What It's Like To...

What It's Like to Perform Spoken Word Poetry

December 07, 2022 Elizabeth Pearson Garr Season 4 Episode 10
What It's Like To...
What It's Like to Perform Spoken Word Poetry
Show Notes Transcript

Anthony Febo--AKA "Febo"--brings poetry to life as a spoken word artist. He describes spoken word poetry as "poetry written with the intention to perform"--and his performances are deeply personal, emotional, and rich, with touches of signature humor. (He performs two amazing pieces in this episode.) Febo is not only an artist; he is also a teacher--so listeners get to be students, learning how to write and perform spoken word poems.  Febo encourages his students to end their poems with hope--he always seeks to choose joy in the face of what is trying to break you.

There are also fun tidbits about Lin Manuel Miranda (Febo is a huge fan), rap, hip hop, and much more.  

Poetry has never been so much fun. 

In this episode:

  • When he started writing in 7th grade (02:42)
  • Febo's definition of spoken word poetry (05:01)
  • Intersections among hip hop, rap, and spoken word (07:14)
  • Febo performs one poem, "Tonight I'm Cooking" (10:27)
  • Themes in his work (13:33) 
  • His process of working--and how/why it evolves (17:26)
  • Febo's experience of performing on-stage (20:47)
  • What teenagers learn from writing and performing (25:44)
  • Writing a spoken word poem (32:20)
  • Febo performs a second poem, "Luna's First Birthday Party" (38:42)

Want to know more about Febo?

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Anthony Febo  0:00  

If you have three minutes, what are you going to do? What are you gonna say? Make it count, people are paying attention I needed. So then first Okay, before I start talking just flapping gums, I need to like, reflect within myself what is important to me.

Elizabeth  0:21  

Anthony Febo, who goes by just his last name Febo is a thoughtful, creative, remarkable guy, who definitely makes great use of his words and his time. I'm Elizabeth Pearson, gar. And Febo is my guest on this episode of the podcast to talk about what it's like to perform spoken word poetry, settle in, and maybe have some tissues handy. I could have used some, as Febo performed a few of his poems during our conversation. Hello, fever? Oh, you have so many titles, you do so many things in your life. And I think the through line is that you're really a creator, you're a real creative spirit. And correct me if I'm wrong. But it seems to me that you're one of these people that just approaches the world with kind of a sense of wonder. There's just so much possibility out there. And I don't get the sense that you're a type of person that would want to sit in an office in front of a computer every day.

Anthony Febo  1:22  

100% Yeah, I think I realized, at a pretty young age that the typical nine to five wasn't going to be for me, even if I was doing something creative. Just the idea of like, a 40 hour work week, regardless of what it is doesn't necessarily appeal to me, because that is 40 hours that I am dedicating to something that I could potentially be spreading it out to dedicate to multiple other things. So yeah, creative is definitely one that I like to think about, regardless of what it is that I am dipping my hands into. I like to think about it through the lens of poetry as well. And just in terms of not necessarily the written word, but more what poetry can do for the person and what poetry represents this, this expression that says the things that regular prose can't or regular conversation doesn't, it's always appealed to me one way or another.

Elizabeth  2:16  

Is that something that has just been in you from a young age? I have to say that as someone with teenagers, you know, poetry can sound like Oh, poetry, something you have to learn. It seems like a big, heavy topic. But as you know, it's just a beautiful expression of yourself and of words. And so were you using poetry from a young age?

Anthony Febo  2:42  

So yeah, it's a combination of things. I started writing for the pure joy of writing. In seventh grade, I started with music, I started writing, like hip hop lyrics. But before that, I always had a wild imagination. I love all things, comic books, love sci fi, but I also love martial arts. And I love being athletic as well. And so a lot of my afternoons were spent playing Power Rangers in the in the backyard, you know, it was like, taking the things that I saw that were imaginative, and then finding a way to insert myself into it, and allowing that imagination to take off one way or another. And when it came to writing, I started writing, mainly because someone told me that I could, in seventh grade, someone had moved in from New York. And, you know, he was same age as me. And he was rapping and I'm like, Well, what are you doing? You can't rap? That's, that's for adults. He's like, no, no, if you have a story to tell, you tell it. I was like, Oh, my God, I don't know. No one had ever told me that before. Because all of the writing that I had done had been for school. It was for a grade. So it really felt like there was a right or a wrong way to do it. And a P gave you permission. Yeah. appear letting me know that like, no, no, no, this is for you. You do this if you want to. And if anyone chooses to listen that's on them, you know what I mean? And so then I started to write music created so many songs, just let a rapping here and there my my sophomore year of high school, my my friend that could sing him and I formed the group and we made an album. We paid for a recording session, we were in the full day. And it was amazing. But my junior year of high school is when I saw someone perform, similar to the way that I perform now and just like brought poetry to life in a way that I had never experienced that I'm like, Oh, wait, I actually like this a lot more. And I saw what was happening in the room, and people were actively listening, and everybody was snapping along and just being about the story versus being about what I have to say is better. It wasn't a competition. It was like a community and like I fell in love with that. More than the written word. I fell in love with what performance was doing in a space. And from there, I just continued to write my own poems.

