Todd Boss

If you’ve never seen animated poetry, I am delighted to be the first to introduce you. There is something so perfectly gelled in the combination of short film and poetry; I’ve never seen one that I don’t like. But I have a particular fondness for the poems of Todd Boss, and so here is one of his lovely pieces put into pictures by Emma Burghardt and lulled to music by Debra Barsha.

Also, you should check out Motion Poems, because they are responsible for a great deal of this artwork. That organization connects film makers with poets and adds a little magic.

Artist Profile: Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre

As much fun as it is to hear me talk about the art that I love, I thought I’d give some of the artists a chance to speak about their own work. I’ll be doing these profiles, you know, occasionally, most likely whenever I have one to post.

Guante is an amazing spoken word artist and rapper. Since he is a local (to me) artist, I’ve been lucky enough to know him a little and greatly honored to have shared a stage with him. He and the St. Paul spoken word team (I’m sure they have an official name) won the National Poetry Slam competition, twice. Guante is also one of the only poets I know who makes his living on poetry, and he gives all his talent and knowledge away by teaching tons of classes and coaching youth slam teams. If you visit the homepage of this website, you will find a review of my novel that Guante was kind enough to write for me. Here is some about his artwork in his own words.

What do you love about your medium?

With spoken-word, there are no rules. You can say whatever you want in whatever way you want to say it. So it really lends itself to the type of work that I want to do, work that examines the intersection of art, media, rhetoric and education. Sometimes, the most powerful spoken-word piece ISN’T the “best” poem. Sometimes it’s more of a PSA, or an audio op-ed, or (ideally) a compelling mashup of all of these different forms. As spoken-word artists, we get to learn from everyone, but we’re not beholden to any particular style or school of thought. That’s tremendously liberating.

Describe a piece of art that you find superficial or boring.

As a rapper, I’m particularly hard on other rappers; it just comes with the territory. And the thing is, most other rappers are good. If you follow hip hop, there’s a lot of good stuff happening right now. I think the problem is a lack of ambition; there’s a ton of “B+ music” out there. And a B+ is good, it’s enjoyable, it’s well-crafted, but it’s not stunningly original or revelatory or transformative, and that’s what I look for in music. So no matter how good it is, I just can’t get excited about another song about what it’s like to be a rapper, or another song about having a fun party, or another song that just kind of vaguely talks about everything that’s wrong with the world. I want creativity, specificity, focus. It’s important to point out that this is my personal preference; I don’t think there’s anything “bad” about music that isn’t explosively original. I just don’t get excited about it.

Spoken-word isn’t much different– it’s easy to get up on stage and rant and rave about things; but what separates the special work from the rest of the pack is how it moves beyond the surface-level analysis– maybe it examines your own complicity with a given problem, or explores a grey area, or allows us to see something we think we understand in a new way.

When did you first call yourself an artist, and why?

I’m really not sure. My journey has been very gradual and organic. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the term. I think sometimes the word “artist” is put on a pedestal, like artists are magic elves or something. I think we’re all artists, whether it’s our career, our hobby, or something we want to do but don’t have time for. I hesitate to think of it as a specific identity, because there are so many different ways to create art and live artistically. I think you can be a mother who makes art, or a politician who makes art, or an activist who makes art. I’m just a weirdo who happens to make art.

Describe an artist and/or piece of work that you find consistently inspiring.

I’m really lucky in that some of my favorite artists in the world live in the same community as me. I bring Ed Bok Lee‘s book “Whorled” with me to almost every show I play, and sometimes read from it. Same with Bao Phi’s “Song I Sing.” Both poets are very good at doing what I want to do– creating work that is immediately powerful and actually says something explicitly political without sacrificing the craft of it. That’s not an easy thing to do, and I’m grateful to have role models like them so close.

What is your unique purpose for creating work?

I’m a pragmatist, and I see art much less as an expression of my infinite soul than as just another way to talk to people, an avenue for communication. I’m a communicator. I want to talk about things like privilege, and language, and activism, but talk about them in ways that are difficult to forget. So sometimes that’s a poem, sometimes it’s a rap song, sometimes it’s an op-ed. I think art is another form of independent media, and independent media is an integral part of the movement we’re all trying to build. So that’s why I do it.

