KY Great Writers: Fenton Johnson, Dave Harrity, Jesse Donaldson

This past October, we had the pleasure of hosting Fenton Johnson, Dave harrity, and Jesse Donaldson for our Kentucky Great Writers Series. Local historian and Carnegie Center’s Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame Coordinator, James Goode, introduced each of the readers.

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KY Great Writers: Rebecca Gayle Howell, Kiki Petrosino, Nickole Brown

The Kentucky Great Writers Series connects authors to readers and writers in an intimate atmosphere.

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Instructor Spotlight: Justin “JustMe” Long Teaches Hip-Hop Saturday Seminar

Justin JustMe Long

On Saturday, February 28, 2015 from 10 AM-2 PM, the Carnegie Center will offer its first course in hip-hop led by Justin “JustMe” Long, an award winning recording artist, emcee, producer, and DJ. He has performed all over the US and abroad. JustMe hosts The Foundation Hip-Hop Open Mic and performs both as a solo artist and as a member of Tribe Called Lex. Keep an eye out for his upcoming project “Hajime” dropping in April 2015.

Where did the idea for a hip hop open mic come from?

I attended Hip-Hop open mics when I was a teenager. It was a rite of passage to rock an open mic back in the day. We’ve had them in Lexington before, but they were short lived. I felt like our scene needed a consistent all-ages hip-hop event. Luckily, some of my friends felt the same and were willing to help make it happen.

How long have you all been hosting an open mic series?

The first installment of The Foundation was on February 20th, 2014. We’ve been doing it on the third Thursday of each month since then.

Can you tell us a little bit about what goes on at a typical Foundation?

When people first start arriving, the DJ is spinning.  Emcees are putting their names on “the list” and catching up, and once we’ve got a crowd, the magic begins.  I usually set it off by covering the house rules:

1. When your name is called you get 5 minutes
2. You can rock over your own track, what the DJ plays, or acapella
3. Be respectful

Other than the occasional special guest performance, you never know what you’re going to get. We always take up a collection to buy a newbie some music from The Album at the end of the night. It’s organic.  It’s exciting! And it’s always a good time!

Any other details? When/Where/Cover?

It is almost always on the 3rd Thursday of the month.  9pm at The Album, 371 S. Limestone (We use the back door).  The normal cover is $3. People can join our Facebook page for details.

What’s going on Thursday, the 19th?

This month is special because it is our 1 year anniversary.  We decided to bring the underground downtown so, this month The Foundation is at Natasha’s Bistro.  Because it is a special event, the cover is $5.  We will have both Mykraphone Mike and Tommy Mizzla spinning.  We will have a couple special performances, and some giveaways as well! Justin 3000 Stewart performs live art at many of the open mics, and he and Six Bomb Boards will be doing live art on Thursday.

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What was the inspiration for the Saturday Seminar class?

I have lead similar workshops at an annual conference in Australia and a certain friend suggested that I do it here too!  Haha! (This is where the Red Door Writers Blog curator winks conspiratorially)

When I was in high school, some older guys took me under their wing taught me how to be a better artist. They mentored me and taught me how to be a professional. Hopefully I can help some artists in a similar way.

What sorts of materials and abilities does a student need to bring? What kind of topics will you cover?

Definitely bring something to take notes on!  If you’re an emcee, bring some rhymes.  Other than that, just bring a willingness to interact!  This workshop is hands-on!  I’m bringing my turntables, mics, beat machine, etc.

What can a student expect to take away from this class?

If the student is an artist, then they can expect to come away with an idea about how to take their artistry to the next level.

For those who are just interested in learning more about Hip-Hop, I think they will leave with a pretty good understanding of how the music is created.

Other Info:

You can follow JustMe on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @justmeofsi

Check out the video for his song, “Knob Creek” ft. Sheisty Khrist & Marcus Wilkerson here:

Black Poets Speak Out

In the wake of recent events in Ferguson, MO, right on the heels of other equally disturbing headlines regarding violence against Black males, a new movement called, Black Poets Speak Out (BPSO) was organized in part by former Kentucky resident and Affrilachian Poet, Amanda Johnston. This movement has already gained national and international attention. If you want to learn more about BPSO and/or how to get involved, check out a sample video by Candace Wiley reading a poem by Sonia Sanchez along with my interview with Amanda below.

