On a stool in the middle of Christian Fields Style Bar, a hair salon located on Chicago’s south side, I’m enjoying stimulating conversations with other book lovers. The event is “Urban Artistry: Sounds, Visuals & Words” presented by Remimokau Media Group, a local book club. The room is filled with fine African American men of different ages and shades of caramel and dark chocolate. As Tim’M West, the well-known poet, author and activist walked in the room I am immediately drawn to him; at first I am not sure if it is him because I am a little bit tipsy from all the wine, I had been drinking but once confirmed I make my way to his station. For a while I’ve wanted to interview him and for whatever reason it never worked out. After exchanging a few polite words and securing his commitment to an interview, I shook his hand, got his business card and walked away with a great sense of accomplishment. And although my actual in-depth interview did not take place for another 3 weeks, I feel honored that it’s finally done. Originally from Cincinnati and raised between Little Rock and Taylor, Arkansas, his studies have taken him to live in many cities, such as Raleigh/Durham, New York, Oakland, Washington, DC, and Atlanta. Recently he moved from Houston, Texas to Chicago. Here’s what the well-traveled thespian had to tell us about himself and his latest LP, Fly Brotha.
PRIDEINDEX: You’re a self-described “black, gay and a feminist, POZ and working class,” how did you ever come up with this hodge-podge mixture?
TIM’M WEST: Well I am best described as gay-identified though my practice has probably been more of what people would describe as bisexual. I don’t, however, run from the term “gay” so that’s cool. No shame in my love for men. I tested HIV positive back in 1999, so I think it would be a travesty not to celebrate and honor the blessing of being alive, healthy, and happy for going on 13 years. More visible images of POZ brothas “in the life” are needed to stop the stigma which isn’t to say “hey don’t worry about getting it,” since I’m all about prevention and encouraging my negative brothas to stay negative and those who are positive to get and stay healthy. Stigmatizing POZ brothas doesn’t keep people safe, it fuels the disease and hiding. As for the title “working-class,” I grew up dirt-poor and, despite several degrees from excellent institutions, have always made a working-class salary, at best. The work I do brings a great deal of popularity and self-fulfillment, but I’m still working on how to make it make more “cents.” On the edge of 40, and looking forward to a life-partner and the prospect of home ownership, taking better care of me, financially, matters. I will, however, always identify with the working-class, and am frustrated by settings that are all too elitist or bourgie.
PI: How did you come up with the name Tim’M?
TTW: I didn’t come up with Tim’M. It was the name my mother offered, jokingly, to help me resolve speech impediment issues I had as a younger child. Once over that, I embraced the name as my own, since it marked triumph over one obstacle and set the path for my legacy of triumph over others as well. It’s the only name I answer to.
PI: Tell us about the earliest memory you have as a poet and the details surrounding your first performance?
TTW: My first poems were written at ponds in Lower Arkansas. My first performances were of me and siblings singing at church. There was no real “formal” initiation into writing or performance, since they were things I’ve always done. Some of the work in “Red Dirt Revival,” my first book, dates back to my mid-teens. As a performer who sings, raps, and does poetry, it simply offers audience a much broader diversity of talent than one who only raps or sings or does Spoken Word. I am blessed in that regard.
PI: Describe your poetic style and where do you find the inspiration for your poetry?
TTW: Quite generally, LIFE inspires me. I experience life, I write about it. And because so much about life escapes any capacity to describe it in common language – being so wonderful or daunting – poetry enables many writers to describe things in ways that at least approximates the paintbrush of life and that best illuminates our experience. Langston Hughes, Essex Hemphill, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Pablo Neruda, Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Gil Scott Heron, Carl Hancock Rux, G. Winston James, Marvin K. White. Not sure I’d even be a poet without them. There are people who your read or encounter in poetry who move you to poetry. I am simply extending a long line of excellence in our poetic tradition.
PI: Name at least 3 people who have most affected your artistic style.
TTW: Essex Hemphill, KRS-One, Cornel West
PI: How do you prepare to perform before an audience?
TTW: I simply remember that, at some point, I saw someone perform and it changed my life. Each performance I seek to find and testify to that person. Quite often, I am successful but that’s how I prepare. The singing and rapping is second nature. Any nervousness is not around the performance but about execution and affect: will I reach someone? Inspire someone? Offer hope to someone searching for it?
PI: I understand that you were a member of the Deep Dickollective what was that experience like?
