Audio

José Olivarez vs. Grownups

July 18, 2017

Danez Smith: She’s not a girl, not yet a crustacean, Franny Choi.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) And they are the fish bones stuck in your throat for a few days, but you kind of like it for some reason, Danez Smith.

Danez Smith: And welcome to VS, where poets confront the ideas that move them...

Franny Choi: ...presented by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness.

Danez Smith: Every episode on VS we bring on poets to just talk about anything they are wrestling with, to consider all the rest they are doing; people be poets and more sometimes. And, you know, we also just kick it, have a little fun, play some games, just have generally a good time of a shindig. How are you doing, Franny?

Franny Choi: I’ve been feeling good lately, you know, I feel like lately, really, I’ve had these moments where every time I feel like I am finally a responsible human...

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Franny Choi: ...adult, 28 years old...

Danez Smith: Yep.

Franny Choi: ...etcetera…

Danez Smith: Yeah!

Franny Choi: ...then some youthful foolishness…

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: ...slaps me in the face. Or I slap myself in the face with it. And I’m like, oh shit, you are a child actually, still.

Danez Smith: Yeah, I feel like, it builds. As soon as I, like, learn how to pay my bills on time—except for my student loans, shout-out to them student loans that I don’t pay—um… then it’s like, oh, but you actually need to do your taxes correctly.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: And when you have actually figured out how to do that, then it’s like, oh wait, do you have a Roth IRA yet, and I’m just like, oh no, you’re right…

Franny Choi: The answer is noooooo.

Danez Smith: ...no, and that’s crazy. This week I’ve been actually thinking about retirement, which is crazy because one, I am a little bit of a pessimist, I think the world is, like, gonna end somewhere in the middle of this podcast...

Franny Choi: Right, “retirement”, air quotes.

Danez Smith: … right! But I guess there is a possibility that the world will not be in ashes when I’m sixty.

Franny Choi: Right. And then you maybe want to have like, I don’t know, groceries?

Danez Smith: Yeah. And maybe…

Franny Choi: Seems fun.

Danez Smith:...maybe I need to, like, examine my relationship to Brussels sprouts, you know?

Franny Choi: True! Say that! 

Danez Smith: And not just eat them…. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: All those things are being responsible, right, and also making sure I take care of myself and also making sure I take care of other people, and like, I don’t know, every time I think I figured out what an adult is—I feel you on this—every time I think I am an adult, I am, like, proven to be twelve years old.

Franny Choi: Wait, OK, so I had this experience the other day where I biked to the grocery store. I could only fit in, like, a backpack’s worth of food and I, like, fit it exactly, and so then I was, like, biking home and I was, like, I am…. perfect! (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: I literally had the thought: do I have any flaws? (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Like, maybe I don’t have any flaws. And then the problem with asking yourself that question if you are an anxious freak is that then you remember all of your flaws. And you’re like, oh, I’m actually a terrible person. Cool, cool, cool.

Danez Smith: I think, like, mine manifest… Two things happened. I realized that I haven’t actually mastered out my scheduling thing. For some reason after all these years of Google Calendar, I am still, like, double booking myself, or, like, someone will text me the day off, “I’ll see you later,” and then I have to, like, figure out what it is, because I’m like, what am I seeing them later for.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: And then I go, oh yeah, I agreed to, like, host a gala later today. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: But then, that same week, I also, like, talked myself out of a traffic ticket. With a white police officer. 

Franny Choi: Daaaang!

Danez Smith: So yes, I am waiting on my NAAC Image Award… well NAACP. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) That too though, that too!

Danez Smith: Yeah, I know, one, I am an amazing black and also a black person talking themselves out of a traffic ticket, I am in the final four.

Franny Choi: Yes! (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Both of those things. Both of those things. You’re like, hosting a gala, right, hella adult; not remembering that you are hosting the gala...maybe not too adult?

Franny Choi: Right, right, right, right.

Danez Smith: But it’s cool, you know, it’s all a process. And I feel like one day I’ll be sixty and if I haven’t learned by then, I’ll be sixty, and so, what are you going to tell me.

Franny Choi: Yeah, right, right, exactly. I feel like a lot of people our age right now are, sort of, grappling with what it means to be an official adult. You know, and some of the responsibilities that come with that. Whether to ourselves, whether to, like, our jobs, and our families and things, but also in a larger sense. Like, we’re twenty-seven, twenty-eight, and that means that this is the time we should be, like, really doing some shit and doing it well. Doing it responsibly. So I’m really excited to talk to our guest today, José Olivarez, about this idea of responsibility. Both as it pertains to our work as poets, as artists and community builders, and also as educators, and just people living in this world.

Danez Smith: Yeah! José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants, the co-author of the book of poems “Home Court,” and is the co-host of the poetry podcast, “The Poetry Gods.” He is a graduate of Harvard University and the Marketing Manager at Young Chicago Authors. He is the winner of a 2016 Poets House Emerging Poets Fellowship, and a 2015 Bronx Recognizes Its Own Award, from the Bronx Council of the Arts. His work has been published in the BreakBeat Poets, Vinyl Poetry and Prose, the Chicago Tribune and Brooklyn Magazine as well as the illustrious elsewhere. He’s from Calumet City here in Illinois and lives in Chicago. Let’s just get in to it, let’s get into this interview with José. (music) Franny, you want to start this one off? I think I started off the last couple.

Franny Choi: Talk. (LAUGHING) Can that be my intro?

Danez Smith: Yes.

Franny Choi: Hello, José, talk now. (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: What’s up y’all, my name is José Olivarez, a.k.a. Cola Champane Papi, a.k.a. Papi Churro, a.k.a. Papi 2 Times 2 Times...

FC and Danez Smith: ...a.k.a.?

José Olivarez: José Olivarez I guess, I guess. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Awesome. We are in the studio…

Danez Smith: a.k.a. Mexican Nate (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez:: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Aaaw!

José Olivarez:: That’s… inner group me.

Franny Choi: What? That hurt his feelings, I think. Alright, well, we’re super excited today to be in the studio here, with José Olivarez, incredible poet, teaching artist, human, who is fly on the regular without even trying. 

