April is Poetry Month: Advice from a Dead Man Walking

HBO Def Poet, Amir Sulaiman, pays a visit to the Islamic Center of Greater Lansing for a 
free performance.    Courtesy photo
By Dua S. Aldasouqi
E. LANSING, MI — Renowned poet and activist, Amir Sulaiman, flew into Michigan from California on April 13 to perform at the Islamic Center of Greater Lansing. He was there to give a short free show. The Center gym was packed with over 150 members of the Center and local Greater Lansing Area residents. Amir Sulaiman is also an accomplished writer, educator, and recording artist. He is a two time HBO Def Poet (an HBO television show, a play off of “Def Comedy Jam” with poets). He is a native of Rochester, N.Y. and has been writing since he was 12. His poetry is a voice for the oppressed and has been used many times by organizations like ACLU, Amnesty International, and Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition to bring life to multiple campaigns dealing with social justice and art.
Amir Sulaiman was surprisingly very down to earth and as interested in the audience as the audience was him. He would perform one of his pieces and then allow the audience to ask questions, give feedback, or comment on issues. He was only in East Lansing for a very short time but the attendees made sure they made every minute count. He performed 5 pieces including “She Said, I Prefer a Broken Neck” and “Dead Man Walking”.
When asked what advice he would give to Muslim writers aspiring to be a Muslim voice and a voice for the oppressed he responded with two things (for both Muslims and non): 1) Sincerity and 2) Keep at it. 
He said sincerity was the most important, to be sincere means to say what you feel, what you think and not what you think you should say. According to him the problem with a lot of Muslim rappers now is that they say what they think they should say so their work sounds corny and superficial. He added if you just keep writing, you might have one good poem for every 10 or 20 bad ones.
Sulaiman’s poetry comes from his interactions and experiences; every line has a very deep and moving story behind it. In his piece “She Said, I Prefer a Broken Neck”, he writes: “even the beauty of birth leaves its own scars”. When asked about this line he said that he was having a conversation with someone and she was telling him about her troubles and life at that time. He recalled he wanted to reassure her that it could be all right, despite, all of her hardship, so he responded with: “even the beauty of birth leaves its own scars”. He explains that childbirth is the most beautiful experience in this world, bringing a small being into your life, but it is not an easy one. There is a lot blood and sweat that goes into it.
“Dead Man Walking” was another very well received piece, previously Sulaiman explained this piece: “As a young Muslim Black male in America I feel under attack on many fronts. I can handle being under attack, but it’s heartbreaking – at times – to feel as though I have no comrades. Everyone seems oblivious to our war against the Prison Industrial Complex, police, drugs, poverty and the list goes on…I hope to tear back the comforter of apathy and make us own up to ourselves and our responsibility to our people.” 
He continued saying that there are four reasons for this poem: it is a poem born out of desperation, a reminder for those that want to be reminded, a reminder for those that do not want to be reminded, and to inform those that do not know. The words of the poem resonated with the audience: “I am a dead man walking, a mute man talking, a blind man watching, our brothers die”.
Sulaiman ended the night by thanking the audience for their questions and comments and walked straight from the stage out the door to his car. He was on his way to another event to impact others with his poetry. His words are an inspiration to all, his actions an inspiration to many, and his character a model for youth and young adults nationwide.
Dua S. Aldasouqi is a Michigan State University student. She is in the Health and Risk Communications Master’s program with a background in dietetics (she is a Registered Dietitian). She also attends the Islamic Center of Greater Lansing, and is active within the Greater Lansing community.
This was printed in the April 22, 2012 – May 5, 2012 Edition