How/why did #blackpoetsspeakout get started?

From the website:

Black Poets Speak Out (BPSO) began as a response to a conversation initiated by Amanda Johnston. Jericho Brown, Mahogany Browne, Jonterri Gadson and Sherina Rodriguez-Sharpe responded to the call with ideas, suggestions and various plans of action. What resulted was a hashtag video campaign house on a tumblr site featuring hundreds of videos from Black poets reading in response to the grand jury’s decision on November 24 not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who murdered Mike Brown.

Read more here: http://blackpoetsspeakout.tumblr.com/About

What role do you play in this movement?

I’m a poet and one of the lead organizers along with Mahogany Browne and Jonterri Gadson. Together, we coordinate national and international readings, forums, and strategize other ways to use poetry as a catalyst for community organizing to protest police brutality and demand change.

What role does the poet play in social activism?

If the winners write history, the poets write the truth. I believe it is the poet’s duty to not look away. Our poems document the human experience and carry it forward for future generations to turn to as a testament to the work and lives of the people. If you look at the range of voices and poems shared with #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, you’ll see that many of them come from poets of the Black Arts Movement and even the Harlem Renaissance. Having their poems along with the work of contemporary poets shows the arc of social justice activism through verse and connects multiple movements throughout time. It shows us what has been done and what still needs to be done.

What does it mean for so many black poets to combine their voices in this way?

Each BPSO video opens with the unifying statement – “I am a black poet who will not remain silent while this nation murders black people. I have a right to be angry.” With this phrase, we declare that our voices and our lives as black people matter. In this way we work in solidarity with the larger movement. We also acknowledge these murders are being committed against our people in our communities. We are black poets. We are black people. The police are killing black people without consequence. These are our brothers and sisters. Our future poets silenced. In a time when some would argue we are post-race or that racial identity has no place in poetry, we loudly declare that we, black people, have a right to exist on and off the page.

What kind of impact is this movement making; how are people responding?

BPSO is spreading. There are over 250 videos on the site and growing. Our goal is to reach 365 so that we can send a different video to congress daily as part of the letter writing campaign.  I’ve committed to writing my elected officials every day demanding action against police brutality and others have made the pledge to contact theirs as well. Readings have been conducted in 14 cities nationally and internationally. Regional actions are taking place in partnership with other social justice groups. Poets and allies are speaking out.

Can anyone contribute a video?

We welcome black poets and allies to contribute videos and commit to speaking out against police brutality by taking part in all phases of the campaign. This is bigger than a hashtag or personal promotion. We are using poetry to address the crisis of black people being murdered by police across this nation. As of today, the phases of BPSO are:

Phase 1 – Submit a video. Click here for details for poets and allies to contribute. http://blackpoetsspeakout.tumblr.com/submit

Phase 2 – Host / Attend a BPSO community event in your city. Click here for dates or to request information on hosting a reading. http://blackpoetsspeakout.tumblr.com/host

Phase 3 – Join the Letter Writing Campaign. We ask that participants send a letter and BPSO video to their elected officials demanding action against police brutality. Click here for details and a template you can customize. http://blackpoetsspeakout.tumblr.com/lettercampaign

Anything else you would like to mention?

If you are interested in working with BPSO, please contact us at blackpoetsspeakout@gmail.com.

Kentucky Author Spotlight: Jason Sizemore

Jason Sizemore is a writer and editor who lives in Lexington, KY. He owns Apex Publications, an SF, fantasy, and horror small press, and has been nominated three times for the Hugo Award for his editing work on Apex Magazine. Stay current with his latest news and ramblings via his Twitter feed handle @apexjason or website.

Check out my interview with Jason and an excerpt from his collection of short stories, “Irredeemable,” below:

 

Sizemore Jason 2014 Irredeemable

Yellow Warblers (an excerpt)
by Jason Sizemore

Golden rays of morning sunlight filtered through the single glass windowpane, illuminating an elderly man sitting quietly on a cushioned pew, head bent in prayer. His trembling hands held an ancient pair of reading glasses with lenses so marred and scratched it was a wonder he could see anything through them. Outside, a yellow Kentucky warbler sang joyfully, welcoming the warm spring breeze blowing in from the south and the pale green leaves covering the Appalachian countryside.