José Olivarez: Nas pessimist.

Franny Choi: Nas pessimist. Controversial opinion holder. 

José Olivarez: Got many controversial opinions. Also, for the record, it takes a lot of effort for me to, like, even be close to fly. You know what I mean? 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: Like, I could never send one of those, like, Beyoncé memes, it’s like “I woke up like this.” I gotta, like, really put time and effort and ask second opinions. Otherwise it’s, like, it’s not looking good for the…

Danez Smith: I curated this.

José Olivarez: Yes. Exactly.

Franny Choi: Well. We’re really, really, really excited to have you here. Welcome back to Chicago and… wait, when did you come back to Chicago? 

José Olivarez: I came back at the end of January. So I’ve been here two months now. 

Danez Smith: OK. And how long were you in New York before that?

José Olivarez: I was in New York City for three and a half years.

Danez Smith: Wow. 

Franny Choi: Oh shit.

Danez Smith: And then before that Boston, right?

José Olivarez: Before that Chicago and before that Boston, Cambridge. 

Danez Smith: Word, word, word, word.

Franny Choi: What’s the weirdest thing about being back in Chicago? 

José Olivarez: You know, the weirdest thing is...re-entering a community and then, sort of, seeing all the ways that that community has changed while I’ve been gone. When I was in New York and I would come back to Chicago and I would visit, it felt like, oh, we haven’t lost a step, everyone feels really close, still. But now, living here, it’s kind of clear that things have been changing and moving along, you know what I mean?

Franny Choi: Totally, like, existing in a community with people is different from.. is such a different texture than, just, coming back and hanging out for, like, a few nights or something.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

José Olivarez: And I also, like, I adopted a few things while I was living in New York. Like, it’s been weird to, like, navigate the city. I really miss the train in New York City. The rhythm of my day has to be completely mapped out. And I don’t think I was expecting that when I moved back to Chicago. 

Danez Smith: Word. Is there anything you learned in New York that you think is, like, useful bringing back to Chicago? 

José Olivarez: In New York, I started going to therapy, so I think the things that I learned were, like, what I needed to be a healthy individual. When I was in Chicago, the first time I think I just started, like, as long as I have art I’m cool. And then in New York, there was a series of small crises that happened that made me realize, alright, I need to, like, get sleep. I need rest. And I need to have money that I’m not living check to check. I need to have health insurance. I need to, like, have people that I can talk to when I’m feeling a particular way so that I don’t just drown in dread, you know what I mean? I just need, you know, I need to be eating healthily, I need to go to the gym. I didn’t really have, like, the practice of going to the gym when I was living in Chicago. So, just discovering a lot of things about, like, what it takes for me to take care of myself. I think, maybe here in Chicago, like, there was always a community kind of helping to take care of me. And in New York I was, like, more on my own in that way. 

Danez Smith: Word. Congrats on that, because I think it takes a lot of honesty, like, bravery, which sometimes is an overused word when we talk about living and, like, surviving, in, like, the muck that is America and, like, the yuck that is life. Just congrats on that, taking care of yourself. I think it takes a lot for us to, like, admit what we need. To be an adult is to say, hey, I need, like, somebody else to help me do this. Or I need to, like, put myself in my own hands a little bit more. 

Franny Choi: Yeah. And for me, when I am feeling the worst is when I am least interested in taking care of myself. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Franny Choi: Like, when I am the most down in the well, where I’m like, maybe I like it here. Maybe this is where I am supposed to be. And I need, like, a voice in my head that is actually the voice of all of the people who love me, to be, like, shut the fuck up. 

José Olivarez: Right.

Franny Choi: And, like, go outside. 

Danez Smith: And I think there’s, like, ways in which as artists even as educators a lot of things are… it feels selfish, sometimes, to take care of yourself, right. You know, like saying I’m going to protect an hour or two of my day to, like, eat right, or go to the gym, and do something that is very insular and necessarily kind of selfish. That’s hard. I know I felt shame in a way. Especially for people like color, too. Because we are all so, like, told to, a lot of times, to trudge through the shit. Because we’re brown and we were, like, made to survive. 

Franny Choi: Yeah, yeah, there is all this, like, you’re so brave, you’re so strong. Oh, I guess I gotta be brave and strong. (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: Yeah. I think for me, like, I moved back to Chicago at the height of the Louder Than A Bomb Poetry Festival…

Danez Smith: That’s the time to move back.

José Olivarez:... yeah, like, you know, ten days before the festival started. 

Franny Choi: Woooh! That’s a festival that seems to take...one hundred perfect over people’s lives. Anyone who is involved in it.

José Olivarez: Yeah. And I also am generally foolish. You know? I, like, was coming back and thought, oh word, like, I’m going from a position, you know, where I was the program director at Urban Word and my responsibilities kind of spanned across all these different... I was, like, part teaching artist, part marketing manager, part officer manager, you know what I mean, I had so many different small responsibilities. I was like, when I’m marketing manager and, like, all I have to do is, like, tweet, like, I’m gonna have so much time! You know what I mean?

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: And of course, that’s only the tip of my responsibilities. So, like, moving back to Chicago during that festival instead of trying to figure out what my routine was, just, like, digging deeper into the work, and then, the deeper I dug, the more tired and overworked I felt, and stressed I felt. And I feel a lot of shame, you know, saying that I was tired, you know what I mean? Because the festival was about the young people, you know what I mean? So, I mean, I’m curious. How do y’all find time for yourselves when the work is also bigger than yourself. You know what I am saying?

Franny Choi: Hmmh.

Danez Smith: Hmmh. I started taking a lot better care of myself when I realized that if I cannot show up to the work, you know, one hundred percent, even eighty-five percent, then the work is not being done. You know, and it is a disservice to the people I serve to not take care of me. You know. Because that’s how we get run down. That’s how we see a high turnover rate in a lot of nonprofits. You see that burnout happening for folks doing the work. In the streets. In these organizations. And so, in order for me to play the long game, instead of just the sprint, then I need to be able to make time for me. And really not, it’s hard not to feel bad about that and I think we always do, but, I am, like, greedy with my time and selfless with myself, you know?

