18 APRIL 4,2003
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HBO brings back 'Def Poetry Jam,'
focusing on the works of spoken word
artists with many different voices.
Full body slam
IN A WORLD WHERE REALITY TELE-
vision sitcoms like "Everybody Loves
Raymond" and war-related news
dominate the airwaves, HBO's "Def
Poetry Jam," which returns for its third
season Friday, April 4, takes viewers in a
Already spawning a popular
Broadway version and a touring company
of the concept, "Jam" brings the voices of
underground poetry slam masters to a
mainstream audience. The power is not
always in the words carefully wrought
and delivered to the expectant audience,
but in who utters them.
Many of the artists on the show
are people of color, and several in the
upcoming season, such as Alix Olsen,
Nikki Giovanni, and Staceyann Chin,
Chin, who took time out from appearing in the cast of the Broadway version of
the show and from filming several segments for television, told Houston Voice
this week that a diversity of voices was
the goal of "Def Poetry Jam" producers
when deciding on the lineup.
"They were looking for people who
were out there making a lot of waves
with their work," she says. "I think they
were looking for particular faces so that
the group they put forward is as inclusive
"I cover so many of the bases, I'm half
Chinese, half black, from Jamaica, and
I'm queer," she notes. "If you want diversity, stick me in the foreground."
The show features poets and celebrities — such as Caroline Kennedy, Jewel,
Amiri Baraka, Benjamin Bratt, muMs
(who played Poet on gay favorite "Oz"),
andnoted spoken word performer
Maggie Estep — Chin still worries about
"I think that everybody who is
involved in anything where they're trying
to be diverse, especially in the climate of
a very straight, white world, we all feel
like the token," she says. "I try to remind
myself though that, even if I am a token,
it's an opportunity to add some color and
some diversity and sexuality to a picture
that has been not that for so many years."
THE CELEBRITY SIDE OF BEING ON
television is not always easy for Chin,
who moved to New York City because she
says it's illegal to be gay in Jamaica. She
came to the city to find anonymity and to
be out and proud. Issues she faced after
arriving here pushed her to use poetry to
Award-winning slam poet Staceyann Chin always
receives attention, but her identity as a queer of color
on 'Def Poetry Jam' sometimes takes the spotlight —
sometimes to her chagrin. (Photo by Will Hart/HBO)
"I was dealing with being a new immigrant, and I moved here to be an out
queer person of color," Chin says. "Then
I realized being a black woman is as
much a 'handicap' in America as being a
lesbian in Jamaica.
"I had a lot of shit to say, basically,"
she says. "So much of how I exist has to
do with language."
It's that language and getting her message to the public that drives Chin to do
what she does on stage and television.
"What's great about being on TV is
that it helped my career," she says. "But I
don't want it to be about me. I want it to
be about the ideas."
And if you like her ideas, please let
her know — in the proper way.
"I'm moved when people tell me my
work moved them. But I don't like when
people say, 'Oh, you're Staceyann Chin
and you're the best poet,'" she says. "The
people who understand my work are the
least inclined to yell my name in the
street. They understand that it's not
about my autograph, it's about making
those feelings your own and sharing
them with others."
'Def Poeby Slam'
Fridays at 12:30 a.m.