Elizabeth  4:56  

So is that what you define as spoken word poetry is the performance word of it

Anthony Febo  5:01  

Yes, more, at least the way that I define it as poetry that is written with the intention to perform, whether or not it ever gets performed. It's poetry with the audience in mind with performance in mind. And I've actually, I've never taken like a poetry writing class, not in college, not in high school, mainly because I also recognize that for me, there is a difference between poetry with a capital P. And the poetry that I live in, in body, like the poetry with a capital P, is the type of poetry that your teenagers are cringing at, right. And honestly, like, whenever I'm in front of a group of young people, I'm like, to be honest, most days, I don't even like poetry either. Because I know that the poetry that they're thinking about, I'm not that interested in that I'm more interested in what poetry can like how it can come to life, what it can do for the people that are in the room, experiencing it, what it does for the writer, regardless of how amazing the poem is written,

Elizabeth  5:58  

I'm almost thinking of it like it's an internal experience, as opposed to, you know, the poetry with a capital P the formalised is sort of externally coming on to you, whereas yours is like, what's in you that needs to come out? Yeah, that feels more like the personal poetry that's within you.

Anthony Febo  6:18  

Exactly. And then from there, if we were to approach poetry from that perspective, that has a much wider door, and a much easier entry point for everyone else to come in, like, oh, I don't need to have a bunch of fancy vocabulary, I don't need to understand the difference between metaphor simile, personification, Onomatopoeia, hyper, I don't need to know all of those things. I just need to be in touch with what what is the lived experience in my body. And once we get attached into those, then we can start playing around with craft, then we can start playing around with like, how to make it quote unquote, better, right? Like, what are the things that we can do to elevate the poem, but first, we have to activate the poetry inside of us.

Elizabeth  7:02  

Forgive my ignorance on this? Is hip hop music and rap music. Is that part of this larger genre? And has that made this more accessible and interesting, you know, to a larger audience?

Anthony Febo  7:14  

Well, something that once I learned that it kind of blew my mind that rap literally stands for rhythm and poetry. And so it is an aspect is that right? That's what I've been told, either someone lied to me, or love that I love less, you know, so like, there's so there's that. And the thing is, is that when we look at poetry in terms of like capital P, there are forms right there, sonnets, haikus, pencils, all of those things. And what is hip hop, writing in bars is not another form. It is a form of poetry. It just happens to also be accompanied by music, by rhythm by all of these other things. So it is an extension of it. And regardless, if we were talking about the poetry that came out, you know, in the 80s, KERS one, if we're talking about 90s 2000s, or Now regardless of that genre of hip hop, it is still rooted in rhythm rooted in the written word rooted in movement, right? Whether that is moving other people to have a good time and dance or moving them to want to do something more intentional regardless what it is, to me, that's all poetry, but it is very much like, hip hop. And rap is different than spoken word and poetry, but they're cousins. You know, they're all at the cookout. They're having a good time, but they all brought different dishes.

Elizabeth  8:34  

And they can maybe blend into each other. Like, I think I read, you'll know more about this, but that when Lin Manuel Miranda was invited to the White House, his first iteration of Hamilton, that was to a spoken word, poetry. Evening,

Anthony Febo  8:49  

it was it was a seasoning. Luckily, I'm a huge fan of Lin Manuel Miranda, so I know exactly what you're talking about. Okay, yeah, huge fan. He was invited to a night of poetry. What he did wasn't necessarily spoken word, it was still hip hop. It was the opening song of Hamilton and there was a piano behind it to help them keep a little bit of rhythm. And it did fall into the 1234123. Were not like the four bars of hip hop and he has a long history with hip hop and rap and musical theater. And so there's more of a combination of those. Then there is a combination of spoken word poetry with what it is that he's doing. But there are a lot of artists out there that dabble in both some of my favorite artists are spoken word poets and hip hop artists as well.