José Olivarez: Wooh!

Danez Smith: That’s the bar.

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING) 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: How long for that self-help book? (LAUGHING) I am greedy with my time in all the ways, right. So I’m greedy in saying, like, no, I’m not going to do this, because I really want to be able to pay attention to the student now, but also saying, hey, I also am going to take these two hours, it takes me an hour and a half every day to go to the gym because it makes me feel better all the time. 

José Olivarez: All the time.

Danez Smith: And also saying: you know, sometimes taking the necessary day off. Which is hard.

José Olivarez: Yeah. I’m a strong believer in a sick day. Or a personal health day disguised as a sick day, to say like, hey, maybe I do have to cancel this one workshop out of these twenty. Just so I can be tethered a little bit more.

Franny Choi: Hmmh. There is something also about… I’m thinking again about the sort of idea of, like, shame. The shame of taking care of oneself and the shame of, like, not just sort of, like, taking the hardship and I think for me it’s connected so much to coming from an immigrant family. I remember when I turned down this job because I was, like, this job is actually, like, too overwhelming and I’m going to be, like, super miserable, and it doesn’t seem like it’s set up for people to succeed in it. And my mom was, like, you’re not going to take a job because it’s hard? That’s what work is. It’s hard. And I was like, uhuhuuuu and cried for, like, a week. But I think it’s tough to, like, advocate for yourself when you come from a family, immigrant or not, that’s, like, been through the shit and has, like, survived and, you know, buckled down. I remember, there was this, maybe this was, like, a This American Life or something, where someone was talking about how their parents were Holocaust survivors and everytime she complained, her dad or someone would just be, like, are you a lamp? Have you been made into a lamp? 

Danez Smith: Wow.

Franny Choi: Because people were, just, their skin was made into lamp shades. Are you a lamp? No, then, like, get back to work. 

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: I didn’t mean to bring you all the way down.

Danez Smith: It’s real! I mean, I’m black, if y’all didn’t know.

José Olivarez: Wooooooot! I thought he was…

Franny Choi: … Korean.

Danez Smith: Honorary. Shout out to my Korean folks, y’all know what it is. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: But no, I come from this black family where, like, I’ve watched the wide breadth of my family go through, like, really hard mental health situations that were thought to be fixed with, like, prayer or, just, acting right, you know. For everything. From people who, like, probably have, like, some manifestation of, like, bipolar, or at least have anxiety or depression. It’s, like, issues with addiction in my family that just need to get right. Like, your mental health is just something you switch on when you feel ready to. 

José Olivarez: Yeah.

Danez Smith: So it took a lot for me to be able to even stand up to my history and say, hey… And, you know, this, like, deep Southern black family who, like, went through the worst of racism, you know. And to be able to say, like, honor that history while also honoring yourself is a very hard balance. To, like, say, my people have been through this and this is what I’m going through… even though my struggle is, like, minute compared to, like, the vast institutional struggle that, like, real, violent struggle that my people went through, this is still my existence.

Franny Choi: Yeah, I think that my ancestors… survived what they did so that I could have a shot at taking care of myself, right? We have to honor that shot we’ve been given.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

José Olivarez: Yeah, that’s beautiful. You know, I’m thinking about a couple of things. One: I think it was Audre Lorde who was writing about, how, like, if our children aren’t fed, how will they have dreams bigger than our dreams? You know what I mean? 

Danez Smith: Hmmh. 

José Olivarez: Something about that. And I’m also thinking about.. it was part of the reason why I left in Chicago, I was like, if I go to New York City and I take a full time job with healthcare, and I keep checking off these boxes of, like, things in my life, then all of the mental health stuff will be OK. And I think I can still fall into the trap of being, like, well, if I can do this bit of work then I can go home and rest and then I can take care of myself and..

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

José Olivarez: And, you know, the thing that I found is that, like, there is always more work, you know what I mean? Even if I am on top of all of my work at Young Chicago Authors, like, I could be writing a poem, I could be reading books, there is always more work to do and so, I guess I’ve just been struggling trying to figure out, like, where is the off switch for myself. When do I, like, call it a night and take rest and do what I need to do so that I can get up the next morning like you were saying, Danez, get back at it and give people what I need to give them, you know what I mean? Like, show up for the people that need me. 

Franny Choi: Do you have any guilty pleasures that you, like, indulge in in order to survive the next day?

José Olivarez: Guilty pleasures… I’m watching… what am I watching on Netflix right now? I tried watching the first Dave Chappelle stand-up episode….

Danez Smith: Ooooh, I couldn’t make it through the episode.

José Olivarez: I made it through the first one.. I didn’t think it was that funny. I mean, that’s mostly my hot-take. It was very, like, politically, it felt like Dave hadn’t grown with the times and I think also the comedy just, also, probably at least in part because the politics are not as good as they used to be, or maybe, like, having developed as much. Like, the comedy also felt rusty in a way. 

Danez Smith: It was very...yeah, cause for me, I had to turn it off halfway through. Because it slid from..

Franny Choi: I didn’t even start because I heard so much about it that I was like, I don’t know…

Danez Smith: I kinda watched it before all the hot-takes were coming in. Morning after it was released type joint. You know, the think-pieces were still being typed up. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Anti-shout-out to think-pieces.

Franny Choi: Anti.. I love the idea of an anti-shout-out.

Danez Smith: Yeah, shout-down. 

Franny Choi: Shout-down! Shout-in? (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Shout-in, yeah. All those things, this is it. Just when you think you should be writing a think-piece, you should just, you know, eat a peach. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: Very good for you. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: No, I made it halfway through and it turned very quickly around. Part of the major critique was when it turned very, like, sexist, rape-culture-y, transphobic and homophobic all within the span of five minutes. I didn’t know if it was that Chappelle’s politics hadn’t moved with the time, or if it’s that he did exactly what a lot of, like, cis-hetero black men did, and as they become older become much more conservative. 

José Olivarez: Mmmh.

Franny Choi: Mmmh.

