a song written by 18yr.-old Chance
the Rapper. it is beautiful.
today is a perfect May.
outside families flower
and plant and seed
the front lawns. fathers
in the park, sun is over
head. the day is over due
it is to over do. a day for your Ma.
the only woman who gave you
the Chance to breath and feel
love and hurt and happy and too
many Ma’s are gone or gone
away. this day to remember
to reach out and say thank you
for me, this body, for other people’s
mamas who are here
literally thru them.
and i miss my ma
today. i wish she was
in Chicago and i wish she could live
forever. it’s now
more of my life she’s been away
than here. she is far
from home and happy
but economy and circumstance
and cancer made her leave
the city i love. i am on
the phone with her
crying, sharing with my Ma
this young man from Chatham
where mothers don’t have it easy
don’t know if their boys will be back.
all mothers worry and hope, sure
but to be a Brown boy in Chicago
is to leave the house
with weapons raised against you
cops and cops and gangs
and white mayors and builders
of prisons and schools systems
have it in
to end you
in the outro
Chance thank his homies
and i only know
first hand what my Ma
went thru with me
and my brother
single and broke
all she went thru
to get us thru.
Chance say thank you
and i am thankful
to be my mother’s son
#HeyMa #HeyMa i know i neva did behave alot neva got good grades alot and turn your hairs to grays alot
a full head of them now
honors all Ma’s
for r being
for making us be.
on this day we pause
but on all days we know
even when we don’t, exactly
where we come from
written and performed by Kevin Coval
based on his book L-Vis Lives!: Racemusic Poems
directed by Jess McLeod
part of Victory Gardens’ Fresh Squeezed Series March 27 – April 14, 2012 Richard Christiansen Theater
for more info & tickets: http://victorygardens.org/onstage/l-vis.php
A whiteboy rapper like so many whiteboy rappers, L-Vis loves black art and got famous (mis)using it. Poet Kevin Coval is your guide through L-Vis’ journey from the suburbs to superstardom – with an art form that never was his for the taking. This new multimedia hip-hop solo show explores the exhilarating collision of race and art in American pop culture.
“This book is bold, brave and morally messy – twelve rounds of knock-down, drag-out shadowboxing against a shapeshifter. The dark humor, intellectual fervor, and emotional rigor Coval brings to bear animates these pieces, turns caricatures to characters, implicates us all. It’s about time.” —Adam Mansbach, author, Go the F**k to Sleep
“A radically candid collection…daring, historically grounded, and socially cathartic poems… Coval’s air-clearing honesty about violent and insidious racism and authenticity and creativity is blazing and liberating.” —Donna Seaman, for American Library Association’s Booklist magazine
“As insane as it may seem, much writing about Hip-Hop, especially about White kids and Hip-Hop, eschews the discussion of race or racism. L-vis Lives! is a book of poetry that honestly, beautifully, and emotionally illustrates the contours of that discussion. And it reads like heavily syruped pancakes.” —Boots Riley
“This book reminds me the if anyone can save this world it will be the artists and poets. It is through their efforts that we really understand things, much more than just by knowing the facts. Through art and poetry we can understand other realities and experience them through all our senses. This book explores the complex meanings and motivations of cultural appropriation of black culture by white youth in America. Like many “whiteboys” who have felt the aesthetic power of black culture, hip hop being the most recent form, Kevin Coval has followed his desire and admiration to emulate the creators of the genre without losing himself. By loving and honoring his idols, and studying hip hop culture and the context from which it emerged, he can imagine himself walking in another’s shoes. And by acutely observing himself and his own responses, and those of other artists who have crossed over, he has been able to analyze the American racial dilemma more deeply than most and to see what a country in denial refuses to see, that white supremacy is alive and well in America… Perhaps only through writing as honest and lucid as this, through art as perceptive, can we ever come to terms with our history.” —Henry Chalfant, producer, Style Wars, and photographer
“Kevin Coval brings artistic taboo to the light in his new book L-vis Lives! His courage and fragility shows why he’s one of Chicago’s most talented writers.” —Rhymefest
“The figure of the White Boy at the center of L-vis Lives! is a beast of line-beat-breaks, an ambitious and naive thief, equally loved and dissed in his unattainable odyssey for black cultural props. Kevin Coval rips the black skin off of hip Whiteness. Part Norman Mailer’s White Negro (“urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts”) and part social aesthetic-activist (but branded a terrorist) determined to continue the Unfinished, Collected Works of John Brown. Real or imagined, as a poet, this White Boy operates in a complex, Contemporary Confessional mode which means he is a snitch, one who straddles the line between escapism and cultural betrayal, a poet who tells bravely and honestly on the self even as he is being haunted by the inheritance of the swinging hips of a legend. Kevin Coval may not have wanted to but he has proven, at a time when many poets use metaphor and restraint to tiptoe around the tough issues of identity and borrowed race, that most L-vises (especially the ones falsely hardened by their own often rejected love of Hip Hop) have Souls.” —Thomas Sayers Ellis, author, Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems
