.”

Just about all of Gaines’s poems have music behind them. His brother Calvin’s manufacturing firm, Promiscuous Music, has labored with artists reminiscent of Future’s Youngster and Woman Gaga, usually working with producer Mark Wilson. One other music producer brother, Phillip, identified professionally as Michael Moog, collaborates with Reg and has labored with Tiffany and New Children on the Block. “Being around these genius musicians, my family, they understand what I am trying to create. Just like Coltrane, they understand how to tell a story via their music. And I learned how to be a better writer listening to music,” Reg asserts. Calvin provides, “When we first saw Reg perform at the Nuyorican, we were shocked at how musical and nuanced his words were. That’s when we knew we wanted to collaborate in the studio. It’s been an incredible experience.”

Gaines gave poet-playwright Carl Hancock Rux his first alternative to report. “It was on his album Sweeper Don’t Clean My Streets,” says Rux. “He had already had great success as a spoken word artist, was on his second album, and remained generous and connected to the community the entire time. That’s the model we all lived by at that time. Each one, teach one; each one, open the door for the other. Nuyorican Cafe cofounders Miguel Algarín and Lois Griffith and so many others taught us to nurture a community of poets and artists so we would contribute something to the world,” he continues. “No one was in it for themselves. I love Reg for that, and always will. He had remained the same person he was decades ago, building platforms for as many artists as he can.”

Gaines was topped a Nuyorican “Grand Slam Champion” in 1991, a formidable achievement inside the slam poetry group. Poet Katherine Arnoldi fondly recollects reminiscences of dropping to him. “At the Grand Slam, I made the mistake of throwing my big slam poem, ‘My Landlord,’ out early in the competition. The Nuyorican was packed that night and Reg was on fire, as he always is, making the words pop and swirl. He beat me with his ‘Air Jordan’ poem because he had the force and was using it for good! Nevertheless, 30 years later, to save a little face, I have to remind him he only won by a quarter of a point!”

Nationwide excursions, a report cope with Mercury, and appearances on nationwide TV reveals reminiscent of The Arsenio Corridor Present, The Every day Present With Jon Stewart, and MTV Unplugged quickly adopted. Says Holman, “Gaines was also an important dynamic in MTV’s decision to do ‘Spoken Word Unplugged,’ a precursor to Russell Simmons’s ‘HBO Def Poetry Jam’ of a few years later.” Black Flag’s Henry Rollins hosted the 2 MTV variations, which relied virtually solely on the Nuyorican Poets Cafe poets. “Gaines’s ‘Air Jordans’ became a national dialogue,” says Holman. “With ‘Queen of the Scene’ Maggie Estep, he performed the first-ever televised poetry duet/duel, trading verses (and accusations) in ‘You’re Just Using Me for Sex.’ It was a defining moment—the MTV spotlight had stopped for a moment on the Cafe poets. Poetry was now officially cool.”

A spotlight of Gaines’s profession was performing poetry onstage with musician Eric Roundtree and Gaines’s brother Gordon for 150,000 folks at Woodstock, in 1994. The occasion turned out to be the final efficiency Gordon and Reg collaborated on; Gordon died a short while later. “Reg once told me about Black poetry, that they will love you till they understand what you are saying, then they’ll want to kill you,” says Roundtree. “He is fearless.” And whereas lately a lot of individuals are making an attempt to turn out to be celebrities, posting content material on TikTok and Instagram, Gaines had little curiosity in his temporary brush with fame. When he was nominated for a Tony, he says, he was virtually relieved when Lease creator Jonathan Larson received that yr. “Had Larson not passed away, I would have won the Tony that year,” acknowledges Gaines. “But fame is all bullshit; any disappointment I felt disappeared five minutes later. I was on to the next project.”

Gaines is now increasing to directing, engaged on various initiatives, together with Jerry Quickley’s Reside From the Entrance, Regie Cabico’s Straight/Out, and Marcella Goheen’s BLAK. Since 2007, he has been the inventive director of the Downtown City Arts Competition, which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary of presenting new works highlighting modern city tradition. “My passion for theater started as a young boy when my grandma took my brothers and sisters to see plays. It opened my eyes and I wanted to work more in this medium,” he recollects. “I so enjoy encouraging young artists who have something to say.” Over the previous 20 years, DUAF has introduced practically 300 new performs by over 200 rising and established playwrights, together with Dominique Morisseau, Martyna Majok, Nelson Diaz-Marcano, Carl Hancock Rux, Jessica Care Moore, Craig MuMs Grant, and Ming Peiffer.