Danez Smith: Even thinking about, like, my mother, who has gone through a lot of political growth in my adulthood, it also, I know things that it took me one conversation to get, it might take her a little bit longer because she has been set in her ways for longer. And I’m wondering if that’s the same thing with Chappelle. That’s he’s doing exactly what time says we do. That really radical Democrats eventually become, like, soft Republicans at some point in their life, you know?

Franny Choi: (GASP) That’s so scary… (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: I think that’s one of the things that terrifies me the most, is.... Not just that I’ll become more conservative, but that at some point, like, I’ll harden? Like, for example, with poetry, right, I’ll be forty-something and that there’ll be like some twenty-two year old writing and I’ll be, like, hating on it just because it’s young and different. And I think for me, the thing I feel very lucky about, is that I, like, get to engage with young people consistently. So that, I mean, when I was in college and I was, like, part of, you know, the Student Labor Action Movement at Harvard, we did not go into those meetings and ask people for their pronouns. People younger than me were the ones who would, like, check me on that, like, ask people what their pronouns are, you know what I mean?

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Franny Choi: Hmmh.

José Olivarez: As long as we’re in touch with young people they will push us forward. I just think that is true. 

Franny Choi: Yes.

Danez Smith: Amen.

Franny Choi: I agree. Also, high school students are the best comedians that this country has ever produced. They’re like the funniest motherfuckers. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) Yo, there is no worse feeling in the world than getting roasted by a fifteen-year old because…

Franny Choi: (SIGH)

Danez Smith: … they are so accurate. (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) They just scan you for flaws and they’re like, that one. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: So, one thing that.... For me, I realized that I had let my shoegame go askew. 

Franny Choi: (gasp)

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I used to… so, I was teaching a workshop one day and a kid just hit me with the straight-up, “what are those?” I had to look down and go, like, what are these! (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Truly, what are these? I had become the guy who I never thought I would be, which is, the guy who wears running shoes all the time.

José Olivarez: Wooh! I can’t think of anything that… I can’t recall a time where I’ve been roasted by a teenager, like, I’m sure that that time is quickly approaching, you know what I’m saying, but I do remember this, like, very sad moment. My first year out of college I worked at the M.E.T.S. Charter Public High School. And there were like, three juniors that I worked with. And I shared that group with another tutor, and, you know, one day it was my off day so I was sitting up in our office, typing or doing something, and he comes in crying, and I’m, like, oh my god, what happened. And he’s just like, man, they were, like, relentless. They would, like, not stop talking about the way I dress, they said my accent was funny. 

Franny Choi: Wow!

José Olivarez: They were like, the funniest comedians. Also, high school students can be very mean sometimes, you know what I mean? 

Franny Choi: Yeah! You can use that for good or evil. 

José Olivarez: Yeah. That’s true. That’s true. Damn, I just made myself sad.

Danez Smith: You gotta hold ‘em kids accountable, man.

José Olivarez: But you know, it was really… so, like, I thought a lot about, like, why I had such an ease in, like, working with them and this other person, like, could not connect with them at all. You know, he was, like, a young white man and, like, could not bring himself down to, like, talk to them eye to eye, really only saw himself as, like, the adult and, like, the keeper of information. 

Franny Choi: And young people pick up on that so immediately. 

Danez Smith: Yeah.

José Olivarez: Like, you have to know more than just poems and songs. You have to, like, come in and you have to have something to offer, and you have to give them space to practice and to write their stories. I think about this a lot. When I was working at the M.E.T.S. Charter Public High School. It was supposed to be, like, our social justice union. The folks who created the curriculum they, like, had all these statistics about what the outcomes are for people of color in public schools. And we, like, came to our students and shared them with this, and it was supposed to inspire them, it was supposed to be like, oh wow, I’m going to do really well and I’m going to beat the statistics, right. But it ended up really depressing them, and they were like, why is everything telling us about, like, how bad the situation is, you know what I mean?

Franny Choi: Destined to fail.

Danez Smith: Yeah, that deficit model is not, you know, popping. It’s not good to see yourself in those numbers.

Franny Choi: Totally. Yeah. I also, I’ve had the experience where I’ve asked students to write about, like, this prompt revolves around how, like, the world sees you, like, how society sees you as a young person of color, like, a young woman, and have seen young people be like, ooh, that’s what they think about me. And that shit is so sad. To be the one in the classroom being, like, the world hates you. 

José Olivarez: Yeah, welcome to my class, also, fact number one, the world does not like you. 

Franny Choi: Yeah! That’s sucks!

José Olivarez: It sucks. 

Franny Choi: I don’t want to be the person saying.. I want to come in after, like, oh no, and then go, like, well let’s write about it. (LAUGHING) Like, I don’t want to deliver that news, you know.

José Olivarez: Yeah. Just to echo, like, what you were saying, Danez, that deficit model is not popping and, like, the student who was like, please stop telling us depressing facts about what is supposedly going to happen to us was right. So I think about that moment a lot. I think about it when I bring work into the classroom. What am I bringing, what traumas are in these poems, and, am I actually working to help them grow or am I going to retraumatize people, am I going to reopen violence against some young people, and, you know, I don’t think that’s something that I’ve figured out, I think I’ve wrestled with that a lot because I think a lot of poems that I love… there’s a lot of violence in some of the poems that I love. How do I share that with them without causing them trauma again.

Danez Smith: You know what I found is that, like, and it’s hard and I don’t always get it right, but like, I try as hard as possible to allow students to bring up the trauma themselves instead of me forcing it upon them. And it’s hard to do with poems, because I think it’s difficult to acknowledge to, like, always bring in poems that are, like, one hundred percent not going to be damaging or, like, are not going to bring up hard things, because poems wrestle with hard things and sometimes even in a… on the way to saying something beautiful that poem might have to acknowledge a lot of violence. 

Franny Choi: Hmm.

José Olivarez: Hmm.

