by Samantha Payne
A National Slam Poet Champion and National Poetry Slam Finalist returned to Whitworth on March 30 since his last performance here in 2010 to show how his poetry has evolved.
Shihan, who is a husband and father of two, has worked with stars such as boyband ‘N Sync and has been featured on HBO’s “Def Poetry,” Oxygen Network and NBC.
The poet began writing and performing as a full-time job in 1997 after deciding to go to school and become a teacher.
“I was in college when I started performing, and I just wanted to continue because I feel like poetry is an art form which definitely needs to be pushed and exposed to more and more people,” Shihan said. “I do feel I will go back and teach at some point, but right now I’m comfortable with reaching all these different people.”
Shihan said it was a difficult career choice. When he was 16, he moved from New York City where he lived with his father, to live with his mother in Los Angeles, where he lives now.
Once a poet who was thrilled to receive a $15 payment and a free dinner for his live performance, Shihan now travels the world sharing his ideas in 80 to 90 shows per year.
Throughout the evening Shihan constantly told the audience that words hold real power.
“I want you to hold on every word because they’re worth it,” Shihan said. “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will always teach you.”
“Expectations” is a poem written for his two children, which challenges preconceived notions held by society about their gender and skin color. To do that, the poet satirically stereotyped his 10-year-old daughter’s and his 5-year-old son’s future lives.
The audience laughed as Shihan told how he explained to his daughter that love was not like a Disney movie.
The poem finished: “No matter what they want you to be, you will always have a choice.”
As a slam poet, Shihan takes 70 to 80 flights a year. “Father’s Day” was written after Shihan returned from one of his shows and his young daughter turned to him and asked, “Daddy, do you still love me?”
The poem describes problems faced by parents who work away from home. A line from “Father’s Day” is, “I sacrifice every time I step to the mic, so you tell me, is it worth missing my family for?”
While many of Shihan’s poems are politically and socially challenging, he always incorporates humor; the audience often clapped and laughed along with his ideas.
The poem “Robots” exposes Shihan’s fear of a world dependent on technology, and society’s sole focus on developing material products rather than appreciating what the earth already has to offer: “You can laugh if you want to but mark my words: The Robots are coming.”
He told the audience how his life experiences helped fuel his creativity. Shihan’s mother was a Marine and left Shihan at a young age, and he said he had always had a great relationship with his father growing up until, at a fast pace, the relationship broke down.
Junior Curtis Gatley, who found Shihan on YouTube, knew some of Shihan’s work so well he was able to repeat Shihan’s poetry along with him.
“The more you hear it the more you like it because every time you hear it, the words impact you more,” Gatley said. “These are real words about real things.”
Shihan said society regards poetry as the “retarded daughter of theatre,” as it is often overlooked, or mocked, as a medium of entertainment and public discourse.
“Poetry is basically just storytelling,” Shihan said. “I think it allows for social commentary and for certain issues to be brought up within conversation. Any artist should have a purpose and a message; something should be said that inspires you.”
He also told the audience how important it is to continue reading other artists’ work and he read a short untitled poem that attacked capitalism, by Nikki Rakes.
“Reality is more ridiculous than fiction,” one line said.
A poignant question Rakes’ poem asks is, “Why apply for college when it’s easier to go to prison?”
Much of Shihan’s work is a call to action; he repeatedly invited the audience to stand up for something they believed in.
“Words do make the world turn, but what if I told you words weren’t enough?” Shihan said.
A piece which had both students and the poet himself in stitches of laughter was a reading of a letter he never sent to his mother during college which described the perils of living in a dorm.
It is a must-read for any present or past student who will clearly identify with at least one problem Shihan experienced, whether it’s the unclean roommate or the food you put your name on continually disappearing.
“It’s personal poetry but it also takes into consideration the social context,” said Cultural Events Coordinator senior Brittany Roach. “There’s something that we can all relate to in some form or another. It’s just honest.”
To budding poets, writers and performers he said to not undervalue local open mic events.
“A lot of writers get into the habit of just reading their own material, and that way you can’t really grow as an artist,” Shihan said. “You need to read, read, read, and then put yourself into situations where you’re not only sharing or performing your writing just with people you’re comfortable with. You need to push yourself to take to a different audience which might not be as open and accepting to what you’re saying as you’re used to.”
Shihan’s poetry and creative writing can be read on his website. The poet’s first book, “Deciphering Gibberish,” will be published April 27.
Contact Samantha Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.