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Inspired to write poetry by ‘a very hot young woman’

A “hot chick” inspired Javon Johnson to start writing poetry.

Dr Johnson, from Los Angeles, California, is an award winning poet and university professor who will be reading at the Bermuda College, on Wednesday evening.

“When I was in high school this very hot young woman came up to me and said she'd heard I wrote poetry,” he said. “She said ‘that is really hot and I think it is sexy'. I told her, ‘sure, I write poetry'. I'd never written a poem before in my life.”

He immediately went home and started writing them, though.

“It was this very cheesy love poetry,” he said. “It was awful, but she liked it, so I liked it.”

His interest in poetry continued to grow long after his interest in the “hot young woman” had waned. While he was doing speech and debate as an undergraduate a friend introduced him to slam poetry competitions.

“Back when I started writing poetry, it wasn't as popular as it is now,” he said. “There was some justification work to be done with some of my friends, but once they saw what it was, they were cool with it.”

He said his family were supportive. “I grew up in a lower class family background,” he said. “They were just happy for whatever successes I had. I do a number of things at once so I have never had a problem supporting myself.”

You can say that Dr Johnson has a glib tongue. He is a two time National Poetry Slam winner, and in university he was first class debater and won the intercollegiate Speech and Debate National Championships several times.

He has a doctoral degree from Northwestern University in Performance Studies and is currently Assistant Professor of Performance and Communication Studies at San Francisco State University. He continues to showcase his exceptional talent to audiences all over the United States.

He has appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, BET's Lyric Café, TVOnes Verses & Flow and is a featured blogger on the Huffington Post. He also boasts academic accolades as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Southern California in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity.

He is known as an inspiring and dynamic poet. Many of his poets talk about race and urban violence. In 2013 his National Poetry Slam performance Cuz He's Black, inspired more than 2.5 million YouTube views.

Some of his poems seem impossibly difficult to perform. Not only are many of them performed at the rate of machine gun fire, but some of them are duets with another poet speaking at the same rapid pace. Dr Johnson said it is not really that difficult if you know what you're doing.

“I don't think it is hard at all,” he said. “ It is also important to remember this is performance poetry. ‘Slam' is the competition not the genre. There can be a bunch of different performance styles in a slam. Some poems are ready very slowly and methodically.”

Dr Johnson tries to write something every day, although it is not necessarily always a full poem.

“I write something every day and I read something,” he said. “Practice before a performance is absolutely important.”

His advice to young people looking to get into competitive poetry is “write a lot, read a lot and perform a lot”.

“Perform to the point where you are comfortable being uncomfortable on stage,” he said. “Find an artistic community that you challenges you, and can help you grow.”

He recommended other poets such as Shihan, Rachel McKibbens and Rudy Francisco, among others.

Dr Johnson will be speaking at the Bermuda College Library on Wednesday at 5.30pm. This workshop is for teachers as well as the community.

He will also be speaking on Thursday from 2pm to 4pm at the Bermuda College lecture theatre G301 in North Hall. He will perform and answer questions from high school and Bermuda College students as well as the community. All of the events are free.


Poet Javon Johnson.

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Published March 24, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 25, 2014 at 11:11 am)

Inspired to write poetry by ‘a very hot young woman’

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