Danez Smith: And so for me, it’s really about the prompt that we do. I always try to really be mindful of the prompt that I’m giving my students. And making sure the prompt is open enough, and I always try to encourage joy a little bit in the prompt. So that when a student chooses to talk about something hard, or something they’ve been through that may have been traumatizing, or really acknowledge a hard, ugly fact about the world, that they’re able to lead themselves to that. Instead of… Like, I’ve been in workshops where people have been, like, write about the hardest thing that’s ever happened to you. And I’m just like, why! I don’t want to be that kid, like, I’m sixteen. And, like, if I write about the hardest thing that happened to me, it might have happened yesterday, and I’m going to think about it for a looong time, bro.

Franny Choi: Yeah. I was once in a workshop where people were talking about… it was like a professional development thing and somebody suggested as, like, the icebreaker at the beginning, to get, like, our brains moving, everyone’s kind of like, write on a piece of paper the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, and then you don’t share it with anyone, you fold it up and then you put it in your pocket. (LAUGHING) And I was like, oh my god!

José Olivarez: Give that person the Nobel Peace Prize, that’s amazing! (LAUGHING) That’s it! That’s how you’re gonna do it! Wow...

Franny Choi: Just go straight to your deepest trauma and then never speak to anyone.

JO : That’s what we have to do, just fold it up and put it in your pocket. You know what I mean. Stop making excuses! You know what I’m saying.

Danez Smith: A lovely pocket of trauma! (SINGING) I got a pocket, got a pocket full of trauma.

Franny Choi: Yeah… And then somebody immediately raised their hand and was like, um, I don’t know about that… like, maybe we should rethink that? (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Shout-out to that person. (LAUGHING) I have some notes, I have some edits for that exercise. How about, no. (LAUGHING) You know, that reminds me of, you know, when I was in college we used to play this game that, again, it was like very well-intentioned, but always sucked. It was, like, cross the line. Did you’all every play this? Where, like, they read prompts and if the prompt applies to you then you, like, take a step forward, you know what I mean?

José Olivarez: Oh no...not the privilege walk?

Danez Smith: Yes, the privilege walk! That’s what I’m talking about, that’s what I’m talking about. By the end of the game…

José Olivarez: I hate privilege walks man.

Danez Smith: ...there’s like people at the front, you know what I’m saying. There’s like, people in the back. I hated that game so much. I was, like, listen, I can tell you how this is gonna turn out. You know what I mean? (LAUGHING) I don’t know who this is benefitting. Thank you for reminding me… 

Franny Choi: It benefits the more privileged, so they can go like, wow, I can’t believe that I was so blind to the people around me. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Anti-shout out to every TA I ever had that thought they were really about to do something real transformative, with that privilege walk. It got to the point where, if I saw that we were doing the privilege walk that day, I would just stand in the back with my arms folded, because I was like, why! You get so sick of being a prop for somebody else’s learning.

José Olivarez: Woooh! 

Danez Smith: It’s so tiring, though! I think it’s a comic phrase that we say, you know, it’s not your job to teach, and that’s a common thing we always say, especially for, like, people like, different identities. My job is not to teach you. But my job is also not to be the lesson plan. I cannot be the teacher, nor can I be…

Franny Choi: I’m not the text.

Danez Smith: I’m not the text! I’m not the text, bro. So this will lead up to a question. I was at a show the other day…

Franny Choi: Take your time, poet.

Danez Smith: ... I was at a show the other day, at a Poet’s Show, like, Q&A, and this one dude comes out to me, lovely dude, and he’s like, hey, I just have a question, like, how do I—him being a young white man—make sure that, like, you have access to my poems. First of all, I was like, what are you saying, are you asking for my email so I can edit, because I’m not doing that. And then, he was saying like, no, I was trying to say, like,.. He was trying to ask, like, how does he, like, write responsibly about the trauma and plight of people of color. And I had to straight up tell him, like, well… you don’t. I think, you know, like, message, if there’s any, like, white writers trying to figure out how to write about race, write about white people! Like, you don’t need to point at the brown body on the ground and say, look at this. You don’t need to point at, you know, the bodies of, you know, black and Latinx, and, you know, Native, Asian, all the people that we do damage to in this country. A cis-body does not need to point at a trans-body and say, look at what happens. You need to point at yourself. Like, don’t write about Mike Brown, you need to write about Darren Wilson. Like, that’s actually the poem we need in the world, we need poems that, like, white people see themselves in, not just see the people they are supposed to empathize with. But after that, I mean, I kind of laid into him nicely but, like, pretty hard, but it made me actually realize, like, I had the benefit of, like, going through that process myself, too. Of, like, how I can be complicit, one, in anti-black stuff and how I also have to learn very hard lessons about being responsible about what I write about. And I’m wondering, José, like, I think about your poems and I think about how many people can see themselves in your poems. 

Franny Choi: Yes.

Danez Smith: What are, like, the lessons that you learn about, like, being careful about your people’s names.

Franny Choi: Like, what does it mean to write about and write for your people responsibly? 

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: What a… question. (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: Yeah. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Yeah! There you go. 

José Olivarez: And that’s beautifully worded. You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot since the conversation. I remember the panel you were on, Danez, where you were talking…

Franny Choi: Can you say briefly what the conversation is?

José Olivarez: Yeah, so the conversation was this really incredible one-week retreat where a number of writers of color were invited to go down to the South, to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana to have conversations about race, about blackness, about people of color in this country and, you know, particularly as it relates to the legacy of the South. You know what I mean? Conversations with each other as well as conversations with writers in those places. And so Danez was on the panel and he was speaking to writing the poems in “[Insert] Boy” and then the reception of those poems as those poems, like, go into places that maybe you never intended them to find, you know what I mean? It’s your book, so please, correct me…

Danez Smith: No, go ahead, go ahead.

José Olivarez: Um. Having the experience of, like, having white people read those poems and use those stories, which were meant to empower, to uplift or to otherwise show recognition, you know what I mean, to black people, to black queer people, you know what I mean?

Danez Smith: Yeah.

José Olivarez: And using them to, like, reinforce stereotypes? You know what I mean?

Danez Smith: Yeah.

José Olivarez: Receiving that feedback and, like, coming back and being, like, well, OK, how can I take your attempt at recognition, and how can I undermine that again so that these are poems that are for my people, you know what I mean? It’s such a hard thing to think about what it means to write poems for Mexican people, for Latinx people, for working class people in Chicago, when there are so many more people watching than just us. You know what I’m saying? 

