Lewis Morris, 26 of Providence, R.I. and a resident of Boston, Mass. wrote his first poem at the age of 11. He is now a multi-talented performing artist with a gift for activating the creative spark in people. He describes himself as a “poet first, beatmaker/producer second, and an MC last.” His work has been featured most recently in a TEDx talk with his performance group, Flatline Poetry and a new album title “That New Violence” set to be released on August 14th.
Morris wrote his first poem at the age of 11. ” I was feeling really low and suicidal at the time,” he says.
As he shares the story of his first poem it is clear his expertise is revealed through the power of his words, the calm of his voice, and hand gestures that invite the truth without hesitation. No matter how gut wrenching the topic is from violence against black lives or suicidal self-hatred, Morris remains fully present with his audience in his delivery of his truth as a young black man growing up in America. “I can be the most real when I perform,” he says.
Morris spoke about his early days of poetry on an episode of Café con Cass. “If you read it today, it would sound like a suicide note,” shared Morris. “Maybe it was, but it was a form of expression. Meanwhile, at the same time I was doing public speaking at my church….that was the first time I experienced that feeling of telling your own personal truth. Even if it was a sermon at the time, I got high off of that and I needed more. That’s how I discovered Slam.”
“It’s been a rough year with everything that has been happening. You know, I grew up with a particular self-hate because obviously I am dark-skinned, as you can tell everybody, and I always just had this thing about being the darkest person in my family and usually being the darkest person in the room and not valuing my skin, at all.” That New Violence explores the imagery of hate and with lyrics describe the self-hate of black men. In his interview, Morris explains to the audience where this self-hatred comes from.
Morris’ new album, set to release on August 14th explores violence, which Morris argues isn’t new. “That New Violence,” is a title that appeals to satire but still conveys the truth. To illustrate this artistically, his track “Bleed” contains footage from the L.A. Riots in the 90’s to show similar images that are being portrayed as breaking news today.
He debuted his track “Bleed” on Café con Cass.
“When I wrote that song, I thought about the Father who hid himself his children from rap music from basketball, from everything basically so that his kids could be accepted by White people so that things like Mike Brown or Trayvon Martin won’t happen to him.”
Morris does not intend to hide. Morris speaks to the false beliefs that if a black man were to dress better, or be more amicable to White people, he won’t get shot. Recent deaths in the news have proved otherwise. He explores this tension creatively with Flatline Poetry member, Lissa Piercy in a performance at the Out of the Blue Gallery in Cambridge, MA.
“Flatline poetry is four of us, including myself,” explains Morris. “We are just a group of people who write, perform and teach together. We did a TEDx talk back in January. We try to bring artistry wherever we go in workshop or open mics. When we get together and collaborate, it’s magic.”
The TEDx talk begins with a piece written by Guillermo Cabellero. It is followed by a poem that speaks to assault against women and ends with a piece of deaths of black and brown lives. “All I can feel is ash seeping through my fingers and I can’t help but think that the light from every lit match as a eulogy to them. I mourn them,” is a line from the poem.
Lissa Piercy, 26, is a Boston based poet originally from Washington, D.C. and Executive Director of Flatline Poetry. She can not help but tear up when she speaks about what it was like to work with Lewis and how he activates what he touches as by virtue of coming into contact with someone. “Creatively simply pours through their fingertips.”
Flatline Poetry is a non profit agency that is providing a new model for poets who are seeking to be full-time and profitable. It is a unifying force in a community where more work needs to be done.
“The poetry community has a lot of work to do before we can call ourselves inclusive of all people. We are making great stride, but there are a lot of things that give me pause about considering myself as full a party of that community. We have issues with some venues inaccessible to the handicap, transphobia and homophobia. These are questions that poetry community asks but never answers,” says Lewis.
Some of this work has been accomplished with innovation of Flatline Poetry and their foundation as told in an interview with Piercy.
“Poetry can allow us to have conversations we can’t have otherwise,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard to talk about Ferguson, suicide or assault. I witness this happen when we did our TEDx talk. At the end of our talk, we did a poem called, “Where do you belong?” and we had images from the post-Ferguson protests in Boston playing behind us.”
Piercy describe a week in Colorado with a group of predominately white and privileged people. A visible discomfort could be seen among participants when Ferguson was brought up. At the end of their performance, they received a standing ovation.
“When I perform on stage, I feel like the most me. I get to take all that off, and what you see is not on paper Lewis but actually Lewis,” says Morris. With poetry, he can have conversation with society as a black man that people are not ready to have. As Piercy notes, when a poet perform their truth, you can start that conversation by witnessing and not having to say a single work.
A cool snap of the fingers will of course help in the tradition of the slam poets who came before.