Elizabeth  9:39  

Would you be willing to perform for us right now just so people get a sense of some of your for sure.

Anthony Febo  9:46  

So part of my practice is I am half of Adobo fish sauce, which is a cooking and poetry collaboration between one of my best friends and on a most basic fundamental level. What we do is we have a show where we perform poems and we cook at the same time. And this poem is one of the poems that helped build this project. So this poem is called tonight I'm cooking I have to do a standing up. I can't do it sitting there. Who am I? I'm not going to try to pretend to do this. Sitting down. Let me stand up. Here we go. Here we go.

Elizabeth  10:24  

Do what you need to do.

Anthony Febo  10:27  

Tonight, I'm cooking. Because I missed the creation my hands can make too often I focus on my knuckles, but tonight, I'd rather use the precision of my fingers to cut a plantain, placed them in a pan and watch them tanning oil. Like if I never moved from Puerto Rico, but my skin Beto stone is brown. How were cooked to feel closer to home. How this has nothing to do with who can cook better. And everything to do with the man on the train that yelled English, please. When I was just giving directions to someone in Spanish, have we tried to claim space for his ignorance by diminishing my culture? How there is no correct way to be Latino and public after being told to shut up without proving that person right. So tonight, y'all, I need to cook and need to take something dead massager and adorable let it get loose to the song of oil and sweat and watch it give life to those that eat it's tonight we will eat tonight we will praise over our food and not worry about the language we do it in tonight. The stereotype of being Latino and loud does not exist here. We are all too busy teaching our mouths how to be a host for this food, how to leave room for dessert, because there is always dessert in my house. And they all have names that don't have names in English because when you taste this good, there is no need for translation. There is no English please for flavor for tradition that keeps culture alive because we all have to eat because we all have to live because what's the point of doing either with that a little sad song that the next person that yells English, please, when I'm just giving directions to someone in Spanish must be bitter. Like, they must be what they eat. Like, tonight, I will be an island. Okay. I envisioned that there's claps that are snapped somewhere, you know, there's just claps the slaps people are having a good time. What about tears and eyes? That one suit I want to know is my favorite.

Elizabeth  12:31  

I'm very moved. Thank you. Yes, just beautiful. But art does for me is it goes on so many levels. I could sit there just being entertained, which I certainly was. And then I am thinking so much and the wordplay. There's so much double entendre with the bitter and the host in the mouth and being a host, and it's going to have me thinking for a long time. And that's what I think great art does. So I really appreciate that. No, thank you. And the performance aspect is just wonderful, too. And did you say you cook at the same time? Yeah,

Anthony Febo  13:10  

well, actually, what that poem specifically, I do have a plantain that I am cutting and preparing to turn into business. Yeah, so we have fun.

Elizabeth  13:20  

Wow, that's very powerful, very powerful to listen to. I know a lot of your work is deeply rooted in different themes with culture, toxic masculinity, race.

Anthony Febo  13:33  

All of these things are rooted in when I find myself talking about a lot of these things about culture about what is home mean, when my parents had were born and raised in Puerto Rico. And then they met here in the States. And I was born here. And so at home, I had a culture and then out in the world, there was a different culture. And then here, I'm not American enough. And in Puerto Rico, I'm not Puerto Rican enough. That is a pretty well known experience through anyone that has experienced any type of diaspora. And so I find myself thinking about that a lot. I find myself thinking a lot about, I've been writing about toxic masculinity or unlearning my own masculinity or unlearning patriarchy for a while. And I've been thinking about it even more now that I have a daughter. And even before my wife and I got married, it was a lot of work that I had to do had to unlearn because it's difficult to know if something that you are doing is wrong, when that's all you've ever known. Like, I didn't know that a lot of the things that I would do and were offensive or is harmful, because I straight up didn't know that there was any other way to do it. So when I say unlearning, that is worth taking a look at what I have been taught, how have I interpreted what has been presented in front of me, and I needed to learn that not everything that I was taught was right. And not everything that I was taught was the only way to do it. And so I had to reestablish relearn a lot of things that I mean, I'm constantly still doing that's an ongoing life situation.

Elizabeth  15:00  

we all are, right, we all are in situations where we have a lot of learning to do. We're either part of the majority or the unaware in many situations. So kudos to you for being thoughtful about being aware to unlearn these things. Because we all need to do that in many situations. And that's what your art is helping people do. People could go to one of your performances thinking, Oh, this will be a fun evening, not realizing, Oh, actually, my eyes are gonna be open a little bit here in a really effective way.

