Amin Drew Law wowed everyone in attendance at Stella’s Drunken Retort three weeks ago. His dynamic, humorous set power-housed from a piece about his trying to speak a foreign tongue in his ancestral country to spouting gorgeous lyrics about the most perfect potential girlfriend, only to leave the audience realizing that Mrs. Might Be was a stranger sipping a latte.
He also charmed us Michiganders with his poem describing how he tried to overcome social awkwardness and body image issues (he self-describes his younger self as a chubby kid). He bought a baseball hat because, hello! Baseball hats = immediate cool. But he bought… a Detroit Tigers hat, and while we might boast that we’ve been loyal followers since we were in diapers, choosing to cheer on the Tigers on the East Coast was a total social fail.
When I sat down with Amin over breakfast at Bagel Beanery to ask about his writing influences, he told me how he wrote a rap in third grade. The topic? Goosebumps. You know, the creepy novel series where you can only look on in horror as the characters do exactly what you know they shouldn’t. His rap was an instant hit with his peers, and he felt empowered to keep pushing his craft. He admitted to being “picked on a lot as a kid,” so feeling praised for something he had created motivated him to continue writing.
He also cited hip-hop and high school theater productions as important in helping him become more comfortable and fluid in performing and writing. It wasn’t until he met a gal who wrote poetry that the art form even crossed his mind. “Actually,” he decided, “I’m just going to do [this form of] art.” He tested his abilities by penning a poem for the by-that-time girlfriend, but before he could perfect every line, they broke up. He performed it at a show anyway, and “people really liked it.” So he “fell in love with the art form.”
When he got into slam poetry, he was “instantly competitive. My first couple poems were the same [theme],” but then he began to listen to other slam artists. He learned how to weave a tapestry of linguistic narrative on a variety of topics.
I’m not a wise person. But I can listen to wise things.
“The last poem I wrote is this poem on trauma and how so often, when we talk about our trauma, we become our trauma. But just because I’m telling you about these things doesn’t mean I am my trauma,” he explained. All I could do was nod and think about how labels encompass our identities unless we actively try to prevent them from doing so.
“Who do you read?” I wonder.
He rattles off a list of some of the most respected poets: Rumi, Pablo Neruda, Khalil (an Arabic poet from Lebanon), Saul Williams, and Wang Ping.
“I’m not a smart person,” he continues. “I’m not a wise person. But I can listen to wise things.”
This wisdom appears again and again in his poetry. “I was just a chubby kid in the wrong hat,” he says in his poem “Tiger AKA the Secret Weapon for Chubby Kids.” “But the tiger is the heaviest of the jungle cats, and the only member of the cat family who has no audible roar. It growls at a frequency so low that humans can’t hear it. Well that was the problem. These cats couldn’t hear me!”
We get sidetracked discussing Toni Morrison’s extraordinary novels and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and all too soon, it’s time for me to go to class. I ask Amin for one final piece of advice.
“Art is an extension,” he says, “of humanity, not just a technical art form. I think we forget that sometimes, as writers or entertainers.”
Amin traveled to Kalamazoo to perform at Put Up or Shut Up! that evening. He currently lives and hosts a poetry show at Busboys & Poets in Washington, D.C. You can connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/amindrewlaw.
“a piece” https://youtu.be/dXa0ZC2uhxU
“his poem” https://youtu.be/a7p8i4VTBSk