Breaking Free Victory Concert

Last weekend I had the immense privilege of performing at the Victory concert that concluded the Demand Change weekend, brought to you by Breaking Free and Mattoo. The concert took place at the Fitzgerald Theater, the oldest theater in St. Paul, home of A Prairie Home Companion, and by far the biggest venue I’ve ever played.

I was opening for Nicole C. Mullen, who is truly fantastic and a joy to see perform. I’m told there is a professional video forthcoming, and I’ll post it when I have it, but for now here’s an older video of the poem I performed.

It was such a great experience, and everyone I met there was amazing and fun to work with. I hope I have lots more chances to be part of something that important, and rub shoulders with artists who are that talented.

Who Does That Help?

A new spoken word piece! Freshly recorded earlier today, isn’t that great? Thanks to the cute husband, who took the time in a very busy weekend to sit with me for three hours so he could see me perform.

This piece was written and performed for Take Action Minnesota and Justice 4 All for their fair hiring campaign kick-off event. This is a really great organization that is working in earnest to secure fair hiring practices for ex-offenders. This will make our communities safer and healthier, you should check them out!

It’s Okay to Cry

This is a piece I’ve been doing for a while, and now I have it on video thanks to my dear friend, Heidi.

I was desperately and stupidly trying to write a paper for school the day after my good friend Michele passed away. Frustrated, I called a friend, who assured me that it was normal to be upset. To which I replied, but I have to stop crying! He gently reminded me that it is okay to cry. I felt he didn’t understand that I was crying in class, I was crying on the bus, I was crying the student union, I was crying at small group, I was crying at the freaking grocery store! And while it’s a nice thought that it’s okay to cry, I was finding that the times when it’s really appropriate to cry were fewer than I’d thought. I also discovered that even when I cried in wildly inappropriate places, everyone would act as if I was not crying. Although that felt awkward, I was mostly grateful that I could maintain some modicum of privacy.

One time, though, at a bus stop, a woman noticed that I was crying and kindly asked me if I was okay. Because she seemed to mean it, I told her that I was fine, but I was sad because a friend of mine had just died. “Cancer?” she asked. I shook my head, cried a little harder, and said, “No. She killed herself.” The woman nodded, serious, but not surprised. I went back to my crying, thinking she was done. Then she turned suddenly and demanded, “It wasn’t ’cause of no man, was it?”

I still hold a special place in my heart for that woman.

VM Open Mic

For about a year I’ve been attending the Voices Merging Open Mic, the largest amateur open mic in the Twin Cities. There are roughly 300 people who attend these gatherings. It feels like a concert, except it’s free and the atmosphere (in my oh-so-humble opinion) is a lot warmer. Each artist who makes the list has five minutes on the mic, and there’s always a featured artist who gets a little more time. I love going to these, and I try to get on the mic as often as possible too. It’s great practice, and a great crowd.

This Monday, I attended a VM open mic whose theme was “Let’s Talk About Sex.” I don’t usually perform to the themes, but that one was worth writing a piece for. So I wrote and performed the piece below, which was a ton of fun. Not safe to watch at work, though.

When a Microphone is Open…

I have noticed lately that I have no spoken word performances on my calendar.  I’m not sure how this happened.  It seems that over the summer and into the fall I had performances all the time, sometimes several in a week.

In an attempt to get over this hump and into some new opportunities, I googled open mics in Minneapolis.  There are a plethora of open mics in Minneapolis, several for every day of the week.  I could go to one every single day for a month without visiting the same one twice.  At first I was overjoyed, so many chances to perform!  So many new connections to make!  Then I tried adding some of them to my calendar, and I quickly became discouraged.  There are SO many of them!  I don’t even know which ones to pick, and so much of my time is devoted to things other than open mics.

My dear friend Alice suggested that I try to go to one every week.  There are an awful lot of things I try to do every week or even every day, but this is not a bad suggestion.  My problem was that it will be hard to go to an open mic every week without going pretty frequently by myself.  I like to have a buddy with me at performances.  No matter how well it goes, as soon I step off stage I’m convinced that no one has ever said anything so completely moronic into a microphone.  If I have a friend with me, when I sit down the friend says, “That was great!” and I remember that there are much worse things that have been said into microphones.  But when I’m by myself, I end up just sitting with that feeling.

Alice, genius that she is, suggested that I bring a piece of paper with me that says “That wasn’t the dumbest thing ever said in a microphone.”