“Amen,” the old man said aloud, finishing his prayer. He stretched out his arthritic, tired legs. Both knees popped like the BB gun he had used in his younger days to shoo away the hungry crows from his garden. He grimaced at the sound–a constant reminder of his age–and at the pain that was his daily companion. Something told him, perhaps it was the Lord whispering to him, to enjoy the warm season. Come this time next year, his old legs wouldn’t be much use to him anymore.

A silence enveloped the church valley. The yellow warblers hushed. The blowing wind stopped and the air grew still. A chill spread across the old man’s body. He’d lived long enough to know the way of the spirits, to listen when they shouted across the heavens to warn the other side of danger.

Outside, a small alien paused at the foot of the steps. It glanced upward at the white-painted spire that held the brass bell used for calling the congregation on Sunday mornings. The broad leaves of a tall sycamore shadowed the church from the midday sun, giving protection and comfort. The alien climbed the nine wooden steps up to the doorway and slipped through the ornate entrance. Angels and demons welcomed it inside.

The alien moved with a grace befitting its slender build and smooth, alabaster skin. The old man had seen one of these before. A Shadow, they’d called it. It had been…what…twenty-three years since last he’d seen one? But there it was, no mistaking. Those large almond eyes in an oval, slightly humanoid face. No mouth. Skin that resembled the plastic of his sister’s childhood dolls. Shadows wore no clothes, nor did they demonstrate modesty, avarice, or lust. The man wondered if the Shadows had succeeded in the Garden where man had failed.

Many other thoughts crossed his mind as the alien walked forward. He watched as it touched the back of each pew with padded white fingers. It made little noise, no perceptible sounds of breathing, and even the sound of its bare feet slapping against the hardwood floor was muted, like feathers falling from the sky.

The old man stood up. After all, this was the Lord’s House and he had a duty to perform. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Preacher Jeremiah Jones.”

The Shadow paused. Those big, strange eyes stared back at Jeremiah and then at the old wooden cross hanging from the stucco wall behind the pulpit. A moment of worry passed through the preacher’s bones. Worry fueled by the deadly sin of pride. The cross had been in the church for 300 years; a true artifact, handmade to perfection and passed down through the protective custody of thirty-one preachers at Harlan Baptist Church. He often considered it divine, almost in the same sense the Roman Church had once believed in the miraculous power of objects such as grails and ancient shrouds. It didn’t take the awestruck presence of a Shadow to convince him of the power of the cross that hung at his back each and every Sunday morning during his sermon.

“I am…John.”

 

Short Films in the Rye

Did you  miss the Carnegie Classics Catcher in the Rye event on November 7? Did you attend our shindig and love the films you saw? Check some of them out below!

“Professional Development” by the Norton Brothers

“Looking for H.C.” by Bianca Spriggs & Brian Campbell

Looking for H.C. from Bianca Spriggs on Vimeo.

Stop Motion by John Lackey

“The Big Apple” by Whitney Baker

“Catcher in the Rye” by Brian Frye

“Catcher” by Jeremy Midkiff

 

Dancing Down the Rabbit Hole with Kate Hadfield

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Kate Hadfield has been dreaming about choreographing and directing a version of Alice in Wonderland for almost ten years. During a college course on Dostoyevsky, she remembers writing “down the rabbit hole” in her notes and daydreaming for the next several years about turning Alice into a contemporary dance show. Hadfield felt it took her this long to come into her own as a choreographer and as a director/administrator and the show reflects her  pilgrimage to this point which included a move away from the Bluegrass to Florida for a year working as a guest choreographer. During the nine months it took to get the show on its feet, beginning in February, Hadfield often flew back and forth between Florida and Lexington to hold auditions, technique classes, and setting initial scenes. From beginning to end, Hadfield feels as though these past nine months, from inception to execution, which has included everything from designing programs to hand-sewing costumes, is akin to bringing new life into the world. She calls “Down the Rabbit Hole” her “Nutcracker.”

