Community engagement hits the big stage: Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre brings his poetry to FSU

Caroline Gordon / THE GATEPOST

Minneapolis native Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre stopped by the Framingham State Forum on his poetry tour Oct. 8.

After taking the stage, Tran Myhre explained that he travels around the country performing his poetry. He said he never performs the same set of poems twice and would use the following hour to use spoken word to convey his art to the audience.

Tran Myhre said his start was “very much through community.” He said his friends were doing similar work and included him in events such as open mics.

“I think the way people get into art is often the way people get into activism, too. It’s not because of an innate drive – it’s because of the people who are around you, and the relationships that you form,” he said.

“Not every poem is written for every audience. Some poems might not be for you, but my hope is that there are still things in them to pull out, whether it’s in the substance of the poem or it’s in the technique of how a poem is put together,” Tran Myhre said.

His first poem was a rhythmic piece about his first job as a cart pusher at a grocery store. The energy he put into the performance of this poem made it feel as though he was telling this story to his friends for the first time.

The poem begins, “It’s not rocket science, right? It’s a 10-foot piece of rope with a hook at the end of it. We got three of them hanging in the equipment shed out back. One of them is thicker, but a little shorter. One of them looks thin as shoelaces, but it’s a good half foot longer. You got first pick – pick that one. It looks flimsy but trust me, you will break before it does.”

Throughout the night, Tran Myhre emphasized poetry allows people to take big ideas and make them smaller and more understandable.

“Learn to control the fist that lives in your neck when these people just leave their cart sitting in the middle of a parking space. Swallow, when they look right through you. Swallow, when it’s 40 below and a strait jacket would be warmer than these flimsy company coats,” he continued. “You get two 15s and a half hour for lunch, right? And the breaks aren’t for your body though – they’re for your spirit.”

When he finished performing the poem, Tran Myhre explained how audience members can connect to that poem even if they haven’t worked that specific job. It is a poem about invisibility and feeling underappreciated, he said.

Tran Myhre’s next poem allowed the audience to experience his perception of toxic masculinity. He incorporated his theme of shrinking big ideas by centering this poem around a handshake between two men.

The poem begins, “The weirdest thing about having your hand crushed is that the pair of eyes across from yours never stops smiling.”

The author explains through his performance that he was always taught to have a firm handshake when meeting another man, and the stereotypes that lie under that.

“There’s just so much space between us as men that sometimes we feel compelled to cram as much physical contact as we can into every touch. I know we become so comfortable with crushing, so hypnotized by our own strength, we forget how incredible it can feel to let go.”

Tran Myhre said the poem is not literally about a handshake, but the deeper understanding of the small things that go into it. He said this idea ultimately relates back to microaggressions.

As a social justice educator and activist, Tran Myhre often writes about topics such as gender stereotypes and consent.

The next poem performed was titled, “How to explain white supremacy to a white supremacist.” He used sharks in the ocean as a metaphor for racism in America.

“White supremacy is not a shark, it is the water. … Remember, sharks kill about one person each year, thousands drown. … How long do we keep pointing out the bad apples, ignoring the fact that the orchard was planted on a mass grave? And we planted it there.”

This piece explained acting as a bystander to racism is a significant part of the problem.

The poem ends, “When trumpets sound in Ferguson and Minneapolis, when every one of our cities breaks into song, will we hear it? Will we choose to listen? Or will we just continue treading water, watching for that great white shark, not realizing that we’re drowning?”

Tran Myhre delved deeper into the role of bystanders in his next poem, which used quicksand as a catalyst to tell the story.

The speaker is contemplating whether to help a man stuck in quicksand as he sinks deeper and deeper. By the end of the poem, the man is completely submerged in quicksand because the bystander took too much time deciding how to react.

Tran Myhre ends the poem with, “What can one person even do? I imagine my lungs filling with mud, black earth, brown water. The hike back to my hotel will be full of reflection. I offer my thoughts and my prayers. It is the least I can do.”

The poet’s inspiration was the idea that individual solutions cannot solve group problems. No one person can solve racism or any of the issues he writes about.

Tran Myhre then performed a poem inspired by his experience as an educator.

He read, “This is what it means to do direct service. We make a difference, just not enough of one.”

It is a common feeling among educators to know they are making a difference, but not seeing big changes day to day, he said.

“On my way to the office, an impossibly small boy from one of these sessions cannonballs through the crowd, hits me in the shoulder, and says, ‘Thank you’ … and I’m stuck somewhere between you’re welcome and I’m sorry.”

Before performing his last poem, Tran Myhre explained poetry isn’t always about convincing others. Sometimes, it is for ourselves as writers and it is still valid.

At the beginning of the poem, he sets the scene of a young boy trying to use magic to move a pen from across a table.

“It should be such a simple thing, right? To move this tiny object with the vastness of my spirit, simply lift it up a half inch or to engulf it in flames, but nothing,” he read.

The speaker explains this was not the moment he realized magic wasn’t real. He learned this through his experiences out in the world as he got older.

“The magic is not whether I pick up that pen with my hand or with my mind – the magic is what I write with it.”

Tran Myhre said although he doesn’t do it often, one of his favorite things to incorporate into his writing/spoken word is science fiction. He also said that as an introvert, art gives him a way to engage with his peers. His biggest inspiration is people in his community.

Tran Myhre ended his performance with a verse from one of his raps.

“There is no voice willing to speak for us, so it’s a good thing we know how to yell. There is no chosen one, no destiny, no fate. There is no such thing as magic, there is no light at the end of this tunnel, so it’s a good thing we brought matches.”

He said his best piece of advice for aspiring artists is “to break out of the mindset that being a poet or being an artist has to be a solitary thing. … Every artist I know who has had any real success, it’s because they think about it as being part of a community.”

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