Franny Choi: Right. Right. That you can’t just cc people and not have everybody else looking.

José Olivarez: Yeah. And so, how do I write a poem about my dad, you know what I mean, and how do I write that poem honestly and talk about his beauty and, like, his work for the family and the pain that he carries and also, like, the ugly parts of him without having everyone in the room kind of see him as the villain. My dad is brown, you know, and I mean, to be honest, I don’t mean… Like I said, I’ve been thinking about it since you started talking about, like, and I haven’t found a great answer. I… (SIGH). I get very stressed out thinking about my people and, especially, like, growing up I didn’t read a book, a poem by a Latinx writer until I was in college, you know what I mean? And so, I don’t want the first poem that someone receives in their high school to be a poem that, like, makes them feel… I don’t… (SIGH)... small, you know what I mean? 

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

José Olivarez: I think about myself in high school, and if the first poem I saw was a poem that further made me feel ugly and, like I didn’t belong in this country, you know what I mean, I might have quit poems then. You know what I’m saying?

Danez Smith: It’s kinda surprising to hear you, like, say you struggle so much with that, because I think you do it so well in your work. 

José Olivarez: Hmmh.

Danez Smith: I thought your reading at the conversation that we did together, that was some of the best ten minutes of poetry that I’ve seen in a very long time. Like, I felt empowered in identities that I didn’t even have. I felt empowered as a Mexican man… (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: … I felt empowered as a black woman….I’m not even these things and José is making them smile in me. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING) That’s hilarious. You know, the beautiful thing about the conversation, I mean, there were many beautiful moments in the conversation, you know what I mean, many of which occured around the card table, but um…

Danez Smith: Wooo! José played one of the worst hands in spades I ever saw… (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING) I thought this was a safe space, you know. Apparently not.

Danez Smith: You forgot your other nickname, Badhand José. 

José Olivarez: Yeah. Badtake José, you know what I mean. Many nicknames. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Well, he was a little… it was too much Hennessy, that’s what’s wrong.

José Olivarez: Shout-out to Hennessy. (LAUGHING) You know, I guess, part of the reason why I struggle with that question, Danez, is because sometimes I don’t know if the poems are reaching the people that I want them to reach. You know what I mean? I don’t get that feedback consistently because… I’m starting to build, but I don’t have a circle of Latinx writers that I can send a poem to and, like, they can tell me whether it works or not. You know what I’m saying? And so a lot of times it kind of feels, you know, like, playing in the dark. I’m doing my best to write the poems that, like, I could have used as a young person, that I could use now. I’m, like, still working on building that community for myself. And so there are a few moments that I’ve had that I’ve been, like, wow, they found the poems and the poems work. And then it feels good, you know what I mean, then I feel like I am writing lovingly towards my people. Which is, like, ultimately what I care about most, is, like, everybody in the group tag. You know what I mean? Like, if I read this poem for Angel Nafis, would she… like, give me a hug afterwards. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Or would she talk trash about me.

José Olivarez: Or would she talk shit about me. You know what I’m saying? (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: And even just that right now, like, maybe the right way to answer that question is to struggle with it. You know. 

José Olivarez: Hmm.

Danez Smith: Maybe a question that should stay perpetually unanswered. 

Franny Choi: That means it’s a question that’s… that means it’s a worthy question, if you, like, spend a big chunk of your life grappling with it.

José Olivarez: Hmmh.

Franny Choi: You have a conversation with the problem.

Danez Smith: Yeah, you do. (MUSIC) Speaking of conversations. You have a really good conversation that I enjoyed listening to on your podcast, The Poetry Gods.

José Olivarez: Thank you.

Danez Smith: If you don’t know… tell us about The Poetry Gods. I won’t spit your lit. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: The Poetry Gods is a podcast, it’s available everywhere you get podcasts. The idea of the podcast was to take the energy that happens when you get poets in the room and you get them, you know, maybe a little bit tipsy. You know, we’re not putting anybody on blast. And you get them just talking about whatever is important in their lives. And a lot of times those conversations find their way to the poems, but a lot of times those conversations take us in surprising paths. You know, we had a conversation with Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib where he told us about the worst date he’s ever been on, you know what I mean. Please listen to the episode, but I’ll just say that it involved the movie The Passion of the Christ. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Fascinating.

José Olivarez: Which tells you… it was not a good date, you know what I mean? (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: So yeah, so we do this podcast, it’s hosted by Jon Sands, Aziza Barnes and myself. And we have a really great time doing it. It’s one of my favorite parts of my work, is doing this podcast. 

Franny Choi: And there is a new season coming out soon, right?

José Olivarez: Yes. We have a new season coming out, by the time this episode airs, it will probably be out. It will start airing, so look for it, every other Tuesday. Yeah.

Danez Smith: I can’t wait.

José Olivarez: Yeah, yeah, yeah! Word. We’re really excited. 

Franny Choi: As a seasoned podcast host, do you have any tips for us, fledgling podcast runners… 

Danez Smith: Yeah, because we are, like, episode number three and you are in season two, so, like, what do we need to know.

José Olivarez: I would say, you know. One, I have no advice. Y’all are frenemies, if you know what I’m saying. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Pseudo-rival.

José Olivarez: No friendly advice for the new rivals on the block.

Danez Smith: Wooow!

Franny Choi: Wooow! It’s like that! Interesting...

José Olivarez: Listen, Franny, you gave me the Oregon whisky, you know what I’m saying…

Franny Choi: It’s called whippersnapper. 

José Olivarez: I’ve never had it before, but it’s quite delicious.

Danez Smith: Tune in to the next episode of VS where I give all my critiques of The Poetry Gods. (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING) Oh, that would be incredible, that would be hilarious. You know, I think… that would be really funny. I can’t even… Listen. First of all, y’all are both great and it’s clear that y’all have such great chemistry. You know…

Franny Choi: Sexual chemistry.

Danez Smith: Oooooh!

Franny Choi: Just kidding.

José Olivarez: Oooh?