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A multimedia narrative that situates Alice in the underworld, “Down the Rabbit Hole” combines poetry, projected photography, large props, a spectrum of music, and dance to create Hadfield’s vision. Hadfield feels it’s her responsibility, in terms of spearheading this still relatively new company to “transport people into a different micro universe.” Taking cues from theatre, the Downtown Arts Center will be transformed with lighting and projected images into each setting Alice visits including a room of doors, the White Queen’s chessboard, the Queen of Hearts’ rose garden and the Mad Hatter’s tea table, each of which represents some aspect of the afterlife.

On November 7-9, Movement Continuum will feature a line up of over a dozen dancers who take on favorite characters including the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and of course Alice herself will perform a whopping forty-seven scenes over the course of two hours with a fifteen minute intermission.

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Because Hadfield is herself a poet, she considered that capturing characters in such a famous literary treasure would best be harnessed through the craft of poetry. Over a dozen poets and writers from Lexington including Eric Scott Sutherland, Tina Andry, Jay McCoy, Elizabeth Beck, Donna Ison, and Yours Truly, were invited to contribute poetic monologues reflecting different characters and settings in the show.

Take a peek at the trailer and make sure you get your tickets for Friday and Sunday since Saturday is all sold out!

Down the Rabbit Hole from Ashley Roache on Vimeo.

On “Frankensteining” Frankenstein with Playwright Bo List

With a fantastic eye for detail and a reputation for an inventive aesthetic, Bo List is one of the most experimental and progressive directors in theater in Kentucky. If I told you how far Bo and I go back, you’d probably want to invent a time machine just for the sake of procuring proof.  But Bo has especially been making waves over the past few years as a playwright, particularly with his adaptation of Mary Shelley’s seminal novel, Frankenstein. Just in time for Halloween, the show runs at the Woodford Theatre in Versailles Oct 10-12, 17-19, 24-26 and with extra performances Oct 30 & 31. You can buy tickets here.

Bo List is a Lexington-born (and returned) playwright, whose work has been produced in the Bluegrass, Florida, Tennessee, NYC and Chicago, IL as well as Edinburgh, Scotland.  His adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN is soon to be published by Dramatic Publishing, and hopefully produced by a gaggle of theatres once they take a gander at it! (Images below taken from FRANKENSTEIN rehearsals.) 

Tell us a little bit about your relationship to theater.

It is a very intimate relationship.  I work all the time.  I direct, write, teach, breathe it.  I wish I had normal human hobbies like skiiing or American Horror Story.  I am always working on a project instead, and I kind of love that.

How did you come to start writing plays?

I saw a story on TV that inspired me, about a young woman in a rural town who decided to live as a young man and was killed.  I wondered what his life must have been like, how he must have viewed the world, and what led to his demise.  The play, Pink Angels, was produced at the University of Kentucky in 1995, and a few years later the same story would be told (very faithfully, while my version took vast liberties) as the film Boys Don’t Cry.  It was, for me, also a lesson in timing.  Strike while the iron is hot.  If I had invested myself more in my play earlier, it might have gotten farther along before that great film came along and told a similar story (better).

Why Frankenstein?

We are surrounded by Frankenstein!  Everywhere you look, our technology is moving faster than our ability to wield it responsibly, from biological warfare to cloning to genetically engineered food, animals and people, to our inability to create or destroy or transport without abusing our enviornment with pollution.  The majority of our population has, in their pockets, tiny telephone-computers that can access almost every library, gallery, and archive of wisdom, beauty, and information – and yet most of us only use them to send text messages and order pizzas.  Victor Frankenstein was not the first to create something he could not control, and he is not the last – – we are all Frankensteins in one way or another.

Also – what a great story, written by such a forward-thinking, brilliant young woman.

Tell us some about how you tackled Mary Shelley’s novel and brought it to life as a play?

I read the book a number of times, as well as various theatrical and fiction adaptations.  I watched a ton of film versions, and then set to work trying to do justice to both the book and to the vast collective impression we have of the story, as inspired by everything from Boris Karloff in the 1930s Universal film classic to Peter Boyle and Gene Wilder “Putting on the Ritz.”  It took a year to write, prior to its premiere at Summerfest in 2011, and I have been rewriting it ever since.  Now that it’s being published by Dramatic Publishing, I need to decide on the definitive version and let it rest.

What was the most challenging part of writing the play?

