Poetry, Prose, and Profit Series: Savon Bartley
“Bullets are a joke
All the black boys are laughing
So hard they can’t breathe”
- Savon Bartley
Meet the Teaching Artist, Storyteller, and Future Poet Laureate, Savon Bartley
Interview by: Chiereme Fortune
You go by the title, “Teaching Artist.” Your CV speaks for itself. What’s your conviction when it comes to teaching vs. just being an artist? Why should other artists consider reaching back as they move forward in a world that says: “anything other than, Me is weighing me down.”
Where I’m from there aren’t many creative opportunities for youth. Almost everyone I know born in North Chicago, Illinois have three options. Work at Abbotts Laboratory, sell drugs, or enlist in the military. If I never moved to the east coast I can guarantee that I would have fallen into one of those three categories simply because there are no other options presented. No arts programs or mentors are around to expose youth to new creative ideas. It’s important to remember where you come from and pour back into the community that raised you. I understand that I am blessed and privileged to be able to travel and make a living as a creative. With that comes an obligation to pass down that knowledge to the ones that are going to come after me. Each one teach one isn't just a saying it's also how you keep your community clean. When I pass my peak in my art I don’t want the craft to end with me. I want it to keep flourishing. My method of preservation is education. Youth need to be able to see the myth of not making a living off of art isn’t true and then they need to be taught the work that goes into it. Education and art should never be separated. They go hand in hand.
The New York Times, Suspect Press, The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker Anthology, Slate Magazine, Blavity, and Afropunk.
You know a thing or two...maybe a book’s worth, about getting your written work out there. How important is it for spoken word artist to have printed poetry and how should we prep our work to be pitched for publication?
It depends on what your goals with the craft are. With how the internet and social media has shaped the way we interact with art you can be successful without ever publishing a book or submitting your work to publications. If you’d like to go the route of contributing to anthologies and works then the best advice I could give would be: revise, revise, revise, and send. Editing your work it what separates a lot of people from the pack. Hitting the submit button is the hardest part of the work because there is that fear and self-doubt that comes along with possible rejection. When you realize the worst case scenario isn’t that bad it gets a little easier. Just a little. Also be very selective where you submit. Not everywhere is deserving of your stories. You’re giving your poems a home so make sure it’s a home worth living in forever.
What are your thoughts on poet/writer/creative lean startup? Invest to prep for income or gig income then invest (website, photography, video etc.)?
Any investment you make (website, camera, tech) should be able to pay itself off. If you’re just a casual artist and you have a domain name and Instagram videos shot in 4k of you spitting bars just to look good on the internet I don’t think that’s a smart investment. If you’re selling your poetry or providing services on your website as well as shooting high-quality images for flyers and blog posts then yeah. The money you spent on equipment will eventually be reimbursed. It’s possible to get by without those luxuries.
You’re not a new face on the Sofar Sound stage. NY, London… For a lot of us just-getting-our-mic-adjusted poets, it can be intimidating to pitch shotty-iphone videos to well-produced event series and venues. What do you do to push past the self-doubt and press, “submit?”
...And how do we get on Sofar?
Personally, I accept that I might not get everything that I apply for and I realize that a rejection is not always a reflection on my skills or a personal attack on my craft. Once I know that, pressing “submit isn’t as difficult. Sofar Sounds is a wonderful organization that has been very good to me. You can submit to Sofar Sounds directly on their website for a performance or hosting opportunity.
What’s your all-time favorite venue to perform? What kind of audience hypes you up? What’s the best moment you’ve experienced after the high of a great show wears off?
My favorite venue I’ve performed at was the Kentucky Governor's School of the Arts. The theater was beautiful and the students were the best kind of crowd any artist could ask for. I love a crowd that’s interactive and eager to what's happening on stage. The worst audience is an audience that doesn’t want to be an audience. I live for performing just as much as the conversation with people after the performance. Creating dialogue is a large part of what I do for living so when I can have a continued conversation after the show I feel like I did what I was supposed to.
“On the street, Savon is shy, sweet, and kindhearted. But on stage he’s a beast.”
— Rose McAleese Author of Strong. Female. Character.
Is this statement true?
Savon: The Shy Beast
Um, at times, yes. I don’t know if shy is the right word to describe me. I’m definitely more quiet than people think I am but overall I’d say it’s an accurate description.
What’s your advice for the extroverted introvert trying to balance the outside world (social media, small talk, selling yourself) with the inside voice (documentary watching, pen and paper, people-hiding, ok with some alone time) version of ourselves? How important is it to remember your beginnings? What do your, “bad days,” look like and how do you get through them?
My advice is don’t force anything and cherish as much of your alone time as you can. Never forget where you came from. It keeps you centered and focused and grateful. It also puts the “bad” days in perspective. If you can remember your worst days ever and compare them to what your current hurdle is, sometimes it makes things it bit easier to get through. When it’s really bad and I’m pulling my hair out because I'm stressing so hard, I take my day to wallow and cry. Everyone get’s to have a day. Once the day is over I pray and get back to work because feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to pay my rent.
What’s your preparation process? Take us from gig invite email to final product on stage.
Well with performances I’m usually booked ahead of time for X amount of shows through the season. I have pre-written sets that I rotate between depending on what the client/venue requires. Essentially I’m always ready just because I’ve been doing it for so long. Once the contract is signed and the terms are agreed upon the biggest thing for me is practice and showing up on time. I make it my priority that I put on a good show. I never want someone to leave my set thinking they didn’t get their money’s worth.
What was the shift that took you from, “ I want to be….” to “Hi, I’m Savon Bartley, Teaching Artist, Spoken Word Ninja and Super Approachable…?”
Thank you. That’s very kind of you to say. I’ve always been very invested in the things that I enjoy. I come from a family that believes in following your passion. Anything that I do I give it my all. I don’t think half stepping is worth the expended energy. Performing has been in my life since I was a kid. Writing came much later. Education even later. Both all of them have been some of the most consistent things in my life and have been good to me so I think it’s only right that I be good to them back.
Why blog? Why Now? Why Instagram?
The blog is just another outlet. I can’t say everything I want to say in poem. Sometimes I just want to say exactly how a feel. I also started getting a lot of the same “How did you do that?” questions. I figured if I blogged about my travels and things it would give some context and insight for anyone else trying to pursue their craft or step outside their box. I’m still figuring a lot out myself but I can at least leave a trail if anyone is interested. Instagram was the first social media platform I really took to. I didn’t have Myspace and I didn’t care for Facebook or Twitter at the time. I didn't understand Tumblr but when Instagram came around it was really simple and I liked the idea. Now it’s mostly a business tool. I keep in touch with people who come to my shows and honestly a good chunk of my gigs come from instagram. It’s like a mini press kit.
Last question, just for kicks:
Are you a writer or a poet?
My title changes every week depending what hat I have to wear but since I write more than just poetry I would have to say I’m a writer.
Links to where we can find and follow you:
@savonbartley on all social media