I am deeply honoured and humbled to have, Greek-Australian Poet and Hip Hop Artist, Luka Lesson as the first 2013 special guest on this blog. At the beginning of this month, I had the honour in meeting and performing spoken word alongside Luka Lesson during his visit to Auckland, New Zealand. He was the featured poet for our South Auckland Poets Collective show which was held at the Mangere Arts Centre. I also got the chance to sit in on one of his spoken word workshops while he was in Auckland which was great. He is a humble guy with a genuine heart.
Luka is both a Hip-hop artist and performance poet. His latest album Please Resist Me is a powerful combination of the two: 17 tracks of love, social change, ancestral pathways and internal ruminations. A winner of Slams, including the Australian Poetry Slam final & Melbourne Poetry Festival final, and a song writer from way back, Luka spent 2012 touring writers’ festivals and independent venues throughout Australia, Asia, Oceania and North America.
Luka is also committed to standing with communities of all backgrounds to establish a connection between social issues, poetry and self-empowerment. He works actively with young people to develop their power of expression, and to utilise the form of the spoken (and written) word as a means of empowerment and a form of self-determination.
Luka is an experienced workshop facilitator with both hip-hop and poetry which has seen him make university appearances in China, teach students in The Bronx (NYC), facilitate Indigenous programs in Australia and work with students in underprivileged centres in Greece. Luka also holds a first-class honours degree in Indigenous Studies and from 2010 to 2012 taught the same subject at Monash University.
Luka kindly composed his special guest blog write up in Athens, Greece at the home of conscious hip-hop outfit Active Member with whom he is currently touring. I am very grateful to him for the time that he took to write and I truly appreciate his openness and honesty in his piece. You will be inspired, encouraged and empowered. I certainly am.
Thank you once again Luka for your time and for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us on this blog. Keep up the amazing work! You are truly an inspiration! Happy Birthday for the 6th April 2013! Wishing you a wonderful celebration! Much love bro xox
Without further adieu, I present to you Luka Lesson’s special guest blog post. Enjoy!
LUKA LESSON: This year, in less than a week in fact, I will turn thirty years old. And right now I am a full-time poet. It is my job, and even though I have worked hard to get where I am it still surprises me, almost everyday, that this is who I am and what I do.
When I was young(er) I thought poetry was something that I should stay away from at all costs. This was especially because it’s uncool rating at school was somewhere around holding your mum’s hand and listening Country music…combined. Nobody did it unless they were forced to.
Hip-hop was cool though, and the days I spent wagging class and listening to Snoop or Tupac under my friend Caleb’s house while playing card games with my lebanese connection Omar and smoking cigarettes confirmed it. Hip-hop was the soundtrack to cool. A soundtrack to being outcasts in a multi-cultural country that was somehow still passing itself off as being entirely white. To us at that time, being Aussie was anything but cool, they used to tease us for our waxed hair styles and puberty beards as much as we laughed at them and their families for eating microwaved food. Their mothers couldn’t cook… now that was almost impossible for me and my friend to comprehend.
One year, as the hip-hop fans of the school, stupidity got the better of us and we performed a remix of BlackStreet’s ‘No Diggity’ at the Year 12 talent quest. My friends Marcus Chun and Pramesh Bali rapped the verses and I sang a verse and re-did the chorus:
“I like the way you work it
we gonna drink it up!”
Despite the inspired change in lyrics it wasn’t a big surprise that we weren’t received well. In fact we were disqualified for stealing the PA we used to perform with even though it was the Aussie kids who took it from the Music staff room…but they blamed the brown kids right… (I’m not bitter).
From listening to Hip-hop, I started writing it at University. I met a rapper named Jules in one of my classes and we started writing by passing stanzas on notepads back and forth in boring Anthropology lectures and creating music at his home studio in Brisbane. These were my first Hip-hop songs and it wasn’t for another four years that I would see Lemon Andersen and Mayda del Valle perform on HBO television series Def Jam that I entered the word of spoken word.
I had fallen in absolute love, though I couldn’t define why. I just knew that it felt powerful and there was something so essential about it all. Like these people were saying things that were vital, that absolutely had to be heard, and they believe in it. Soon after I wrote Please Resist Me, my first spoken word piece and began to connect with the very few people in Brisbane who were interested in it. It wasn’t for a long time later that i finally was able to make a video for it, with the help of so many great friends in Melbourne… something I could never have imagined at the time.
The next part of this mini-biography is quite dark, but necessary. Soon after this in 2008 I was to experience a severe depression, which came with family break ups, my own wedding being painfully cancelled, mental health issues and chronic health issues and pain. For about a year and a half in 2008 and 2009 I was in the midst of a spiritual crisis. More than that it was a fight for survival. By then I had lost both Omar to a car accident and Caleb to an overdose that many believe was suicide and I think losing them became the biggest factor in stopping me from jumping off the edge myself. So I had to do something… and writing spoken word became that something integral to my journey towards healing. Although many other factors came into play, the vital-ness I had seen on Def Jam suddenly became real, and I realised that writing and performing, when they are done right, are absolutely necessary for personal survival. Things must be said. So on some of those dark, dark nights in Brisbane where I hadn’t eaten for days and was entirely destroyed, I would leave the house and walk for hours, repeating my own writings in my head and somehow finding a sense of safety in the repetition of words that could or should, grow to defined me.
