Poet Shaun Mitchell joined us in the studio to (generously) share some of his poetry from his Poetry & Pantylines series. Listen above, and see an extended transcript below.
Gina: When did you realize you liked to write poetry?
Shaun: Well, I've always liked to write poetry for many years, but I remember about like 35 years ago when I was living in Brooklyn. I was working on Wall Street at the time and I saw this white poet guy. He was very sensitive with the army jacket and a wisp of hair very handsome. He was from the Brooklyn Museum. He was going "people by my poetry books" and I said, I don't want to be that guy. So I want to make sure, I don't want to be like like somebody who just has the regular poetry book. That's why mine is called Poetry and Pantylines.
Gina: You have to have something that was different.
Shaun: Very different. Yeah you should see the artwork. She's seeing the artwork right now.
Gina: Whoa. Ooh. Did you do that?
Shaun: Oh yeah.
Gina: You did the art?
Shaun: Oh yeah, definitely did the art.
Gina: Nice, really nice.
Gina: So Sean, go ahead and read me a poem.
Shaun: OK. I will read one of my less raunchier ones for the American public. This one is called Abraham, Martin, and JFK. It's actually a rap. And here it goes.
In the beginning, was the American word
by putting pen down on paper, a brand new nation was heard
Three men set out on their own. Believin’ in all the hype
covered in red white and blue see nothing but stars and stripes.
Let's start with both presidents Lincoln and John F. Kennedy
how they fought for equal rights. Peace on Earth for you and me.
Then there's Martin Luther King, stood up with love in his heart.
Shot down for having a dream that won't let Death Do Us Part.
But these three men were much loved their future the only guide to right historical wrongs.
Knew time was not on this side when slavery was the law. It was the scourge of this nation.
Abe Lincoln would end it all Emancipation Proclamation
twas a time of civil war and of great unrest
When Lincoln sat down and wrote out the Gettysburg Address
at JFK's nomination I still can hear loud and clear
when he said we stand today on the edge of a new frontier.
We felt our heart swell up with much pride. There was great elation
when Kennedy proclaimed the torch passed to a new generation.
Remember that day in Dallas back in 1963
when oh so proudly we hailed for President Kennedy saw his life passing us by
And he was gone in a flash.
We did not know at the time that that day would be his last.
Remember that day in Memphis back in 1968
a great man of peace was killed done by the forces of hate
When he shouted "free at last" death was waiting at the gate
for only the good die young when Luther King met his fate.
And there was that day. On April 15 1865
Lincoln sat down at Ford Theater,
he would not come out alive
more than four score years ago
He traveled throughout the land telling us
a house divided against itself cannot stand
Each man in his time has died
They are now long dead and gone
We need to walk in their shoes, do our best to carry on
when we achieve victory.
We will dance till the break of dawn
All for the memories of Abraham, Martin, and John
and to remember forever that truth is still marching on.
Gina: Wow, very nice. Three people working for civil rights who all were killed.
Shaun: Yeah right. And you know JFK's 100 birthday was this month I think. So I just wanted to give a little shout out to him. Now I have more poems I have Harper's Ferry 1859. That's another good one. Everybody loves that. I got ah.
Gina: Give me a couple more.
Shaun: OK ladies and gentlemen this one is called I Want to Shine Like Elvis
I want to sing like I want to sing like I want I want I want to sing sing like like
I want to sing like Elvis
and make all the big girls scream
and I want to sound like Elvis
be the man in their big girl dreams
I want to shake like Elvis want to twist and shout and my blue suede shoes
and I want to move like Elvis
wanna rock and roll on to sing the blues
I want to stand like I want to stand like I want I want I want to stand like stand like
I want to stand like Elvis with my hair five feet high on my head
and I'm gonna be like Elvis
gonna rock all night till my eyes see red
I want to shine like Elvis with lots of grease all in my hair
and I want to wail like Elvis
at the top of my lungs down and everywhere
I'm gonna rock like I'm gonna rock like I'm gonna gonna gonna rock like rock like
I'm gonna rock like Elvis
As soon as I get up on stage
and I'm gone a rave like Elvis
like a big bad mother****** beast uncaged
I want to ride like Elvis.
