My Life Is a Poem
Chicago is a poem written by Edgar Allan Poe. It is beautifully tragic, with its political corruption, murder, suspense, segregation, and economic disparity. “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, / Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” All the while, creating from within it are many of the most prolific artists, athletes, and world figures humanity has ever encountered.
My mother was a poem written by Gwendolyn Brooks. Fifteen years old from Chicago with a baby of her own to raise, she was simple but profound. Strong in spirit yet subtle in approach.
Young, and so thin, and so straight.So straight! as if nothing could ever bend her.But poor men would bend her, and doing things with poor men,..............................................................................And the rest of things in life that were for poor women.— From Jessie Mitchell’s Mother
She was searching for love in a world of rejection. She found her gifts through the wisdom that only age, experience, and letting go of the past could bring.
My father is a poem written by Maya Angelou. He is a character that is harsh if you have a one-dimensional view of the world, but gorgeous through the lens of a dynamic soul.
How to find my soul a homeWhere water is not thirstyAnd bread loaf is not stoneI came up with one thingAnd I don’t believe I’m wrongThat nobody,But nobodyCan make it out here alone.— From Alone
He was abused by his father, he abused alcohol, he abandoned his only child and walked a twenty-eight-year journey through homelessness, yet he has kept a healthy sense of humor and aspires to more. This stands as a testament to his good nature.
I am a poem written by hip-hop. I was born from the poetic lives my parents lived and was raised in a tragic city. My story unfolds under the crumbling infrastructure of Chicago’s Southside. I saw words everywhere and my attraction to them was magnetic.
Hands to the Heavens,no man no weapon,formed against, yes Glory is destined.Everyday women and men become Legends,Sins that go against our skin become blessings.— From Glory
As a young man I tried to process every word I came across: colorful graffiti written on walls, trains, and buses, placed in strategic positions for all to see. Dilapidated billboards and signs sat above mom and pop stores that seemed to oddly make their businesses more familiar and welcoming. I listened to the rhythm of conversations, realizing as a child that words and rhythms are two separate entities that work in tandem to create beauty.
In fact, I never called what I’d absorbed as a youth poetry; in my neighborhood it was called hip-hop. It was a culture of youth expressing our frustrations, showing our gifts and celebrating life through break dance (b-boying), music (DJing), visual art (graffiti), community (knowledge), and my favorite element, rap.
Rapping became an avenue to vent my anger as a teenager without resorting to violence; it was an acceptable means to show the world my affinity for words; it was a positive way to gain attention and perhaps even a career path. Through my elementary and high school years I was a mystery to my teachers. I never turned in any assignments and made failing grades even though they always saw me writing in class. They would tell my mother, “We see him doing the work, he just never hands it in.” The only thing I was working on were raps, perfecting the organization of words. I was memorizing long verses, learning to write in my head without using pen and paper. To this day I write music in my head, then transcribe it after its completion.
I ended up dropping out of high school and I never completed college. The only thing that I’ve been consistent with is words. I’ve lived by the belief that we should choose our enemies wisely, instead of our battles. For in an enemy, all battles can be predicted. My enemy was, and continues to be, mis-education.
Words have led me to a Critics’ Choice Award, Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Award for cowriting songs like “Jesus Walks” and “Glory.” Words have blessed me with a career. Words are my super power. I use them to heal, I use them to build. My words have led me back to Chicago to help create a program called Donda’s House. I teach gifted young people who possess the same dedication to words. I want them to connect their hip-hop to the world’s poetry.
Words can create worlds and I’ve discovered that poetry cannot only be read, but lived out.
My life is a poem.
Rhymefest (Che Smith) is a writer, artist, activist, political organizer, and teacher. He has won a Grammy, Critics’ Choice Award, Golden Globe, and an Academy Award. He co-founded Donda’s House in 2013 with Kanye West and Donnie Smith.