Though I still didn’t consider this poetry, the words were helping me. Affirmation, prayer, mantra, song, poem and story are all things that have helped humanity throughout history. But for me I was just doing what I felt like was my only choice… the bare minimum, I could speak, and it felt good.. like a release or an escape. I didn’t have a definition for what I was doing yet, but I knew that when I was having a panic attack, or feeling angry, unfocussed or lost- again the words of some poems, and in particular May Your Pen Grace The Page became rocks I could swim to in the storms of mental incapacity. They were also written as letters to myself, that eventually came true.
I am honest in this story because I believe honesty unlocks common experience between writer and reader or speaker and listener. And in this we can slowly begin to feel like we are no longer alone. If I was to withhold the deep nature of this experience, I think those struggling with something similar and reading this would continue to feel ostracised, and continue to believe nobody has seen what they have seen. This honesty began in those days, where I realised that telling the truth was my only weapon against all the angst and pain I was holding. Although I did hurt people along the way – especially those trying to keep their lies alive (which was their problem not mine). I also gave myself the chance to realise that my job was to speak. That I cannot exist on this earth without it, and in fact I go crazy if I keep my mouth shut. So for better or for worse my job is to find cracks in logic, silences in society, and shed some light. And this may be the job of all poets, to find new ways, powerful points of view and ultimately provide the world with the necessary stories we need to remain awake and aware.
Now, I can call poetry home. I can tour throughout the world and teach people how to be strong and proud of the secrets they have to tell, and not to be ashamed of their truths. It has taken me some time but I have recognised that why I loved and still love hip-hop. The dangerous things being said in those albums by Tupac and Biggie were the secrets we were used to… that my friends and I knew intimately and spoke of everyday. Poetry as I was being taught it in those days was culturally specific to Britain, but the poetry of hip-hop was obvious to us. Now, however, I don’t believe hip-hop carries the sincerity and vulnerability that spoken word poetry does. Not that the hip-hop I used to listen to did that very often… but what I love the most about what I do is that the vulnerability this is inherent in so much spoken word poetry is where, I believe, the healing starts.
This year I turn 30 and I have been faced with the usual stress that everyone in their late-twenties seems to have about getting ‘old’. After losing friends at a young age and coming close to giving up on my own life, I am promising myself to be thankful for every year that passes from here on out because I know how close I came to not making it this far and I know many other people do not get the opportunity to grow old, nor do they get to live the life they have dreamed of. Poetry, or at least my relationship with words, gave me this. And as I sit in Athens writing this post for my friend Maryanne Pale from my beloved South Auckland Poets Collective friends in Aotearoa I think of the ancestors of the Pacific Islands and their stories, the history of poetry in Ancient Greece and throughout the world, and I remind myself that everything is as it should be. We are meant to be poets and I believe that we must be thankful for every single drama, joyous occasion and love lost along the way…
for they are our poems yet to be written,
and our secrets yet to be told.
P.S. My friend Caleb who had the best house in the neighbourhood for skipping class was from Aotearoa and on my first visit there in 2012 I met with his mother and we visited the place where his ashes are scattered… his father passed away soon after him and his ashes are there also. I wrote this for Deborah Jones, whose loss has made her so wise and deeply compassionate… and a great friend.
She Wades Knee Deep
Your mother turned her back to your father’s hospital bed
and prayed for his safe arrival
‘the cancer had done enough
to be able to push it over the line’ he said
and he decided today
was going to be the day
so he clenched his toes and fists
closed his eyes tight and tried his hardest to end it
like he was giving birth
to his own death
your father had to be patient in the end
and let life drain from him like a king tide
he said he was excited to see you
and you’d been more successful with this before
who knows what metaphor would be the best for him:
and your simile
now she wades knee deep
at the beach
where both yours and your fathers’ ashes are scattered
where they mingle with the bubbles
where they carve themselves into my nostrils
with the scent of every cliff calling me to dive with you
you gang member, peace maker
you mountain, monster
you comedian, carcass
In your reflection
she wades knee deep
talks to you in all kinds of silences
she hears your wisdom in the crashing of every second wave
and your father speaks in every other
but she sees you
giving out the communion on sundays
as she makes her confessions in the back row
waiting for you to pick her up by her by her tears
stretch the single wing she has left on her heart
and let it flap in circles
but laying dormant on the stack of love letters you wrote to us
things fall backwards up mountains when mothers lose their children
trees grow into the earth with only their roots to climb
her cups of tea boil frozen
so she wades knee deep
and she’s just happy the water level has fallen somewhere below her lungs
so I tell her I’ll get a tattoo for you
but there and then
I decide not to have a tombstone peppered on my skin in remembrance
just so as to make it easier to forget
so I walk into the water
I wade knee deep
I wash my face and hair with you
and swallow your reflection
Stay connected with Luka Lesson:
Website: HYPERLINK “http://lukalesson.org/“
Digital Album: HYPERLINK “http://lesson.bandcamp.com“