Wanna drive all night in a brand new car
and I'm gonna roll like Elvis
like the king of rock, gonna be a star
I want to sing like I want to sing like I want I want I want to sing sing like like
I wanna sing like Elvis
and see my name all across the sky
And I want to live like Elvis
I'll see you one day, by and by
I want to rise like Elvis
in the morning sun. I'll see you there.
And I want to rave like Elvis
like a roaring flaming spreading everywhere
I want to dance like I want to dance like I want I want to I wanna dance like dance like
I wanna dance like Elvis
and shake a leg and stomp the ground.
And I'm gonna rock like Elvis
When you see me come to your town
I'm going to walk like Elvis with my head held high,
Wear a golden crown
and I'm gonna reign like Elvis
gonna rule the world going round and round
I wanna be like I want to be like wanna wanna wanna be like be like
I want to be like Elvis
be the number one guy with the number one song
and I'm gonna sound like Elvis
gonna make you want to dance going all night long
I wanna fly like Elvis
leap tall buildings in a single bound
and I'm gonna shine like Elvis
walking in the light as the sun goes down.
Gina: What inspired you to write that?
Shaun: Yeah, it’s really funny because I'm not really an Elvis Presley fan, but I saw him, I saw him in this movie, some old movie that he made. I was like wow, he is really handsome I mean this guy's like- I mean I don't want to say that guys are like beautiful- but he really was.
And it just I said what I want to shine like Elvis and that's where I just came from me you like you would probably think that I'm a big Elvis fan but I'm not. I don't have a single Elvis like song in my whole repertoire and I don't plan to have any Elvis songs.
Gina: But it was just like that that moment would be like hey man he’s pretty awesome.
Shaun: I think I was channeled¬†to do that one because I am not an Elvis fan. So I mean where did THAT come from. You know like wow you know.
Gina: Give me another one.
Shaun: OK.I've got I've got Big Bottom Girls.
Gina: Is it bad?
Shaun: Well it doesn't have any any cuss words in it.
Gina: That's good.
[Turns out it probably isn’t great for print here.]
Shaun: I do have one called A State of Grace to Women Over 40, why they should be proud once they're over 40. Because women hit a state of grace over 40, you cannot hit a state of grace under 40. You have to be over 40.
Oh wow. OK. Well this is a poem I had written about because I know a lot of women when when they hit 40, they feel old and underappreciated and I tell you, women are never better to when they hit over 40. They are wiser.
They are better in bed. And they have grace you know, they have something,they have wisdom, they have something that no younger woman has. But it's is a type of you know, of attributes that I just love, and a woman over 40 is a much better deal.
A State of Grace to Women Over 40
I love mature women of age
after they've reached their midlife stage,
long noses and glasses look fine
I love women with real big behinds
a touch of gray I must confess
Makes me want to see her undress
She don't need makeup, salon hair, designer clothes, shoes, underwear,
cosmetics can never replace the beauty of a natural face
her knowing smile her ruby lips, womanly curves on big wide hips.
They really know what's best for you
and how things should be done
and their expertise in the bedroom is second to none
only women over 40 have reached a state of grace,
no princess smile, but queen's profile now fits her regal face
She's the one when all's said and done
a better man would wed
We need her love and wisdom for the road that lies ahead
For all that she has done for us with a heart filled with pain.
We should always remember not to take her love in vain.
Gina: Shaun, you are not a university trained poet.
Shaun: Oh no no.
Gina: How do you do it?
Shaun: I don't know. I don't know anybody that learned how to write poetry from going to school.
Lot of people learn from rap, a lot of people learned from that and you just hear people say rhymes and I thought it with like Mother Goose and things like that and you just, you know Dr. Seuss and all that, and you either take it from there or you don't.