Anthony Febo  15:35  

Yeah, and I think that's one of the beautiful things about storytelling, I believe that poetry, regardless if it is capital P or not, poetry has the ability to change us to help us change perspectives. And I deeply believe in the power of performance, the power of theater, the power of someone being onstage, and that relationship between audience and performer. If you go to an event and someone walks up onto the stage, there's just a notion of like, I'm gonna pay attention to what's going on, because this is what I'm here for. And now that I have your attention, let me one make sure that I am finding ways to keep it entertaining, so that you are continuously captivated. And let me make sure that what I am talking about is something that I want to, I have your attention, let me make sure that I put it to good use. Coming from the slam world coming from poetry competition, we have three minutes on stage. And after that, you start to get time deducted or points deducted. So one of my early mentors was like, You have three minutes, what are you going to do? What are you gonna say, make it worthwhile, make it count, make it count, people are paying attention, so that I needed to then first Okay, before I start talking, just flapping gums, I need to like, reflect within myself what is important to me. And so that's why I believe that there is something extremely powerful about the performance aspect to it, because we can write forever, I have so many poems in my notebook that no one will ever read. But the poems that I bring to life, and that I perform out loud, those have a new life to them. And so let me make sure that the poems that choose to read out loud are poems that will matter, in a larger scale outside of just my own experience.

Elizabeth  17:14  

So what what is your process, then? Do you keep notebooks and just jot down all these ideas? And how many iterations do you go through to get something so tight? Like the poem that you performed for us?

Anthony Febo  17:26  

Yeah, so one of the beautiful things about process is that it's continuously changing, I'm continuously adapting it to whatever my current situation is, there was a long time where I was walking to work every day, or I was taking the train. And so I use that transitional time as intentionally as I could, I love to voice record, I voice recording myself a lot, both as a way to iterate some ideas and generate something. So I might pull like a card that just has a word or my pull a card that has a question. And then from there, that'll spark my conversation that I'm having with myself until I get to a certain distance. And then from there, I'll switch. And I'll just continue to do that. Or the talk might be self reflective, I might be thinking about what is something that has happened? What is this question making me think about in the past? And then I'll answer the question, but then allow that to be a jumping off point for other things. But when I was taking the train, just as an example, I would walk and talk until I got to the train, on the train, I would write a poem. And for the time that I got until the time that I got off, I would read it out loud when I got out. And then from the rest of my walk from the train to my job, I will just reflect on the two things that I had just did. So there was a whole process that I had for that. Now, when my daughter was born, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to write as much my wife is a photographer. So I knew that she was going to have the documentation in terms of pictures taken care of and she's did a phenomenal job and is continuing to do a phenomenal job. But one of the ways that I wanted to think of documenting was I wrote a haiku for each diaper change that I did for my daughter. And

Elizabeth  19:07  

I read some of yeah, there were a favor. So great. Thank you.

Anthony Febo  19:11  

Yeah, I know. A haiku has 17 syllables. I did it for 17 months, and it was absolutely amazing. And now I'm finding different ways of carving. I love to write with the students whenever it is that I'm having young people right. I'm currently teaching a weekly workshop in Boston in the sea pour through this organization mass poetry and write I tried to my best to write with them.

Elizabeth  19:36  

So it's a discipline. It's a discipline, you have to make yourself like the haikus. I'm sure not every day you thought oh, this just popped into my mind. I mean, no. You sit down and you make yourself

Anthony Febo  19:46  

100% And honestly, like, there was a time in my life where I was just like, oh, inspiration hits, I'll grab a little something and I'll write and then it turns into a poem and it was great but like as I continue to grow in my life changes my path. access needs to change along with it. And I need to actively carve out time to write. And sometimes I don't, but I do my best to how can I still make sure that I am working on my writing practice, even though I'm not actively writing? So what am I listening to? What are the things that I'm intaking? And not just what am I taking? But then how do I then think about it afterwards, like, I can watch a TV show and be cool about it. But I love to watch a show. And then everything that I watch, I have it with the subtitles on because I like to read the script along with listening to it. My daughter is obsessed with watching the movie cars. And so we're watching cars, one, two, and three on repeat. And as we are watching it, I am doing my best to like dissect it think about story plots. Think about what is being dropped in the beginning. How is it then being picked up later on? So I'm doing work? Even if I'm not writing,

Elizabeth  20:55  

you might make an animated movie one of these days ever? No, honestly,

Anthony Febo  21:00  

what's beautiful as well as that, like, I've been doing spoken word poetry and slam for over 15 years. And I've seen poets that I have slammed with or against, or we're in the periphery, and they are writing TV shows. Poets are out here doing things, they understand story. They understand performance, they understand what moves an audience, and they're finding different ways to make that happen. And not just on the stage, not just on the page.

