Three Questions with: Joel Francois
by LA Markuson
Sometimes, just one label isn’t enough, as is the case with Joel Francois. He considers himself first and foremost a storyteller, but in the past three years has proven himself to be a powerful force in spoken word and slam poetry. As he put it in our conversation,
“Poetry is a type of storytelling - as long as it’s captivating.”
The 26-year-old Brooklyn native has big aspirations not only for his personal work and message, but for the poetry industry and the advancement of artists overall.
LA: Every poet has a voice. What is yours, and do you feel you speak for yourself, or for others too, who may not have the opportunity?
JF: I’m part of the storytelling tradition, not just specifically the poetic tradition. The interesting thing about that is that I put myself in the biggest possible community, which makes myself the smallest. In terms of repping others… it’s not that I am actually representing other human beings, it’s that my work is giving permission. All that I allow myself to do, I also allow others to do. A great example of this is Beyonce. I have a love for her because of the way she makes black girls feel, the way she gives them permission. I’m one degree removed in my love for her because she doesn’t belong to me. Beyonce belongs to the black girls that feel new permission through her visibility and power.
LA: How does poetry affect or augment your life? Do you use poetry to help you get through struggles, or use it in other ways?
JF: Simply, I don’t think it has. I’ve kept poetry as clean as possible. What I mean by that is, I don’t want to use my poems to store trauma. I don’t deal with issues through poetry, I cope and process first, then the poetry is what I do after coping, it’s the refined, clean product.
LA: If you could perform any one poem in front of any audience — a world leader, a specific group, or other — who would hear what poem?
JF: If I could read any of my poems, to any group of people, I would read “Black Customs” at a big cookout or family reunion. I would want my family to hear it, because “Black Customs” is the first time I ever used my voice to console, instead of confront. I usually write poems to confront privilege, which would be for a totally different audience, but “Black Customs” is for my people.
We’re looking at poets as crucial agents for social change, and Joel Francois stands out to me as the type of ambitious, active voice that poetry and art need more of in the 21st century, as we face heavier problems every day. This voice, and this work, might just be pointing us toward crucial solutions.
Stay in touch with us, share this voice, and come see Joel and many other talented poets perform at the Bowery Slam, Monday nights at 9pm.