The language.  Finding a way to honor Mary Shelley’s tremendous eloquence while allowing a modern audience to access it.  In the end I concluded:  Screw the audience.  Let these characters sing, and the audience will catch up to them.

The most rewarding?

Writing can be very lonely.  It’s a solitary endeavor, with only the voices of the characters to keep me company.  And then, suddenly, I’m not alone anymore.  I’m in rehearsal – seeing those characters brought to life by marvelous actors and by some wizard or wizardess directing.  And then I’m not alone anymore!  And all the work is worth it.

Were any characters or scenes particularly difficult to nail down?

Mrs. Shelley didn’t write much dialogue.  I had to find/create some voices out of thin descriptions.  The Creature was the easiest – – he talks the most in the book (ironic, since he doesn’t speak at all in the almost-definitive Boris Karloff performance).  Elizabeth, Victor’s cousin/love interest, was hardest.  I felt the need to expand her role so that a stronger female presence was felt in the story, so I did less transcribing and more creating in finding the right Elizabeth for this telling.  The result is a bit more feminist than what Shelley had in mind, but I think she would be happy with the result.

Do you prefer to direct your own work or let someone else take the helm?

Oh, I definitely like collaborating and letting someone else call the shots.  It’s hard to tell if it’s any good or not if I’m solving all of the scripts problems directorially.  With someone else directing, there’s nowhere to hide!

Where else has this played?

This is the sixth production!  The original was with Kentucky Conservatory Theatre/Summerfest, followed by productions at Atherton High School in Louisville, City Lit Theater in Chicago, Venice Theatre in Venice, Florida, New Moon Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee, and now the Woodford Theatre back here in Kentucky!

What does your writing process look like? Any rituals that ensure literary gold? Rewards system?

I write in coffee shops.  A different coffee shop per different mood.  I can’t write at home…it’s too quiet.  I need some social noise around me.  Libraries don’t work.  It needs to be coffee.  As far as rewards – – I like to work out before/after I write.  Gets the juices going.  But I tend to write too long into the night to get to the gym, and am too tired in the morning.  So my writing lifestyle promotes an unfortunate amount of lethargy.

What do you do when you hit a roadblock?

Oh, I’m a coward.  When I hit a roadblock I quit.  Isn’t that terrible?  I need to do better.  I need to get good at driving over/around the roadblocks. 

Favorite writing utensil?

My trusty laptop.  I can’t write in a notebook anymore.  I need to be able cut and paste and see it in printed form.

Advice for burgeoning playwrights?

Yes – write!  Write good stuff, write bad stuff.  Write whatever.  Then hear it read out loud by someone else, then RE-write it.  Get off your lazy butt and write.  Now!  Quit staring at the screen or page and write.  Do it!  (I have to tell myself this all the time. We ALL have stories inside us….the only difference is that published authors and produced playwrights and screenwriters take the time to train, discipline themselves, and jot it all down.

What other projects are you working on? 

I’m working with a new group, AthensWest Theatre Company, on a production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt as director.  We’re trying to get some paying work for our stable of talented professional actors and starting small but with a show with a big name and big passions in it.  Doubt will play at the Downtown Arts Center February 5-15, with Leslie Beatty and Jeff Day in the cast.  Good stuff!

If you weren’t a director/playwright, what would you do for a living?

Well, I teach for a living – at Sayre School as their Drama Teacher.  I love it!  But if I gave up theatre (which I think about all the time) I like the idea of returning to visual art or journalism.  I used to write movie reviews, for the Memphis Flyer down south and that was swell.  I’m also a legally recognized minister – – I would love to travel the country and marry folks.  Is there money in that?

Worst job you ever had while trying to make it as a director/playwright?

I was the bodyguard for the Serta Mattress Sleep Sheep at selected Mid-South Sam’s Clubs.  No lie.

Do you read reviews of your work? Why or why not?

Yes – they can be very helpful.  And disspiriting.  And encouraging.  A review of Frankenstein helped me figure something out for a rewrite, and while the review was negative I still got something out of it. 

Favorite experience so far in seeing one of your works brought to life?

I’m sure my favorite experience is always my next experience!

Most memorable backstage experience?

