Eman was just 16, host of two weekly open mics & member of the youth creativity project at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop in New York City, when we did this interview with her in the millennium year, 2000. She was (and is) a striking, energetic presence.
If you’re looking for the definitions of the New Poetry, ask your Poetry Guide Bob Holman first: see his manifesto “Open Mic: Definitions, Rules, Etiquette, Irony.” Then if you want definitions from the younger generation, Eman’s the one to ask. Here are her sometimes startling responses, followed by an in-depth interview &... a poem!
OPEN MIC: When I heard about open mics, I thought it was going to be some little place, with people drinking expresso and wearing berets, sitting in big chairs and snapping their fingers for the people who performed. There are some places like that, but luckily I don’t have to go to that kind of “stuck-upish” places. Our open mics are nothing like that, so I’m glad. I think a lot of teens think the same thing. That it’s going to be a stuffy place, with stuffy people... Not necessarily.
POETRY SLAM: They think competition. Being judged, sometimes unfairly. Rushing through their work. I don’t mind it, but some younger people don’t want to be put through that.
SPOKEN WORD: Most younger people don’t know what that is. It’s like a mix of poetic words, music and hiphop. It’s a movement and state of mind.
PERFORMANCE POETRY: Some people think it’s about acting things out and doing some Shakespeare poetry. They don’t think it’s something fun or cool, but it’s more than that, even. Performance poetry is a state of mind almost, and a lot of teens think it’s dull because of some of the dull people they have seen.
POETRY: This is something even more difficult to explain. Poetry can mean so many different things to young people today. Some think it’s dull and boring and they don’t know the “real deal” about it. They haven’t seen someone amazing read and that’s why they think it’s not that great. But poetry is an explosion of words that should move you, even if the person reading it isn’t moving much.
HIPHOP: This can be a very different kind of meaning than what other people think. Some young people don’t even think there’s a difference between rap and hiphop, but there is. Hiphop is more of a poetic kind of thing, using rhymes and verses to get out what they are feeling and thinking and they do use poetry in it. Hiphop in a way is poetry with a beat.
RAP: This, to me, is less like poetry. More like just using words... There’s less intimacy in rap and people mistake rap for hiphop or hiphop for rap all the time... There’s a difference and it needs to be seen and heard. If people really listened to the words and looked less at image, there would be a lot of rappers out of a job, because people would see the message. People have to listen. They just have to.