Pulling Poetry Out of People

Tiffany Banks (Kvn Allen)

Poet Tiffany Banks is the host of Speak On It, a weekly poetry night that usually takes place at Liege Lounge in Old Oakland.

But since California has been sheltering in place, the poetry night has taken to the digital realm-- and now the talented performers hop on a big Zoom call just about every Wednesday night to share their work.

As the host of this event, it's on Tiffany to organize the video call, schedule performers, promote the event and, at times, influence bashful artists to share their hidden talents.

In this episode of Rightnowish, Tiffany helps me to tap back into a passion I've had since a kid, writing poetry. And she even convinces me to perform.

Tiffany Banks, host of Speak On It poetry night
Tiffany Banks, host of Speak On It poetry night (infiniteimprintsphotography)


Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with poet Tiffany Banks.

Tiffany (Recites): I think I want your cup of tea.
I want you to mix a little honey in that thing.
Mix a lot a bit of honey in that thing.
Erykah sung so sweet that the world keeps burnin’.
And one thing I know for sure, is that my desire for you, it keeps turnin’ just like knots in your favorite necklace chain, this must be handled gently.
These trick paths of passionate mindplay.
We call out for one another. Our voices running out of echo, running out of echo, running out of echo in the same space but separated by barricades...

Tiffany: I was bullied into this. I had been an open mic junkie, that's how I've stumbled into being a performance artist myself, being inspired by the artists who would perform. Kris, the owner of Liege was like, "Hey, we need poetry back on the scene. Do you want to be the host of Open Mic?” And me as a spoken word artist, I wrestled with my performance confidence. Still to this day, I think we all as artists kind of evolve and grow. So Chris, just bugged me, bugged me, bugged me like, "You down?" And I said no for like six months and finally I was like, I was like, "OK, like I'm down."

Pen: I used to host a poetry mic when I was in college, right. It was freshman poetry every Sunday night. What did I call it? Sunday Night Cipher. And these freshmen come in, you know, just totally fresh from they mama's house and I'd ask them to come on stage and they'd perform. It would almost be like revealing a superhero. It was like, "What you were hiding that? I didn't know you had a cape underneath that big ol' white tee. You know, that kind of thing. Have you ever had an instance where you pull on somebody to perform and all of a sudden you're just blown away?

Tiffany: Mm hmm. You know, UpsideDownGhost right? That's my like that's that's my guy right there. He came in. He snuck in the door. Quiet, you know. Was just there for a vibe, just getting away from regular daily life, I guess. And he didn't have intentions on performing because I would often give prompts at the beginning of the evening and we'll write to the word. But I would always joke with the crowd and say, write a diss poem like whatever comes to mind and Ghost, Ramon, he writes diss poem and everyone's like, Oh, my God, this is it! It set everything on fire. And he texts me. He's like, I had this gig. I had that gig. He's doing this professionally. He's putting crews together. He's training up a group of artists. And I'm like, this is beyond me. Like, this is powerful. That that experience over all. Looking at his story being a part of the story. Let me know like this is some good work. This is what art is about. You know, this is God.

Pen: I just want to know your perspective How has the poetry scene shifted?

Tiffany: Quarantine, the staying at home and us being able to connect virtually has grown the community exponentially. People from New York are on here now, people from Texas are tapped in. People that have heard of Speak On It or whatever open mic is casting virtually right now, are able to tap in without feeling like they have to spend the money or travel or take off their bonnets to come. You know, we can do this from our closets now and it's cool like that. So it's serving us. It's serving us.

Pen: It creates community without actually physically being in community.

Tiffany: Like this is necessary. I don't care if you're a professional. You need some form of creativity. Now this is just me, and a common theme that I'm seeing within the community that I'm connected to is that this is vital for our survival. The ability to create or at least push out of you into the material plane what's rummaging or or flowing through you. It's a it's it's necessary in order for us to survive, survive our human experience.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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