Asian-American spoken word artist Regie Cabico and US poet and translator Mary-Sherman Willis opened the first Literary Reading Series event of the semester with readings from their recent work and Cabico gave a performance of his distinctive slam poetry. Watch him perform the poem he composed about NYU Shanghai during this visit, and find out what inspires his passionate performances.
Why is poetry important to you?
I started to write poetry later in life and it made me look at the world differently. As a poet, you’re channeling your gospel truth, and accepting your reality. You make the impossible possible with words and sounds and feelings, just with your voice. But poetry is more than words -- it exists in film, dance, in music and all arts. It’s not just about making money or about eating the same noodles every day. You have to taste the world through language and listen to everything and everyone around you. We don’t listen enough -- especially in the US -- we’re grown to not listen to each other in school. If students only listened more to each other, there wouldn’t be so much violence and hatred. I think everyone should look at each other as an ensemble, as one whole work of art together.
You appeared on Def Jam Poetry on HBO and regularly perform your poems to audiences. How do you prepare for your performances?
I’ve always wanted to perform, ever since I was young. It’s about finding a connection with your audience. Whenever I’m on stage, I of course have an arranged set for what I’m going to read, but the energy of the audience makes each performance its own unique creation. It’s like having sex! You don’t always know what you’re going to do because you can’t just do the same thing every time. I feel like I’m having sex with the audience -- that is, I’m trying to be in the moment, and build an intimacy.
What keeps you writing?
Travel, listening to music, looking at paintings. Seeing what is happening with the presidency in the US -- seeing my country divided and changed -- I feel I have to write and connect with those of my country who are divided and neglected. Through poetry workshops we can listen to each other and have our voices heard. I don’t think people want change more than they’re looking for truth and help. And art gets people to listen.
You are an alumnus of NYU Tisch and former artist in residence at NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute. What is your writing advice to NYU Shanghai students?
When I was doing a poetry workshop here, I felt lucky. Seven students expressed, cried and laughed together--there was so much joy. My whole life, my family didn’t care about who I was. I understand what it’s like to not be heard.
Poetry is theatre and my poems are the play. I have to give 100% or my poems die. I want my poems to fly. Poetry is not just journaling or scribbling. I want to teach the creation of high quality art. I think there’s a way to ask a question and a way for students to find their own voice by answering. I don’t want teach people to sound like me, I want poets to sound like themselves. I have to let them find the poem, the story of their life, in their heart.
For more upcoming talks and events at NYU Shanghai, see the events calendar here.