Three poets discuss art, inspiration, and spoken word in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis is known for a lot of things—sports, visual arts, and even music—but not poetry. These three Indiana natives are working to change that. In a city that has suffered multiple levels of artistic division, Tony Styxx, Too Black, and Januarie York are working to pass their legacy on to an up-and-coming generation of artists.
What inspires you most?
People’s stories are awesome, and some people shy away from them. I write to expose those stories, because you never know who could relate. I like writing because of people—never for people, though. If somebody recognizes the fact that you do it, say thank you, shake their hand, take a selfie, and move on.
What pieces of yours should everyone listen to right now?
“Refuge” is an amazing example of great storytelling. It’s also a visual representation. Watch me perform this piece—I am very much into it, because it’s very near and dear to my existence. I think people who are listening enjoy it just as much as I do.
“Jerusalem” paints this picture of an area—could be anybody’s city—that’s been forgotten. Think about that old scripture that says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the death, I shall fear no evil.” You might have made it out of that valley, and that’s all well and good, but what about the people that are still stuck in that valley? What about the flowers that don’t make it out, and so they’re forced to grow there? This story is about them.
What is your favorite space to create in?
I would say one would definitely be the Egyptian Café in Broad Ripple. I love sitting in there and working on my craft. The environment is so home-like and inviting, it’s very hard not to be immersed in this melodic-like trance and let your mind be free.
Why is it important to teach art?
The emotional response it gets out of people. It’s one thing for a computer to access Google and find a picture of a childish drawing of a horse. It’s another thing for my daughter to walk up to me and say ‘I drew a horse.’ It looks nothing like a horse, but, in her mind, that is the best-looking horse in the world. And you know what? I love that horse. We’ve named it. It stays on the fridge.
What do you see in the future of Indy’s spoken word scene?
Unless we can get over our pettiness as a whole—because there’s a lot of pettiness in the Indianapolis poetry scene—if we can’t kill this superstar mentality, we’re going to run it right into the ground. If we can get over that—and we have been—Indianapolis’s art scene is on a major comeback. It’s because there are more collaborations than ever.
Catch him hosting
Vibe on Wednesday
Anthem Night Club
8125 Central Run Drive
7 pm October 28
Why is poetry important to you?
It’s made me who I am in so many ways. The best thing I can say is that it’s allowed me to expand my perspective on a lot of different things, and it’s allowed me to feel very comfortable with my perspective, even when it’s not the status quo.
What’s the story behind your stage name?
I had been going by nSAYchable since 2004. I love poetry, and I love performing it. But, at heart, I am a writer. I started to feel like I would never see that name in a newspaper. I had stopped performing for a little while, and I wanted to rejoin Twitter under a name that people couldn’t find. I was born on January 23, and my favorite city is New York City. I became Januarie York on Twitter. A few months passed by, and I was just like, wait a minute, I really, really love this name.
What do you see in the future of the Indy spoken-word scene?
Indianapolis has a lot of talented artists. There are a lot of younger artists that are coming up, starting their own open mics, and creating events and shows of poetry. Which is a great thing, because they’re going to be the ones that the torch is being passed to. The future is really dependent upon what my generation of poets does to assist the next generation under us.
Venues she suggests
That Peace Open Mic
Write-On the Poetry Spot
3326 Clifton Street
7 pm every other Thursday
Harrison Brook Center
4002 Cornelius Avenue
7 pm every Thursday
What inspires you the most?
Freedom. I feel like other forms of writing are more constrained—in poetry, it’s easy to find your voice. You don’t just jot anything down, you still have to brainstorm and process.
How have your experiences shaped your writing?
As far as the content and the ideas—the things that I read, current events, situations in life. Being trolled on the internet has inspired some ideas. It can be the smallest thing. I don’t want to be reactionary, so I don’t always write in response to a story. I always say, ‘How can I frame this in a larger issue?’
How did you get your stage name?
When Obama was first running for president, CNN was having a discussion over whether Obama was too black or he wasn’t black enough. There were several issues going on here. One, there was nobody black having this discussion about an experience that only black people have. And, also, what is this idea of ‘black enough’ or ‘too black.’ Where do you draw the line on what is and isn’t black? Too Black is an oxymoron—its kind of a pun. In one sense, the things I write about are very blunt, but, in another sense, it’s this feeling of ‘I’m going to be as human as I can.’
Why is poetry important in social justice?
It goes back to the idea of being able to articulate yourself. If you’re talking about social justice and you’re in an oppressed category, you’re frustrated. It all depends on how you deal with that frustration. If you don’t have any tools to deal with it, you end up possibly getting in more trouble. If you have words, you have tools. When people want to address injustice, they need tools. Writing, poetry, and art have always been a major tool for addressing those things.
What piece of yours should everyone listen to right now?
There’s a poem called “The Poet You Love to Hate.” Even though it’s getting older, I think that it’s a manifesto of what I’m about.
Catch him performing at
Fletcher Place Arts & Books
642 Virginia Avenue
7–10 pm the second Saturday of every month