Tag Archives: Michelle Troxclair

Diversity on Stage

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Roses are red. Violets are blue. American poetry publications have a diversity problem. It’s true in Nebraska, too. 

It’s easy to assume that Omaha’s published poets are predominantly white people. After all, the anthology of poetry selected for the 2018 One Book One Nebraska (Nebraska Presence), does not feature a single African-American poet.

But looking only at “published” work can be misleading. 

Omaha’s poetry scene is incredibly diverse. Anyone who has attended one of the myriad competitive poetry slams or open mic nights recurring throughout Omaha—featuring local poets from across the spectrum of ethnic, racial, gender, and sexual orientation/identity—already knows this.

Zedeka Poindexter and Michelle Troxclair know all too well about the struggle for representation in Nebraska’s poetry scene.

Poindexter and Troxclair are both leading voices in the local poetry community. These African-American women are dedicated to building an inclusive environment for spoken-word and slam poetry in Omaha.

Troxclair is the board president of Verse Inc. (a nonprofit dedicated to making “poetry exciting and relevant for future generations through innovative projects and unconventional collaboration” with consultative and financial assistance for local poets), and she is the founder of The Wordsmiths (a local spoken-word poetry troupe). 

She also organizes an open mic night, Tapestries, with the goal of bridging the racial, cultural, geographic, and age divisions in the local poetry community. Tapestries takes place on the first Sunday of every month at The Omaha Lounge (1505 Farnam St.)

“We all kind of function in these silos,” Troxclair says, commenting on the divisions that she has noticed among local poets and between those working in written vs. spoken mediums of poetry. “And my role in this is to try to open up these silos and cross-pollinate.”

She explains that spoken-word poetry comes out of the African-American oral traditions. Slam poetry incorporates influences of spoken-word poetry along with hip-hop (another artistic form rooted in the African-American experience).

Spoken-word and slam poetry are both performed. But the competitive form of slam poetry is more like a poetry recital combined with a rap battle and judges taking score.

Poindexter has served as an ambassador for Omaha through her involvement with Omaha Poetry Slam. Representing Omaha on the national stage is a point of pride for her. 

“We’ve been respected as consistently good writers, which is the thing that I love,” says Poindexter, who was the first female Omaha Slam Champion and twice named Poet of the Year at the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards. 

Poindexter has traveled across the country to read her poetry and perform in poetry slams (including the National Poetry Slam). 

In Omaha, she has worked closely with fellow slam poetry organizers (including Matt Mason, director of the Nebraska Writers Collective and founder of the Great Plains chapter of Louder Than a Bomb) to help support new voices on the scene, such as Olivia Johnson, Shanketta Newsom, and Ryan Boyland.

The regional youth slam poetry chapter now encompasses teams pulling from more than 40 schools. Poindexter is thrilled to see students who were exposed to slam poetry through Louder Than a Bomb and other programs now coming back to work in the Omaha poetry community and compete at the National Poetry Slam. 

Troxclair’s work with Verse and other poetry initiatives function in concert with the efforts of Nebraska Writers Collective, providing opportunities for teens and young adults to take their poems to the next level. 

“We provide opportunities for poets to do these really innovative projects,” Troxclair says.

Located at 2205 N. 24th St., Verse not only allows local poets, young and old, to perform original poems and develop their writing through Tapestries, it also provides a space for collaborations between poets, spoken-word artists, rappers, and other vocal or musical artists. Previous collaborative partners have included local artists Lite Pole, Edem, Kiara Walker, and Marcey Yates.

The crew at Verse also puts on verse plays (theatrical productions consisting primarily of spoken-word poetry or monologues). Casting for Troxclair’s play From the Ashes is scheduled for Jan. 15-Feb. 15, and Verse accepts submissions twice a year (Dec. 31 and July 31).

Verse is also developing curriculum for the Nebraska Writers Collective to use in work with the Douglas County Youth Correctional facility, and Troxclair is teaching spoken-word poetry at North High School through FLIYE Arts Youth Development.

