Tai Allen is something of a polymath. The artist has been on the scene now providing an impact to everything arts and culture related for over twenty years. Recently, we had the fortunate opportunity to catch up with the Yonkers, NY native in person. Below is a transcription of the conversation we had.
Flowered Concrete: Tai, a pleasure to have you here today discussing your latest work.
Tai Allen: thank you, kindly.
Flowered Concrete: I want to go back a bit and kind of figure out your starting point. And so, when did you start writing poetry and what about the art form gravitated you towards it?
Tai Allen: young! i wrote because my painting skills were lacking. then you add the rise of hip-hop and i fell in love with words.
Flowered Concrete: What were some of your interests growing up? Did any of them factor into poetry at all or lead you down the path perhaps?
Tai Allen: basketball. science. history. music. poetry. style. poetry. girls. poetry. I honestly only recall being in love with poetry and painting; then taking poetry as the main discipline.
Flowered Concrete: Your new chapbook “No Jewels” is centered around sexual abuse and seems to come from a personal place. Did you have any reluctance at all in writing this material?
Tai Allen: Not about sexual abuse. It is about the use of love as a power tool or a carrot to oppress. And, I never felt a reason to write about it. But an elder suggested the idea. Since my mid-twenties, I learned to love myself more than the sins against me.
Flowered Concrete: You write in your acknowledgements section, “Patricia Spears Jones this was your idea”. Talk about that if you can. Was she aware of you writing the book at the time or would you credit her as the perpetuating factor of the work coming to life?
Tai Allen: Patricia read a poem that was part of a different manuscript. It referenced abuse but from a very “eff you” vantage. She felt this could be expanded into a book.
Flowered Concrete: Besides being a poet, you’re an accomplished singer-songwriter and a creative director with Arts+Crafts. How have these other roles influenced your writing and this book? Do they stand alone at all or come together to illustrate one picture?
Tai Allen: All of my art comes from the same place. I do not partition them. Society does. I make things, things is plural to represent the disciplines I can/will use.
Flowered Concrete: In the book’s dedication, you say that “the book exists as a guide to understanding innocence”. In what way, do you see it operating as a guide and how has the content of “No Jewels” guided some of your earliest of readers thus far?
Tai Allen: It should probably say understand the death of innocence. But that thinking is important. Innoncence is what gives a child power. Eventually innocence will fade but it should never be torn away.
Flowered Concrete: In the latter portion of the poem “CISabuse” you write, “I continue with the sock wearing/always ready to exit or escape—time and time again/even the nights my pants leg eat the socks/I remember family/villains are born into someone’s family” It seems as if you’re wrestling with emotions that consist of fleeing your past circumstance while wrestling with the idea that this abuse happened to come from a person of your own flesh and blood. If you don’t mind me asking: How hard is that for anyone, young or old, that goes through this and what’s the mental process like for someone enduring this at the hands of a loved one?
Tai Allen: not wrestling. describing.
i do not know the process for enduring. Totally unsure. I do know that I was able to emerge because I had parents/god-parents who cared; a religion that showed me self-reliance; and, my belief in loving myself.
Flowered Concrete: Walk me through the cover for a moment. In the cover there’s an open palm of someone hand which seems to have diamonds resting in them. What is the meaning behind this imagery and what were you trying to convey?
Tai Allen: No Jewels. Conflict diamonds: are senseless pieces of carbon that ruin lives.
Flowered Concrete: How long did it take to put this project together and why was it necessary for you to publish it at this moment in time?
Tai Allen: 7-8 months. And, cause it is done.
Flowered Concrete: I’ve noticed there’s also a soundtrack to the book. Are you backing the poems with music or are all these tracks original recordings?
Tai Allen: latter.
Flowered Concrete: In your poem “The memory game [#4] you write, “a lil boy will forget/the demons and monsters/are hiding in closets/or waiting under beds/when the serpent of selfish sex/and solo contentment/kisses him on the head/before he walks off to school”. It honestly made me contemplate on how quick our children are forced to grow up because of circumstances such as these that are out of their control. Do you feel that this is necessarily the case or is there another elemental factor to it that we who have never experienced this often miss?
Tai Allen: hard question. I will say it is NOT necessary but is often a reality.
Flowered Concrete: Who else were big contributors to this project and how did they help in its shaping overall?
Tai Allen: Editing by Brad Walrond which means a lot of arguging. With the music, production help from: Vespertine, Jonn Nubian & Dasan Ahanu… with a special guest appearance by Joy Jones.
Flowered Concrete: What’s next on your plate? Are you currently touring? How else do you plan on going about pushing this project in the long run?
Tai Allen: Touring as well as some other things we’ve got lined up that I can’t speak of as of yet. But fear not, they all will be dope!
Flowered Concrete: For those who are interested, where can they pick up your latest work?
Tai Allen: taiallen.com / Amazon / Flowered Concrete / Nkiru Online (Talib Kweli’s ecomm site) and most digital folks. In the real world, various venue options for the physical.
Flowered Concrete: Tai, thank you for spending time and sharing with us today.
Tai Allen: Ditto!! i LOVE questions that force me to think!
Tai Allen is a respected creative who excels in multiple disciplines. The Brooklyn-based creative director is a poet who sings over music he has produced. His poetry has been published in noted tomes (Bomb and African Voices) and his music has been heralded by such publications as SoulTracks, Uptown Magazine and CentricTV. Allen is also creative director for Arts+Crafts, where he curates the annual Tap+Cork Brooklyn Beer & Wine Fest, and creates performance opportunities for emerging artists, deejays and poets.
Connect with him online:
Kevin Anglade is the founder and publisher of Flowered Concrete. Founded in 2012, he plans to bridge the gap between the African-American communities throughout the nation with hopes of reinvigorating a passion for literature.