“Reg E. was the first person to hear my voice and make it feel worth it,” says Diaz-Marcano. “Saw my style and told me my voice mattered. And when my work needed just a bit of help, he offered me the space and counsel to grow. I worked with [the festival] in 2013 before I got burnt out and decided to quit writing. A few years later, I decided to give it a try again and I trusted the festival with what I believed was my last chance. I won Best Play that year. Today, I am an award-winning published playwright, and I believe entirely if it weren’t for the encouragement and challenges that Reg gave me, I wouldn’t be here today.”  ❖

The 2022 pageant will current 4 full-length performs and 12 one-acts, in addition to an prolonged engagement of James Earl Hardy’s B-Boy Blues The Play, the pageant’s centerpiece, directed by Stanley Bennett Clay. Competition performances will run from June 1 to 25 at Theatre Row (410 West forty second Road).

Wednesday, June 1 at 8 p.m.
twentieth Anniversary, by Marcus Harmon
Set 20 years after the September 11 assaults, two firefighters meet to recollect a buddy, and reveal a lot about themselves and the world round them.
The Laborious Knock Lyfe, by Cris Eli Blak
When a rapper is identified with AIDS, he should reckon with masculinity, what it means to be a person of coloration, and repairing his relationship together with his estranged daughter.

Thursday, June 2 at 8 p.m.
Socky Tells All, by Rollin Jewett
Andy is a younger affected person in a psychological establishment who has no intention of ever leaving. Nor does his greatest buddy—a stuffed sock monkey.
The Palmist, by Sheila Duane
Fortune tellers predict the long run, however are they actually psychic? Can they sense a assassin with a single contact?

Wednesday, June 8 at 8 p.m.
Phantasmagoria, by Alethea Harnish
Whereas in university-sanctioned quarantine, a younger girl learns what it means to forsake her dwelling, her household, and her faith to dwell within the satan’s playground: New York Metropolis.

Thursday, June 9 at 8 p.m.
Eternally and a Day, by Marcus Scott
Triggered by viral movies of younger Black folks dying, a boy genius and his greatest buddies embark on a journey to find the Fountain of Youth, by means of which they imagine they will circumvent and fight the rampant violence in opposition to younger Black folks.
The Love Not Collectively, by Jennifer Cendana Armas
L and Okay are completely in love with one another … and completely unable to get it collectively.

Wednesday, June 15 at 8 p.m.
Soul Survivor, by Alano P. Baez
A person imprisoned and sentenced to die contemplates the course of his life, the story of his beloved soul singer, Sam Cooke, and the historical past of Black oppression in America.

Thursday, June 16 at 8 p.m.
Run, by Elle
Rhythm and verse drive this modern opera a couple of girl who, after a rattling revelation, awakens from a deep sleep.
Adulting, by Amira Mustapha
Miriam is a 30-something Muslim girl who not too long ago skilled a loss. Whereas she is ready for her mom to reach, her buddy Liz tries to assist her cope. How will she navigate this loss? And extra essential, how the hell you placed on a hijab?

Saturday, June 18 at 8 p.m.
For Coloured Boyz, by Bryan-Keyth Wilson
For Coloured Boyz on the verge of a nervous breakdown/When freedom ain’t enuff is an unabashed, unapologetic show of Blackness that speaks to the human coronary heart from a Black man’s perspective.

Wednesday, June 22 at 8 p.m.
Midnight Mirage, by Zoe Howard
Two strangers encounter one another on a subway platform in the course of the evening. As time bends and warps, they uncover what it means to attach.
The Good Cop, by Christin Eve Cato
Anita Jones, a journalist who dedicates her life to civil rights and justice, is about to assist file a lawsuit that may change many Black and Brown lives ceaselessly. She wants one other signature, and turns to an estranged buddy, Jade Santiago, a police officer who abides by the blue wall of silence.

Thursday, June 23 at 8 p.m.
A Shot Rang Out, by Michael Hagins
A white police officer is trapped in a warehouse throughout an more and more violent protest with a scared Black teen and a disgruntled schoolteacher.
Stoop, by Isa Guzman
Two folks from completely different generations inside a predominantly Latino group confront the difficulties of popping out as transgender. The play is a second, a confrontation, between two characters who look after one another however don’t have the similar understanding of the scenario.

Saturday, June 25 at 8 p.m.
The Satisfaction, by Pleasure
Within the Baker dwelling, God is first. And ladies are kings.

Tickets and knowledge at duafnyc.com

Susan Lyn Hornik is an leisure/way of life journalist who has written for the South China Morning Submit, BBC.com, and the L.A. Occasions, amongst others. One in every of her poems appeared in Aloud: Voices From the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, the place she curated the Poets Erotica studying sequence.

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