Gina: You know there is this whole thing now, it’s a wave of people who go and get an MFA, you know a Master of Fine Arts in poetry.
Shaun: What, do they write the poems themselves or do they just know a lot about poetry?
Gina: They write poems, but they're paying a lot of money to go to school to do it.
Gina: But you are not that.
Shaun: No no no. I am not that. I do I have a book of rap, all rap, I remember I was putting off writing rap. People said you should write rap. But then when these guys from Fayetteville came down and they clobbered us and all they did was like, spoken word rap. I said, Well since I'm the best one here, I need to to at least be able to to write a form of popular poetry.
I can't call myself a poet or black you know black guy who’s a poet and not write rap in this day and time. I will look like a fool. People say within like 50 years ago when rap was big or whatever did you rap. You know I better say yeah. So.
Gina: Yeah yeah I mean it's like outsider art. Yeah. Or there's folk artists or even art brut.
I mean that's what you are as a poet. You don't care about what is going on at the university which is mostly the kind of people who I've talked to [about poetry].
Shaun: You know I don't even know what they are doing at the college. I just write what I feel and things I like, like the things about the Kennedy stuff and Abraham Lincoln and, you know, Elvis you know, that was just weird. And so you know Harpers Ferry 1859 that's really that's a short one.
Well, I call myself a Pop Culture Poet. It's a name that I seem to have come up with just for myself. I do like Andy Warhol or whatever, I like to take various figures from my history and things like that and and write this kind of a pop culture type type poetry. It isn't like Robert Frost. It isn't like rap it's like somewhere I like a combination of it's like pop culture poetry. Yeah. So like like people can shake their head and stamp their feet to it, as opposed to being bored.
I used to go to poetry readings down here and I would see, like, young white females, they would read poems about how they are sad because their cat died and it's raining all night. I would say, oh God I got to get out of here. So but I always try to make it fun and things like that and people like people seem to like it. And I got a really raunchy one: Live from New York It's Saturday Night.
Gina: Give me Harper’s Ferry…..
Shaun: OK. Harpers Ferry.
Harper's Ferry October 16, 1859
Let's go down to Harper's Ferry
to stand our ground for old John Brown
to remember that cool October day
that will start a war in your own home town.
So let's go down to count the bodies of all brave souls still lying there
We’ll say a prayer that God may hear
how the dead boys are still dying there.
So let's go down to Harpers Ferry
where Virginia's sons lie in the mud
we’ll set sail on a moonlit passage
cross through time on a sea of blood.
And when we arrive we will remember
that fateful day when time stood still
when Dixie rage with Southern madness
for long lost boys whose blood she spilled.
So let's go down to Harper's Ferry
to praise the name of old John Brown.
I'm sure we’ll feel he's right there with us
as we stand on sacred ground.
And when we leave from Harper's Ferry
we all sing a song for old John Brown
to remember how he died for us
Praise the Lord, he's still around.
So let's go down to Harpers Ferry
to walk around with old John Brown.
We’ll say a prayer for Mother Mary.
Plant a tree on holy ground.
Shaun: There was an abolitionist name named John Brown who was totally against slavery as a white guy and he got light like six of his sons and some blacks to help them fight. They were, they were like waging a war against the federal government to end slavery. So every time they would see some of these feds around they would kill them because the feds had killed some of his men first, some of his sons, so they had this big siege. And of course he lost. And he went to court. I think that they hung him. But you know, black people loved him everywhere because he fought against slavery, things like that, and that was one of the stepping stones that led to the civil war. Abolition was really a big deal. You had people that were totally-you had a lot of white people that were totally against it that were willing to put their lives on the line to end slavery. Now, you don't hear that much about them. And a lot of them did put their life on the line, they go, we're not going to live in a country where this practice can continue. And he was one of those people. So.
So of course that that inspires me. And, and I would hope most Americans.