Elizabeth  21:28  

What is your experience of actual performing, say getting up to do your poetry being up there? Everything I've heard from performers is there's nothing like being in front of a live audience. And it's never the same twice the energy that you get from that audience. But I'm sure what you're entering with matters to what kind of a day you're having, what kind of mood you're having. So can you just talk about that

Anthony Febo  21:53  

100% The first time I ever performed was in seventh grade, I was writing at the time I auditioned for the talent show. And I was doing an acapella version of a song that already existed. I was so nervous that I was rapping so fast. A couple of the kids in the audience booed with that were like also going to audition, they booed. But I fell in love with it. I was on stage, I had never felt what I was feeling on stage. Even though it was a negative experience. I knew that I was nervous. I knew that I didn't fully have the words memorized. So I don't know why I tried to do it acapella. I was able to be aware enough of all of the things that went wrong, to be able to push those to the side and appreciate the things that I was loving about it. I was onstage people were paying attention. The next year, I came back, auditioned for the talent show and had my own song and I made it and I loved it. And I've been performing ever since. And I've forgotten my words on stage. I literally once forgot my words ran offstage than ran right back on and people were like what is going on and I'm like, I don't know, that was just a reaction. I've tripped on my way up to the stage. I've burped in the middle of a poem, I've cried during poetry. All of it has happened. And it is one of my favorite places to be is on stage and recognizing I have a background in theater as well. All of my schooling is actually in theater. There's a famous Shakespeare quote, where the All the world's a stage, and you just need the right audience. So teaching then also became another opportunity for me to quote unquote, perform, even though it was just a way to keep poetry alive. I loved teaching. I mean, I loved performing. I love talking about poetry and just doing it alone. I wasn't getting enough of this. So I started teaching started working with young people. And by teaching poetry, I was then able to coach I was able to bring young people to there is a organization out in California called Youth Speaks. And they run a yearly International Poetry Slam festival called Brave New Voices. And I brought a group of young people from Lowell, Massachusetts, we went to Chicago to San Diego, LA. And by creating space for other people to love the thing that I love, I was able to love it even more and provide more opportunities for myself and other people to just explore and be in this genre in this community. And a lot of the young folks that I worked with, are either still doing some form of poetry or artistic creation, or are able to like pointing back to those moments as like, chips for them of like realizing that there was more than just what is being provided to us. There is more than just what the status quo is telling you that there is and they were able to experience that for themselves.

Elizabeth  24:45  

I just wonder the impact that being able to get on stage and perform with a group or alone and the reaction from an audience. I'd wonder what that does for a teenager to realize your voice man. matters so much, when perhaps your voice hasn't been valued that much in the past.

Anthony Febo  25:07  

And just to see what can happen when you give young people the space, to speak, and space to listen, and the tools to do that with the things that they can produce is absolutely phenomenal.

Elizabeth  25:18  

My mom used to be a middle school drama teacher. And she would see that with 12, and 13 year olds, even kids who didn't think they were interested in drama, or being on a stage would take that class and realize, like, wow, I can present myself and there's power here. And so I'm wondering, like, What would some of your students tell you that they got from those workshops or those classes? What light bulb went off for them? Yeah, I

Anthony Febo  25:44  

think it, some of the light bulbs were one being able to, to write what it is that they're thinking about down that path from in the body in the mind, to put it then externally, to then share that, and have it be received, not just with the applause and snaps. But like, a level of empathy, a level of, although I don't have your experience, what you're talking about is deeply connected to something that I have felt. And so that connection, that feeling of, oh, I'm actually not alone, I might be going through the things that I'm going through, maybe in the moment I am by myself, but if I choose to share that out loud, there is a high chance that someone else is also going to be like, I feel that that I think has been probably the thing that has impacted a lot of them the most, because even the ones that are like, a little bit more quieter in class, when they get on stage, they recognize the convention that they're in, they recognize, okay, cool, I have this poem prepared. And all I need to do is perform this poem, even if I am typically a shy person, I don't need to worry about what I'm going to say because I already know what it is. And I can throw myself in this performance. And for those three minutes, the attention is on me. But it's not about me, it's about the connection that we're creating, and how that thing carries, even after they get off the stage. Like people go up to them, Oh, my goodness, that poem was amazing. They see other people doing that as well. And they have that same experience. And then they go up to people and say, Oh, my goodness, thank you so much for sharing that poem was amazing. And it hit that that connection, is what brought me to the game. And I see it continuously happening with the young people that I work with.