Franny Choi: Uhm… we’ll talk about it later. (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: I was sitting here and I was thinking about, you know, the poetry podcast world. It makes me so excited that your voices will, like, join our voices, you know what I mean.

Franny Choi: For hours of giggling.

José Olivarez: For hours of giggling, you know what I mean? I’m really happy about that. Um. I mean, you all are, in a lot of ways way more professional than us, like, you have this very nice studio that you are working out of. You have, like, pre-show questions. The process with The Poetry Gods is, like, we text somebody, like, yo, do you want to come be on The Poetry Gods, you know, we’re like sitting with them having drinks. And we’re like, this is how it goes. And they’re like, alright, fresh, let’s do it, and we just go.

Franny Choi: We don’t have hummus though, so.

José Olivarez: Listen. You should get hummus. 

Danez Smith: We do have little Cheez-its though. 

Franny Choi: And string cheese!

Danez Smith: There is a lot of string cheese.

Franny Choi: There’s a drawer of string cheese in the studio. 

Danez Smith: And whisky. The whisky is important. 

José Olivarez: You know, I think what makes for a good podcast is what makes for a good conversation. So, like, in everything that we try to do at The Poetry Gods, we try to think about...just having a good conversation person to person, and what we found is that it’s … it tended to resonate beyond the room. You know what I’m saying?

Danez Smith: Cause I think, like, the interview is such a hard thing to master in that it’s such an easy thing to mess up. And so, has interviewing poets made you a better poet beyond just learning about poems?

José Olivarez: Yeah, yeah. You know, I think it has made me a better poet. I think it has made me a better poet because writing poems for me, at least at the beginning, right, the process of drafting a poem is solitary. I have to, like, sit down and I have to spend that time writing the poem. And so because that process is solitary, it can feel like my struggles with that process are singular. Or it can feel like that particular process is separate from the process of hanging out with my friends or talking with them or whatever, right. And being on the podcast and, like, talking to poets has made me realize that, like, I don’t need to, like, keep those things out of the room when I draft the poem, you know what I’m saying? And so, it’s been, like, cool to, like, think about that conversation and bring it into the room when I write a poem or...how I’m connected to the people around me, and, to the earth, you know what I mean? Just to, like, bring up those questions for myself. So I think it’s been useful. I also just think that we’ve been very lucky in that, like, we know a lot of very, very smart people. You know what I mean? And so getting a chance to, like, hear those things is very inspiring and it makes me get a renewed understanding of what I’m trying to do on the page.

(MUSIC)

Franny Choi: There’s a poem of yours that we really wanted to hear you read today that addresses some of this, like, thinking about our people and, that, giving versus just, like, taking from them. Like, that’s an example of a poem that isn’t simply putting stories and trauma on display but is, like, creating something. Like, there is a, there is a theory-building that is happening in that poem. There is an argument that is being fleshed out in this really, like, transformative way. And I think it’s just, like, one of the many answers to, like, how do we write about this shit responsibly, you know? Can you read us a poem?

José Olivarez: Yes. I would love to read y’all a poem. So this poem is called “(Citizen) (Illegal).”

 

Mexican woman (illegal) and Mexican man (illegal) have

a Mexican (illegal)-American (citizen).

Is the baby more Mexican or American?

If the mother holds the baby (citizen)

too long, does the baby become illegal?

The baby is a boy (citizen). He goes to school (citizen).

His classmates are American (citizen). He is outcast (illegal).

His “Hellos” are in the wrong language (illegal).

He takes the hyphen separating loneliness (Mexican)

from friendship (American) and jabs it at the culprit (illegal).

Himself (illegal). His own traitorous tongue (illegal).

His name (illegal). His mom (illegal). His dad (illegal).

Take a Mexican woman (illegal) and a Mexican man (illegal).

If they have a baby and the baby looks white enough to pass (citizen).

If the baby grows up singing Selena songs to his reflection (illegal).

If the baby hides from el cucuy and la migra (illegal).

If the baby (illegal) (citizen) grows up to speak broken Spanish (illegal)

and perfect English (citizen). If the boy’s nickname is Güerito (citizen).

If the boy attends college (citizen). If the boy only dates women (illegal)

of color (illegal). If the boy (illegal) uses phrases like Women of Color (citizen).

If the boy (illegal) (citizen) writes (illegal) poems (illegal).

If the boy (citizen) (illegal) grows up (illegal) and can only write (illegal)

this story in English (citizen), does that make him more

American (citizen) or Mexican (illegal)?

 

(MUSIC)

 

Danez Smith: Time for our last segment and… maybe my favorite segment oooooof the podcast. We are going to play this vs. that. We are gonna give you two things and everybody in the room gets to decide who would win in a fight. So this vs. that, OK. Alright.

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: The crew of Poetry Gods…

Franny Choi: (GASP)

José Olivarez: Oooh wow…

Danez Smith:... or the crew of VS. 

(CHIME)

José Olivarez: Listen, this is not fair.

Danez Smith: We gotta start the nemesissing off right.

José Olivarez: This is not fair because there is two of y’all…

Danez Smith: No, because we’re also letting in Daniel, our producer. 

José Olivarez: Shout-out to Daniel. 

Danez Smith: Shout-out to Daniel from the Bronx. It’s three on three, baby. Wassup! You think you can take us? We say that lightly, cause it’s all of us here.

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING) Where are Aziza, Jon, when I need them. You know, I think, in a fight, this is my prediction, I think Jon Sands would not fight. You know what I mean, I think he’d be like, wow, y’all, that’s crazy, like, I brought this hummus to this fight. Do y’all wanna eat with us? You know what I mean? And I think Aziza would be like, we all do this poetry podcast thing, you know what I mean, we should have a conversation, you know what I mean, I don’t think...I don’t see…

Danez Smith: We should have one giant interview.

José Olivarez: Yeah!

Franny Choi: I love the idea that everyone on The Poetry Gods starts every sentence with, Oh wow! 

José Olivarez: This is how my mind works, you know. I have been known to fight. But I also gave that up a while ago, you know what I mean. I lost the only fight that I’ve ever been in, and it wasn’t close. So I’m going to say that y’all would probably take it, you know, Daniel’s from the Bronx, you know what I mean, we’re not trying to fuck with the Bronx. I think y’all might have this.