Kevin Coval’s L-vis Lives! is an unstinting excavation of race and culture, art and ownership. It offers poetic affirmation of Ralph Ellison’s signal insight, made forty years ago, that “whatever else the true American is, he is also somehow black.” Though some, either out of optimism or of ignorance, have dubbed our nation ‘post-racial,’ Coval reminds us that America is a country in which race is always receding from but ever returning to the center of our consciousness. With poignancy, humor, raw insight, and no small amount of soul, Coval has fashioned a poetry for the present. His voice demands our attention. —Adam Bradley, co-editor, The Anthology of Rap
“This is a relentless book, brave and uncomfortable. Nothing like it has ever been written. No one really talks about these white men of color. No one considers their origins or the source of their craving. No one has bothered to label this pursuit of Blackness a meaningful tribute or a persistent dysfunction. L-vis Lives! is a cultural touchstone, a book that will easily move into a space that’s been waiting for much too long.” —Patricia Smith, author, Blood Dazzler, finalist for the National Book Award
“I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is ready for a thoughtful and brave discussion of race in America today. On a side note…Nobody I can think of in poetry today can pull off a slant rhyme like Coval and deftly tie your tongue into a knot around a story that rattles with what it means to be human. When you pick up this book, prepare to be schooled and delighted by Coval’s wordplay and to be challenged by his stories to think critically about your own position of power (or lack there of) in society.” —Muzzle magazine
“A stunning, and very personal, piece of literary work that should be required reading in every high school in America…. This little book is a hammer to beat down the wall between the one and the other. Its also a compelling confession, and a living text of alienation born of the schizophrenic American cultural mind.” —Impose magazine
“Kevin Coval, Chicago bard, inspired teacher, and Pied Piper of poetry to a generation of hip-hop urban guerrillas, does with L-vis Lives! what good art demands: I was in orbit.” —Bill Ayers, author, Fugitive Days
“Kevin Coval’s poetic novella teaches us the traps of life, allowing us to love our reflections, filling us with the joy to live, to struggle for life. The world is ours.” —Vijay Prishad, author, The Darker Nations
“Tough and smart, real and surreal, aching and funny, in-the-tradition and startlingly original, the trials of L-Vis show us the challenges of giving up on whiteness–a process at once monumentally hard, too easy, and absolutely necessary.” —David Roediger, author, How Race Survived U.S. History
Kevin Coval offers rhythmic guide to racial landscape in ‘L-Vis Lives!’
It is an extraordinary experience to watch a poet grow before your eyes, and that is what Kevin Coval has been doing ever since a meeting on an “L” platform in 2004. He was then, like many young poets (he was not yet 30), filled with enthusiasm, as expressed when he said: “The power of the spoken word enables us to see beyond the traditional distinctions of race.”
He has performed his work and published at a steady pace since, exploring that idea in such collections as “Slingshots: A Hip-Hop Poetica” and “Everyday People.”
His latest is the wildly ambitious, thought-provoking and tremendously satisfying “L-Vis Lives! Race Music Poems,” which also contains some prose pieces. It is, Coval writes, “a representation of artists who have used and misused Black music.” It is a trip into what he calls “post-racial America,” a place “where Black art is still at times only accepted in a white face.”
Coval is white, as you can tell from the photo nearby, a product of Northbrook, not known as a hotbed for hip-hop poets or black culture. He is keenly aware of this and he has created in the title in “L-Vis!” a persona melded from of such real-life characters as Elvis Presley, Vanilla Ice, Eminem and, naturally, himself; an imagined person who proves a forceful and forthright tour guide through our complex racial landscape.
At once appealingly self-effacing and acutely self-aware, as in this from the poem “Posing,” “nose still too big/ for my face. chin hair/ I’d call a go-tee/ struggling for articulation,” “L-Vis Lives!” is funny and honest, a confession of sorts.
In the book’s final section, “whiteboy I could have been: a suite for John Walker Lindh,” he tackles the wildly complex and confounding motivations of Lindh, the young U.S. citizen captured during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan where he was fighting with the Taliban, and his own feelings about him in searing and haunting words.
One of the astonishing things about this poet’s life, and his accomplishment in this volume, is that he has been increasingly devoting time and energy to things other than writing. In this way he resembles his friend and mentor, Marc Smith, who might have sacrificed many more poems than have already come from his own pen by creating and running the internationally known concept of the Poetry Slam.
Coval teaches at the School of the Art Institute and at various public high schools. As the co-founder and artistic director of Louder Than A Bomb: The Chicago Teen Poetry Festival, he is charged with organizing that annual event. He is also starting to spread the word worldwide with the help of a brilliant film about the event produced by local documentarians Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs and airing in early January on the Oprah Winfrey Network. He does some radio work for NPR, performs frequently around the country and has a steady girlfriend.
That’s a full poet’s plate, which makes this new collection an even greater wonder than it is.