Elizabeth  27:31  

And what a wonderful bridge to build. Because especially in teenage years, there's naturally such a self consciousness about making yourself open and available. So to be able to say like, Yes, I see you, I understand you is so important. What are the main tips that you give for the actual performance? Yeah, it's to be vulnerable and to be real, as you performed. There's real strength, I think in your performance, as well as sensitivity. I'm not sure how you balance all that. Yeah.

Anthony Febo  28:02  

So there's a lot of performance workshops that I bring the young people through, even before we lift their poem off of the page. So there's a lot of things that they need to like start getting comfortable with, does not matter the workshop that we are doing, I start everyone in a circle, it doesn't matter. If we're only writing that day, we're still going to circle, we're still finding a way to incorporate our body incorporate our voice in a way that we normally wouldn't. And so it's one starting to get comfortable with that sense to get comfortable with playing with different vocal ranges, like theater games, it's a lot of theater games, like why like things like that, like they seem fun, they're fun, and they seem silly, but they're doing some phenomenal work. And it's setting up the space with everyone in that room as well. Like we're all going to play around, we're all going to get a little bit silly. So it becomes a lot easier for us to then be able to go to those emotional spaces. Because we've seen each other make weird faces. We've seen each other like weird things with our bodies, like there's a level of comfortability with that

Elizabeth  29:04  

he broke down some of those barriers. Exactly, exactly.

Anthony Febo  29:07  

Something that is very important that I always do my best to push us forward as much as I can, is the breath, connecting with the breath, connecting with the breath, not just in the poem. But before we start, I don't know if you notice, but like I took a second of breath before I started the performance. So that I could allow myself I'm like, Alright, I am jumping into this world of the performance. And within there are a range of emotions. At this point, that poem is pretty old, right? And so I performed that poem for a very different reason than which I wrote it. And I need to communicate that with the young people as well. You're going to write the poem for a reason. You're going to memorize it for a different and then once you know it by heart, like there's a difference between having something memorized and knowing it by heart. When you know it by heart. That's when a new purpose of continuously to perform that poem is going to emerge, because like, you can have it memorized. But then you're performing and you're thinking about the words and you're being conscious of what's going on. But once it's in the body, once it's known by heart, then that's when the real freedom comes around, because you're able to go, and you don't have to worry about the words. And if something that you're saying is, for whatever reason, maybe the person that you wrote the poem about is in the audience, maybe something has happened in your personal life that is connected to your poem, and now you're reading the poem, emotions are going to come up. And unless we've worked through some of those things ahead of time, that could potentially be a moment of jarring when they're on the stage. But that's why we practice it, right? Like one of my favorite activities that we do is right, now that you have your poem memorized, you're going to perform your poem, and everyone else that's here in this room right now is going to actively make a lot of noise and try to distract you. And like, it's, it is so much fun. But to see the young person, like, Alright, I know what I need to do, and just like really buckled down and just like work through that poem, oh, they take a point they go into it. That's what we're looking for. Because I can't mimic nerves. But we can mimic distraction. And we can work through that. And so if we can work through that you can work through pretty much anything.

Elizabeth  31:14  

That's so interesting. And when you talked about once it's really in you, then it's really like a part of you, and then you can just be free? Or

Anthony Febo  31:23  

is that a performance? Exactly? You know, and I helped them choreograph their poems as well. So that it can feel like a little bit like a performance. One of the reasons why when folks that are on stage doing a play can feel smooth, because they know what they're doing. They know that that's the line, that's my cue to move over this way. Same thing with the palms, how can we choreograph it so that you know what to do when you're on stage. And if you don't want to move at all, that's fine. Stillness is the choice. If you are choosing to be still onstage, that is also powerful. But if you're fidgety, and you don't really know, when you're like shifting, and your arms are just flapping, because you don't know what to do that pulls away from the performance more than anything else. And so letting them know that everything that they do on stage is seen, should be adding to your poem. Body language is another language that you can use to add to the language of the poetry that you have written. So we would do our best to use all of that.

Elizabeth  32:20  

And back to the writing of it is the genesis of it, always something very personal AI is that what you encourage them to start with, like what is really something inside of you that you need to tell?