TTW: It was nearly a decade of making rap music and touring with some of the most brilliant black men on the planet. It was instrumental to my development as a solo artist – especially because it enabled me to do work as a masculine-identified queer/gay/bi subject. We had pretty much remained invisible in the media prior to Deep Dickollective, so the affect was far-reaching.
PI: Why did the Deep Dickollective break up? Is there any possible you will ever perform together again?
TTW: There were creative differences and each of us were moving in different directions with solo projects. These differences, at least for one member, evolved into disrespect and devaluation, not just of artistic collaboration, but more tragically, friendships I’d cherished more than I can express here. I frankly didn’t want DDC to end but it wasn’t my decision. If we perform again, it’ll be because Juba Kalamka remembers why we got together in the first place, gets over himself, and realizes that it was never about individual grand-standing, but group-affect. I’m honestly not quite clear on all the issues he’s raised, but hear, word of mouth, of some pretty shocking, nasty lies about me and what went down. There’s no need for a “bad guy” to explain why “good guys” had creative differences. Keep it movin.’
PI: One cannot help but notice that you resemble the actor Terry Crews from Everybody Hates Chris, have you ever considered acting as a profession?
TTW: Yeah while I don’t personally see it, I get the “Terry Crews’ comparison about twice a day. I have a short, if successful, history of stage acting: “Amen Corner,” “Raisin in the Sun,” and “The River Niger” but realized I wasn’t dedicated enough to the formalities and particular discipline associated with acting to continue, beyond a few spots in undergrad. I’d consider again with the right opportunity. My one-man-show “Ready, Set, Grow: a coming of age story” has been the first opportunity, in some time, to test what I remember and loved about the stage so who knows? (LAUGHS)
PI: Let’s talk about your book “Flirting” where did you find the inspiration for it?
TTW: Flirting was released in 2007 and is quite simply about life. Many wonder, given its title, if it’s an instructional guide or window into my personal flirtations. But I’m flirting: with memory, girls, boys, danger, politics, and romance so it’s not quite what people think. It was inspired, as are my other works, by reflections on life, love, and hopefulness. I’m looking forward to the publication of my first poetry book since “Flirting” in 2012, “pre|dispositions”, which will likely be more of the same. I do believe my writing improves with each work.
PI: Have you ever been a victim of overt flirting? If so how did you handle it?
TTW: I’m flirted with fairly often by both women and men. So long as it’s respectful and boundaries aren’t disrespected, there’s nothing else to do but accept the compliment and flirt back if interested, or keep it friendly but platonic if it isn’t. My flirting of late has been concentrated on one individual, but I’m not sure he notices. (LAUGHS) One day my flirting will sync correctly but at present I’m married to my work with little time or interest in romantic indulgences. When you’re not so lucky in love, you find it best to just place those energies elsewhere.
PI: What other projects are you currently working on?
TTW: Having just released an LP, “Fly Brotha” and developing my one-man show, “Ready, Set, Grow: a coming of age story,” my only projects are collecting the body of work for the forthcoming “pre|dispositions” and working as a publisher to fulfill 3 works, not my own, through my Red Dirt Publishing imprint: “Collisions: A Collection of Intersections” by L. Michael Gipson, “Shadows & Lights: Scenes through Verse and Soliloquies” by Cornelius Jones, Jr., and “Lip Sync,” by S. Velvet Noose. I appreciate the role of “papa bear,” nurturing new Hip- Hop projects by a number of artists and quality literature by good writers.
PI: Where can I catch you in action performing one of your fabulous pieces?
TTW: I’m all over the country, in addition to doing more to grow an enthusiastic fanbase here in Chicago. It’s best to just check the Events Calendar at www.reddirt.biz. There’s always something there. Of note is my Chicago CD release and artist feature at Scott Free’s Homo-latte event on the North side on August 16th.
PI: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
TTW: Only that I’m not completely certain about all the reasons God led me to Chicago, but I expect to have a good, full, life here and anticipate that all I’ve been working for, personally, professionally, and creatively, will come to fruition here as manifestation of my faith and kindness to those I’ve come in contact with in the journey. I am humbled, in advance, by the blessing.
Tim’M features with Samiiya Darling at Homolattee-Chicago takes place on Tuesday August 16, at Big Chicks/Tweet 5024 N. Sheridan Chicago, IL From 8:30PM-9:30PM Free admission visit www.homolatte.com