I was in Hair at UK 20 years ago.  After the nude scene (which I did!) the backstage crew ran out of robes to hand to the actors leaving the stage.  This always happened – – they were always one robe short, so someone (often me) had to walk naked down the stairs behind the stage, through a long hallway, and into a far away dressing room.  During one performance one of the technicians brought his wife and small children backstage to see what a show looks like behind the scenes.  And there was Big Naked Bo…

What’s in your pockets right now?

Two flashdrives, two Pilot Precise V5 Rolling Ball pens (the only kind I can write with…oh yeah, that’s another favorite writing utensil), Trident White gum, chapstick and…that’s it, not that I’m not also happy to see you.

You’re necessarily stuck on a cross-country road-trip with someone you just met yesterday. What do you say to break the ice at that awkward moment when you run out of niceties?

“So…boxers or briefs?   No – I’m offering.  Boxers or briefs?”  And then depending on what they said, I would produce a pair.

Volcanoes or Earthquakes?

Oh, volcanoes.  The rumbling, the lava, the gems.  You know, I once had a job interview delayed because of a volcano – – and because of that delay I got to see the Mall of America, the movie Watchmen, and Debbie Reynolds sing with the Seattle Gay Men’s Chorus.  All thanks to Mount Redoubt and the thousands of tons of ash it spewed into the air in and around Anchorage, Alaska.  Definitely volcanoes.

Kentucky Great Writers Reading

Did you miss the Kentucky Great Writers Series reading on October 14? No problem! Below, you can hear Lisa Williams read from Gazelle in the House, Courtney Stevens read from Faking Normal and Don Lichtenfelt read from Goodbye Lake Huron!

 

 

Kurt & Kremena Want to Take Over the World…

…with poetry and tattoos. In 2013, the artistic duo, Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, debuted the Lexington Tattoo Project to the world which featured words and phrases of a poem dedicated to Lexington, Kentucky penned by one (ahem) Bianca Spriggs, on the bodies of 253 residents. The resulting project expanded into first a video featuring a recorded version of the entire poem as well as an original composition for cello by national recording artist, Ben Sollee. Next came a coffee-table book showcasing all of the photos of the tattoos as well as personal stories about folks’ connection to Lexington and to the words or phrases they chose. Since the inception of the LTP, the living mural has garnered national attention in both media and recognition by Americans for the Arts as one of 37 notable public artworks for 2014. The project has since expanded to other cities including Boulder, CO, Cincinnati, OH, Detroit, MI, and now Kurt and Kremena want to take on the world.

In addition to drag queens, Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova like to photograph discarded couches, roadside attractions, and lives encountered on the peripheries of society. In 2011-2013 they traveled to Los Angeles, Indianapolis, New Orleans, San Antonio, and Portland to photograph the people who live near the couches and easy chairs left on the these cities’ curbs. The resulting collection of images, DISCARDED: USA, is an ongoing artwork. Currently, Gohde and Todorova are working on their most ambitious collaboration to date: Love Letter To the World, an artwork that combines poetry, tattoos, music, photography, spoken word, storytelling, and global connections.

The Love Letter to the World tattoo project seeks to address the idea of community in a worldwide sense.  Words and phrases from the poem “Love Letta to de Worl'” written by Kentucky Poet Laureate, Frank X Walker, have already been translated into different languages and photos are popping up all over social media. Unlike the city-wide tattoo projects where participation is limited, the artists invite anyone around the world to participate!

I asked Kurt and Kremena to share a bit more about the project and their experience debuting the LLTW at Burning Man this past summer. Below their interview you’ll see images from this most recent living mural, excerpts from Frank’s poem, and also a few words from the poet himself.

At what point did you decide that it might be a good idea to write a love letter to the world?

We can trace the origins of our global tattoo artwork to the weekend following the premiere of the Lexington Tattoo Project video artwork at Buster’s on November 15, 2013. We had expected to have at least a few hours to breathe freely ☺. Instead, we received a message from an LTP participant and sponsor who was so inspired by the community celebration at Buster’s that he wondered whether we could possibly imagine the local tattoo project on a global scale. That proposition was so very daring as to prompt both of us to say yes! And then it took us about six months to arrive at our vision for Love Letter To the World, an artwork that uses poetry inked on skin to foster global connections.