That said, I’m going to an open mic tomorrow at the Riverview Cafe in Minneapolis at 7pm, and you should stop by if you’re able.  No obligation to reassure me after I perform.  I’ve already conscripted a couple friends for that.

Events of the creative kind

Last night I performed at the Mercy Vineyard Open Stage, which was pretty rocking awesome. It’s a very different feel from performing at the Voices Merging Open Mic, a lot more musicians and bands, and a lot less people of color. That’s not saying much since I’m one of like five white-ish people who attend the VM open mics, and there are usually around 300 people there. The Mercy Vineyard Open Stage was also more relaxed and casual, and I got to do three pieces instead of just one since there’s no five minute limit. I’ll include one piece here that was performed last night. This video isn’t actually from last night because my camera ran out of batteries before the event even started. Sad.

Next weekend Source is having a benefit to for their annex project, which will add a few more beds onto the current 35 in the city that are used for transitional housing for human trafficking victims. I know that Breaking Free alone gets 800-1,000 calls every year from women wanting to get out of the life, so that will give you an idea about how inadequate 35 beds really are. I helped organize that benefit, and I did an interview for their artist spotlights. Which is great, because a lot of my friends (who are freakin’ fantastic) will be performing at that show, or showing visual work, so you should go just because it’s awesome, and then feel good about it because it’s for a really good cause. You can find out more about it at

Two weeks after the Source benefit, I’ll be hoofing it down to Mankato for The Venue. This is a three day art festival that’s put together by a bunch of volunteers who love God and art. I am super excited that they invited me to join them, especially since they’re putting me up so I can participate in the whole weekend. You can find out more about The Venue at I was invited by Julie Hawker, who saw me perform at Art Fest earlier this year, and who was kind enough to read a draft of my book and give me feedback. That is one cool lady.

The week after that, I’ve planned a retreat for my women’s 12-step group so we can work through our inventories together. A vast majority of people who enter a 12-step program drop out during step 4, which is when we’re supposed to take a fearless searching moral inventory of our lives. Not surprising that people drop out during that step, that is some scary stuff. But I hope by taking some time out to work through it quickly and with tons of support, we will all make it through to the other side which will be a whole lot better than this side. I know this because I’ve done it, and I hope that the wonderful women in my group will know it soon too.

Two weeks after THAT (I know, right?), November 6th, is a date you should mark on your calendar right now. I’ll wait. Because that Saturday is going to be my birthday party, and you will want to be there. I’m going to invite everyone I know who is amazing at something and ask them to do that thing. The goal is a crazy, over the top, co-ed version of women’s creativity night that will send me into a creative nirvana that will last until my next birthday. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Women’s Creativity Night

Women’s Creativity Night is my pet project and one of my very favorite things in the world.  This all started with a couple of friends coming over to crochet and scrapbook, but it has grown into much more.  Now I invite artists to come and perform or show visual work, and women come to get inspired and wowed.  I’m very broad in my definition of what’s considered creative.  We’ve had poets, authors, actresses, comedians, opera singers, belly dancers, and a darn good knitter.  It is always an amazing time, and this last one was no exception.  If you missed it, I took pictures and videos to help you enter into the experience, and maybe inspire you to attend the next one or hold one of your own.

First we just hang out, chat, and get to know each other if we don’t already.  I put together a beautiful snack table (really it is, I’m not just bragging), make coffee, and just let all these fantastic women sit near each other.  That’s when the magic happens.

After we’re all comfortable (i.e. when I start thinking “there’s never going to be a nice pause to announce that we’re shifting to performances!”), I announce that we’re going to shift gears into showing off some of our work.  Performance artists (like myself), will perform, and visual artists will present their work and talk about their process some.  It’s always a different crowd and there are always a few surprised, but here’s a taste of what we had this time around.

Paintings by Cara Mills Bennett
Jewelry and dark room photography by Angel Wohler
Tee shirt art by Sara Kelly
Sketch art by Sara Kelly
Crocheted trivets by Rena Rasmussen

I particularly love the part where my whole house is decked out in women’s art and everyone’s enjoying this eclectic gathering of beauty and creativity.  And of course, I will add a spoken word piece that I performed at the event.  I would include one by the fantastic Kiesha Lamb as well, but she was a little sick at the event and requested that I not publicize the video.  You’ll just have to take my word for it, it was awesome.