Anthony Febo  32:32  

I like to do that a lot of my other peers approach whatever it is that they're writing, from different aspects, some of that might be more, let's take a look at what's going on in the world. Some of you might be like, let's take a look at a historical thing, right? There's a lot of different ways to approach it could be the youth worker and me it could be because of my own practice, but I love to touch in a way that a safe and a non re traumatizing way touch into some of the things that are difficult for them. Because that's an opportunity. Poetry for me more than anything has been an opportunity for me to grow, for me to take a look at the things that have happened to me from a different perspective, to take the stories that are in this body and retell it in my own words, and restate it and say it in a way that feels more true to me. And I always tell the young people, regardless of what it is that you are talking about, try to end with hope. Even if it's not there, even if what you're writing about is something that you're actively going through, write yourself into a better place, find a way to end with hope so that every time that you perform this poem, you don't retrigger yourself, you don't re traumatize yourself, if it is something that is difficult if you end it with hope. And you are reminded of what the written word can do. And so that's something that I always encourage all of the young people that I work with to do.

Elizabeth  33:51  

That's beautiful. You also have written a book.

Anthony Febo  33:55  

So that book becoming an island is actually a collection of 10 years worth of poetry. I didn't write those poems with the intention of putting them in the book. And becoming an island is a play off of the last line of the poem that I performed earlier, right where it's like, tonight, I will be an island. It took me two years to put the manuscript together, even though I didn't write any new poetry for it. And it was because for such a long time, I had viewed myself as a performer. And my rooted my identity and performance, I had rooted my artistry and performance because I knew that that was something that I was good at. I knew that I had training in it. I have never received any type of training through writing. So it was very difficult for me to envision my work being out there without me being the one bringing it to life. And so the fact that my poetry was going to be out there and people could read it and I wasn't the one reading it was extremely terrifying and it took me a while to work through whatever I had to work through to make it happen to give the publishers the manuscripts

Elizabeth  34:59  

almost to be Come comfortable with that idea.

Anthony Febo  35:01  

Yeah, it was a little bit of an identity like I want to say crisis, but it was an identity shift. So I had to relate to my poetry in a different way, I had to recognize where my discomfort was coming from, and deal with that. The book itself is also a lot of the poems in there are about my father, and his decline with Alzheimer's, the idea of forgetting and being forgotten, and legacy, all of those things are rooted in there. And the book came out a day after his funeral. And so the book is loaded with a lot of different emotions. I'm currently working on a new book, so got to my attention to that.

Elizabeth  35:44  

Another collection of poems, a collection of

Anthony Febo  35:46  

essays to be exact. Lyric essays. My parents, were marathon runners, my father loved running marathons, he was also a martial artist as well. And I am attempting to for the third time that both first two times I did not succeed, I'm attempting to run a marathon training for a marathon and writing about it as well. And talking about fatherhood, both my father and now myself being a father, just dealing with a lot of these things that are coming up in the runs, and I'm running with my mom as well. And so there's some juice, there's some juice there, you know, there's definitely some squeezing that needs to happen.

Elizabeth  36:24  

See, your mother is still running marathons or training from a marathon?

Anthony Febo  36:28  

Yeah, she is training with me, she hasn't run a marathon since my father, before he got really ill before the Alzheimer's made him bedridden, he had a hip replaced. And so my mom hasn't run a marathon in quite a couple of years. But she is training with me, and I'm gonna run 26 miles on his day on the day that he passed in March. And then we are going to be working towards fundraising to run the Boston Marathon because that was one that he always wanted to run. And so that's the one that my mom's going to run with me is the Boston Marathon. Not next year, but the year after.

Elizabeth  37:07  

I'm sure that while you're running, you're thinking and creating and writing.

Anthony Febo  37:12  

While we run. We talk the whole time. And I record those runs as well. And running and talking. There's a lot of fun. It's exhausting, but it's a

Elizabeth  37:20  

lot of extra good shape if you can run and talk. But that's a really special time with your mom. That's a lot of time because a lot of running I'm sure. So are you going to continue, you're performing and I mean, I know life is different now that you're a dad, but you're still going to be teaching, performing coaching, all of it running.

Anthony Febo  37:40  

That's I'm currently doing it right now. My problem is that I love too many things. I like a lot of different things. I'm the person that buys the variety pack, a good little flavor of everything. Even if I know what flavor I like, I'm still gonna get the variety pack just so that when I get to my flavor, I'm like, Yes, here it is, you know,

Elizabeth  37:58  

you don't want to miss out.