Danez Smith: Smart answer, smart answer.

José Olivarez: I’m also, like, trying to protect my psyche. As I’m in the room with all three. 

Danez Smith: I think I agree. I think we would win. 

Franny Choi: But I think that’s because we have something to prove. 

Danez Smith: Yeah! I think we’d win for the fact that, like, I am not over fights. I actually enjoy getting into a fight once a year. Usually happens in Milwaukee. (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: (LAUGHING) 

Danez Smith: I always get into fights when I’m in Milwaukee, I don’t get it. 

José Olivarez: When’s the last time you’ve been in a fight?

Danez Smith: In 2014 was the last time I was in a fight.

Franny Choi: Woow!! That is recent!

José Olivarez: That’s recent. That’s more recent than me.

Danez Smith: Yeah. Yeah. Not like, out of choice, it’s always, like, at a bar, and something, like, disrespectful has, like, recently happened to a friend of mine, and I never throw the first punch but I do finish ‘em.

José Olivarez: Woooh!

Danez Smith: So yeah.

José Olivarez: Also, you know what I mean. Danez has been going to the gym, I mean, I see the gym stuff, like, I’m not trying to fuck with Danez in today’s day and age.

Danez Smith: Here’s the thing though. I think, I think there is no way to win a fight and also win in the community. So I feel like we’d win, but then the community will rally around y’all. 

Franny Choi: Yeaaah, that’s true.

Danez Smith: We’d get expelled from poetry. 

José Olivarez: We would go viral.

Danez Smith: Maybe it’s good for y’all.

José Olivarez: I’ll say this. The last fight I got into, was with Nate Marshall…

Danez Smith: Oh, go read his poem, “praise the Hennessy”...

José Olivarez: “pray song”

Danez Smith: “pray song,” “pray song.” It’s on the Poetry Foundation website. 

Franny Choi: Wait, is that poem about fighting you?

José Olivarez: Yeah. It’s him and Adam Levin and …

Franny Choi: What!? I did not know that! 

José Olivarez: Yes. So…

Franny Choi: That’s an incredible backstory. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. So I think, my favorite part of the story are two things. One, that this turned into Nate’s first publication in Poetry Magazine.

José Olivarez: That’s true.

Franny Choi: That was a success for all of us. We were like, go Nate. 

Danez Smith: Our generation has arrived! But two, that he is now your landlord.

José Olivarez: Listen. So the lesson there is, play the long game, you know what I mean. Daammmn. You know, that makes me realize that I’m like the Nas and Nate is like Jay-Z, you know what I mean?

Danez Smith: Yeah, like you signed to his label, yeah.

Franny Choi: How does that make you feel?

Danez Smith: Well, José, thank you so much. Is there anything you want the people to know about coming up? We got the new season of The Poetry Gods… Anything else, what’s your social media, where can I find you?

José Olivarez: So, new season of The Poetry Gods, you can find us on Twitter @thepoetrygods, you can also find us on Instagram @thepoetrygods. You know, soundcloud.com/thepoetrygods, we’re on iTunes. Listen to the podcast. You can find me @_joseolivarez on all social media. 

Danez Smith: Dope. Thank you man, I appreciate you coming in.

Franny Choi: Yeah, thank you so much for hanging out with us. Do you want more whisky? (LAUGHING)

José Olivarez: I definitely want more whisky. I probably don’t need more whisky, but… (LAUGHING) I definitely want it.

Franny Choi: That was José Olivarez, our dear friend and, um, rival, from The Poetry Gods.

Danez Smith: And you know what? I think he tricked us into being on an episode of The Poetry Gods. 

Franny Choi: (GASP) Oh my god.

Danez Smith: It happened today.

Franny Choi: I think you’re right. 

Danez Smith: He asked us a couple of questions and I was like...

Franny Choi: ...suddenly, like, the tables have turned.

Danez Smith: Am I Aziza Barnes

Franny Choi: Wait, so does that mean, in this scenario, I am Jon Sands?

Danez Smith: You are Jon Sands. 

Franny Choi: Actually… Yeah. I can go along with that. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) This wraps up another episode of the VS Podcast, I just want to give a thank you to Shania Twain for everything that she has added to my life, girl, I don’t know where I’d be without Shania.

Franny Choi: I want to give a shout-out to Jean-Luc Picard for really steering the enterprise right.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) Amen. We also want to give a thank you to Postloudness.

Franny Choi: To the Poetry Foundation, especially Ydalmi Noriega and Elizabeth Burke-Dain.

Danez Smith: And our producer Daniel Kisslinger. Most of all we also want to thank you all for listening, we’re just really grateful to y’all, for kicking it with us so far, and you should tell your friends about it.

Franny Choi: Yeah! Thanks for hanging out.

Danez Smith: Peace!

Franny Choi: Bye!

Poet, educator, and Young Chicago Authors Marketing Director José Olivarez explores adulting and gives some podcast-veteran advice to Danez and Franny.

More Episodes from VS
Showing 1 to 20 of 26 Podcasts
  1. Tuesday, November 6, 2018

    Jonathan Mendoza vs. The Movement

  2. Tuesday, October 9, 2018

    Jacob Saenz vs. The Block

  3. Tuesday, September 25, 2018

    H. Melt vs. Trans Liberation

  4. Tuesday, August 28, 2018

    Nate Marshall vs. Fear

  5. Tuesday, March 6, 2018

    Tarfia Faizullah vs. Beauty

  6. Tuesday, February 27, 2018

    Knockouts

  7. Tuesday, February 20, 2018

    Franny and Danez's Season 1 Favorite Moments

  8. Tuesday, February 13, 2018

    VS Season 2: Coming March 6!

  9. Tuesday, November 14, 2017

    Krista Franklin vs. Time Travel

  10. Tuesday, October 31, 2017

    Kuumba Lynx vs. Transformation

  11. Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    avery r. young vs. the Page

  12. Tuesday, October 3, 2017

    Raych Jackson vs. the Good Books