Javon Mays: Interview with a traveling poet


Interview by Yvonne Santy

A couple weeks ago, Javon Mays of the Denver NUBA slam team stopped by the most open mic in the city, MIcrophone Mondays. While there, he captivated the crowd with an intense and heartfelt performance of some really personal pieces, including the above piece about his grandmother.

On his poem about his grandmother:
Javon Mays:
What better way to defend ourselves than to collect those things that bind us, to protect ourselves? That’s where I got the idea of why she’s collecting those cages. Well, she’s collecting these cages ‘cuz they represent a person. That was where things took a different angle. I was just trying to find a right metaphor for those cages, and when that came together I was like, “That’s it – let’s write. Let’s go.”

Sol Collective:
So, how did you get to this point in your life as a traveling artist?
Mays:
In one of my poems tonight, Letter to Myself Ten Years From Now I have this creed, BTT and QTS: Be Better Than That and Quit Talking Shit. I feel like for us it’s easy to be like, “Oh, I got this great idea, I got this, like, awesome thing do to,” but if you’re not moving then you’re not moving. You know what I mean?

Sol Collective:
Your license not to sit still was to become independently active?
Mays:
Yeah, to move. That was my light. I was like, “Cool. I’m not going to sit still. And then right after we won Nationals one of my mentors, Ken Arkind, who had won nationals for another Denver team in 2006, came up to me and he was like, “Look man, people get these championships and then they sit and think everything’s gonna come to them and then they pass ‘em. You gotta move. So that’s been where I’m at right now.

Sol Collective: So Ken Arkind gave you these words and that’s what inspired you?
Mays:
Yeah, you know touring isn’t my only job. I teach in the schools in Denver. I teach poetry, I’m contracted by probably one of our most respected school districts, the Cherry Creek School District, has me contracted to teach poetry.

Sol Collective:
How long have u been doing that?
Mays:  
Swingin’ up on a year now.

Sol Collective:  What ages do you teach?
Mays:  
All. K through high school and a couple community colleges in Denver I work with, too.

Sol Collective:
Awesome. What’s been the most rewarding part of teaching these classes, for you?
Mays:
There’s a part inside all of us that is only revealed when we have to let go, and everytime I see that moment happen, whether I’m in a classroom, at the Sol Collective, at an open mic or what-not, that’s what keeps us all going.

Sol Collective:
It sounds like you get inspired…
Mays:
Yep!

Sol Collective: I read that you’ve been trying to find spots to feature, to do workshops. Basically, you’ve been searching for venues and you did mention this was kind of short notice and all that, but I saw that it’s been as you described a “low success” in organizing spots to go to.
Mays:
Yeah.

Sol Collective:  Could you explain some of the challenges you’ve faced and the successes?
Mays:
Well, particularly with Sacramento, there’s been a little bit of trouble with accessibility and overall communication. Most cities, it seems, have their open mic cats who are real free, like this one here at Sol Collective; and then you have your traditional poets who have their noses in the air a little bit. But I did open up my mind to get here in advance, experienced a post-dated list of venues here, and cycled through that with low response and then found this new (list) on Eskimo Pie and that really helped out.

Sol Collective:  
How did you come across Eskimo Pie?
Mays:
Well, I found it just on a secondary Google search but the first one was on about.com and it was a really comprehensive thing, and I was like, “wow look at how organized Sacramento is.” And then things just started kinda falling through, but when you’re a slam poet your best bet is slam venues. So when you try to go to cities that aren’t abundant in slam venues you’re naturally gonna kinda get lashed back. But for me I try to value the ride more than I value the reason. So being out here and experiencing the unknown and flying by is a part of the process just as much as being organized. So you gotta take ‘em all in with the same breath.

Sol Collective:  
Okay, so where do you get your inspiration?
Mays:
Humans, for the most part. I am a big fan of the human struggle. To just see how durable and flexible we are in the things that we go through and keep stepping through – things that break some of us and inspire some of us because of the break. Humans are at the base without a doubt, of my inspiration.

Sol Collective: There’s a lot to say about resiliency. What are you striving for at this point of your life?
Mays:
Ideally, within the next couple of years I would like for Denver to have a youth poetry contingent that is as strong, if not stronger, in its future as Youth Speaks, Urban Word and Louder Than a Bomb.  That would be the ideal goal. As far as an individual writer and performer, there’s a lot of stories in me still, a lot of people to write about right now. Until I feel like my stories have been chaptered and documented I don’t think I’ll lose ammunition.

Sol Collective:
Is there anything else you would like to add before I end this interview?
Mays:
Let us use our ugly to be our beauty.

 

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