Although your tattoo projects have expanded to other cities, for this letter, you kept the Kentucky connection by choosing Kentucky’s poet laureate to write the poem. Can you talk about why keeping a connection to Kentucky is important to you?

Because Kentucky is now home for both of us and because we feel deeply connected to it.  Because without our local community’s endorsement of the LTP, we could have never imagined that a global version might work. Because we feel a sense of responsibility towards the participants in the LTP and their commitment to our city. Because we believe that Kentucky has a much larger cultural imprint than it’s given credit for and because we want to make sure that people are aware of it. Because we wanted the local economy, creative and otherwise, to benefit as much as possible from any global artwork we do.

(Above photo of Lori Houlihan taken by Mick Jeffries)

You debuted the LLTW at Burning Man this year. Can you share any images or stories about your trip traveling with the Kentucky Fried Camp? (Images from BM are all taken by the two of us)

We can’t adequately express our gratitude to our fellow Kentucky Fried Camp mates for adopting us and our artwork. They told us what to pack (including vinegar, baby wipes, and a multi-purpose mug) and not to worry about not fitting in. They got early tattoos so they could become living advertisement for LLTW on the playa. They readily lifted shirts and skirts to reveal still-healing tattoos in the line for fried baloney sandwiches and bourbon—the daily breakfast served by our camp. They also told us that waking up to loud techno music was nothing out of the ordinary, that we had a communal box of ear plugs.


Because of LLTW, we developed lasting relationships at BM. Because she works as a midwife and loves the birthing imagery in the poem, a woman told us she was going to contact friends of hers who also deliver babies to get them on board with our artwork. She kept coming back—for fried baloney and to ask us more questions every day. Though she has never been to Kentucky, she told us that she teared up when watching the LTP video.

Your past projects have included elements to entice the senses including scores to recorded poems. What sort of multimedia can participants expect to experience as part of this project?

Participants and non-participants alike should expect to have a lot of fun with our interactive video artwork, starting January 1, 2015. Unlike the LTP video—a single video that includes an image of each participant’s tattoo—the video for LLTW will be different every time it plays. Each time a viewer hits play, the computer program (designed especially for LLTW) will randomly synchronize one of the images uploaded for each phrase of the poem with Frank X Walker’s reading of that phrase. Moreover, because participants will be asked to tag the photographs of their tattoos when they upload them (according to age group, preferred gender, etc.), viewers will be able to customize the video (e.g. they could play a version with only people in their 40s, with people who call the U.S. home, etc.).

The website will also host readings of the poem in different languages (it is currently being translated in Arabic, Bulgarian, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, and Spanish—all because of participants’ suggestions and interest!).

And then there will be surprises. Keep checking back!

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

Anyone who decides to participate in LLTW after reading this blog will receive a gift from us! Simply send us an email with a link to the blog—as proof.

(Photo of the poet and his son at Charmed Life Tattoo in Lexington, KY to get their LLTW ink )

Frank X Walker first coined the word “Affrilachia” in 1991. He is co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets and Kentucky’s first African American Poet Laureate. The author of several collections of poetry, including most recently, Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar EversFrank is Professor of English at the University of Kentucky, Editor-in-Chief of pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, and the recipient of a 2014 NAACP Image Award.

This is such a tall order for a poem. It has to come across to the reader and viewer as both personal and universal. How did you find your way into this piece?

I admittedly I worried about how I might find a way in. Especially when I believed my subject was the world’s people so it was immediately too big too intimidating too ambitious. But when time spent at Lake Barkley allowed me to reconnect with nature I realized my subject was the earth itself or in this case, herself. Then I imagine her as the universal Black woman and I tapped into my life long love and respect for the women who raised me, their heroism, their pain and suffering and went to work.

In personifying the Earth, how do you hope readers will connect with the poem?

I hope readers will recognize the metaphorical and literal connections and embrace them with a familiarity that is similar to my own.

Any special reasoning behind “flipping” the title?

I wanted to stand in the tradition of African American Literature and connect to the diaspora immediately with the title.

What is your favorite image from the poem?

The sneeze as a tsunami. My family suffers horribly from allergies so it’s a natural connection.

Which word or phrase do you plan to get inked?

“Love You Black”