Anthony Febo  38:00  

I don't want to miss out. I also I really I just I love routine. And I love habits. And the only thing that I love more than routine habits and structure is breaking those routine habits and structure so that I can then miss the routine habits and structure and then jump back into it. You know, I mean? So,

Elizabeth  38:20  

you know, you're very self aware,

Anthony Febo  38:24  

I have so many tools that I use that it's impossible for me to deny the data. But yes, I also have a love for the outdoors and just being in nature. And I'm trying to incorporate a lot more ways to make that as part of my practice.

Elizabeth  38:36  

Well, before we go, do you have another piece you could perform for us?

Anthony Febo  38:41  

Yeah, I'll read the most recent poem that I have written. So my daughter's name is Luna. And she was born in August of 2020. right in the thick of it. And my father passed away when she was six months old in March. And so by the time that her first birthday party came around, and he wasn't there, it was definitely something that I needed to just reconcile with. And like I said, I like to write things into existence. I like to end with hope. And I like to use my writing as a tool of hope, even if it is just for myself. So this poem is tentatively called Lunas first birthday party. I've been placing my dad alive and healthy in recent memories when I think of them. And there he is holding the Pinjarra with a broomstick and Lunas first birthday party. The stick is leveraged far enough so stray swings won't strike the soft spots. Look at him, standing over the busted Pinjarra after the vultures have cleared the insides y'all give him space. Watch with broom in hands. As he kicks up the carcass flurries the staff around bending the men Marie have this moment to his will cementing the space he always takes by cleaving the candy carrier into whatever Poppy was already broken. And there he is singing the to you to you in between the birthday song and chewing his finger towards the icing puppy. No, we're still in a pandemic, okay, we're all outside by our feet. That's not the same thing. I work with what I got. I then shoves a cupcake in my face. And now I'm mad, right? More that it didn't happen than it did. But there's no need to wonder how my mother is doing because there she is genuinely smiling in another photo my dad is forcing us to take. Okay, okay, this time sila GAFA. Okay, okay, this time Kong and Ponyo. Reparata Fanta, me photo, and now he's holding and kissing Luna and telling her a memory can fade. So we take pictures to help us remember. And here my father hasn't forgotten here. My father puts on a show. So you won't forget here I'm reminded how my imagination has paid my bills my entire life, her my entire life. He knew Alzheimer's was coming for him. So he planted Joy seeds and watched palm trees grow in people's smiles. So in the memory of my daughter's first birthday, I see her miles tall. And all the warmth of that August day compressing to my father's laughter I hear in my head as he says I'm alive. I mean, your bones gone. Your to forget me is to forget how to breathe as the air whistles into my lungs. Right before we blow out the candles. All right.

Elizabeth  41:36  

Thank you female thing. I'm extremely moved. And I love that you've planted these Joy seeds throughout. And we can carry with us all these lessons that you've taught in this last hour. I really am so grateful. And I've learned from your father as well now through you. So yeah, thank you. What a beautiful legacy. That is. I'm not kidding about the tears.

Anthony Febo  42:05  

As always, like, well, I thought you know, there was a good connection between audience and performer because you were listening. So I appreciate you leaving a space for that.

Elizabeth  42:13  

Thank you. Thank you for all of your time and your artistry and just for being such a thoughtful person in this world. No, thank you. I'm truly grateful that Febo is out in the world being thoughtful and making thought provoking art. I keep thinking about his poems many days after having first heard them. Here are some of my takeaways from our conversation. Number one, anyone can write, you don't need someone else's permission. Every voice matters, too. We can always be learning and may be relearning some things we've already been taught. Three, make space in your life to experience art. Look, listen, feel. Let art move you in whatever way it moves you for whether or not you're performing on a stage, make your minutes count. Think about what you're saying and what you're doing with your time. Five, something beautiful happens when a person shares authentically and other people actively listen. empathy, understanding connection and community are created. And finally, number six, whatever stories you tell, you have a choice to end with hope. If you're like me, and you've been moved by Phoebus poetry, I encourage you to check out more of his work. We have lots of links, including links to his diaper haikus in the show notes to this episode. I also wanted to mention that Febo is performing duo Adobo fish sauce is creating new work in 2023. So watch for that. You can find the show notes and all of our past episodes on our website. What it's like to dotnet if you like hearing from writers, you may want to listen to episodes four and five when Glenn Slater shared his process writing lyrics for Broadway shows Disney movies and other musicals. If you're not yet following us on social media, please do. And please tell a few friends about this podcast too. And if you'd like to chip in to keep us going. There's a support the show link at the bottom of the show notes page. I'm Elizabeth Pearson. Gar thanks for being curious about what it's like.