Poindexter and Troxclair emphasize that supporting local poets—whether through financial donations or through attendance at open mics, competitions, and other events—should be a priority for the Omaha community. 

“How will we be remembered,” Troxclair wonders aloud, “if we do not support our poets and our storytellers and our artists?”  


Visit newriters.org for more information about the Nebraska Writers Collective.

Visit verseinc.org for more information about Verse and Tapestries.

Visit ltabgreatplains.org for more information about Louder Than a Bomb Great Plains

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

From left: Michelle Troxclair and mentee Cory Chiles

BOTH

June 8, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Self-deprecating rappers impress at SXSW.

Omaha artists tend to violate stereotypes by being sincere, humble, and approachable. We don’t coast and we don’t mistake braggadocio for talent. But if local artists should be bragged about, try BOTH. BOTH are Make Believe Studios hip-hop recording artists Scky Rei aka Skylar Marcell Reed, and INFNTLP aka Nate Asad.

In the last two years, the rappers and OEAA Album and Artist of the Year winners have been shaking the clubs, MAHA, and SXSW. The duo from “North of Downtown,” is fond of lyrics like “Here I go…lost my soul a long, long, time ago…music is the only thing, left up in my soul,” featured on their song
Drug Abuse.

Gigs at the Nebraska Exposed showcase and a Front Gate Tickets private party worked out well.

“The experience was surreal. SXSW was a great time, playing in front of a new audience,” says MC/rapper/singer/songwriter/videographer Scky Rei. Scky Rei raps about life in the Big O and “provides a sonic connection to everyone in the same world at the same moment.”

“We’re just expressing social experiences through weird ways of explaining everyday life,” says Scky Rei. “We didn’t play in front of thousands like I thought, but watching people coming from the street to fill the upstairs of Cheers Shot Bar made me feel like we’re doing something right. Just being surrounded by creativity and people that love the same thing you do gave me a breath of fresh air.”

“Everyone was someone, somewhere, and that was cool to be a part of,“ says DJ/backup singer/producer/pianist/Dragon Ball Z enthusiast INFNTLP, who paints SXSW as “the Internet on wheels.”

left: Scky Rei (“Sky Ray”), right: INFNTLP (“Infinite Loop”)

left: Scky Rei (“Sky Ray”), right: INFNTLP (“Infinite Loop”)

Working on new music full time is BOTH’S goal for this year if manager John Schmidt hits his mark. Schmidt was a fan who met Scky Rei in a coffee shop last spring and offered to help out.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the past year,” says Schmidt, who also represents psych rockers JAGAJA. “SXSW was a great experience. Staying relevant is a grind even for superstars, so we will continue to put in the work. As long as these guys are in front of a crowd, they will succeed.”

Don’t just take BOTH’s word for it.

Michelle Troxclair, director of Nebraska Writer’s Collective, says she finds BOTH “a transformational group of musicians.”

“BOTH has been able to reflect all that is part of the cultural art form that is African American oral tradition,” says Troxclair, whose Verbal Gumbo can be said to do the same.

“The great thing about BOTH is that they are the anti-rap group. Nothing is stereotypical about them at all,” says Dominique Morgan, fellow OEA Award winning R&B singer and activist. “Scky Rei shoots all the videos, makes their posters. INFNTLP will go from deep club beats to playing classical piano in a set. It was only right they won Album and Artist of the Year.”

For now, BOTH will be pushing the EP  “BOTHSUCKS,” releasing videos, writing and increasing the love.

“Most of our fans came out to past shows bringing new people into our world. It’s awesome,” says INFNTLP.

“I don’t see fans, only extended family,” says Scky Rei. “Money is nice, but at the end, we do this for the love.”

Visit bothsucks.com to learn more.

Both1

Out of the Shadows

August 21, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in July/August Omaha Magazine.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Michelle Troxclair commands a full life.

She’s a poet, spoken word artist, and founding member of the storytelling troupe The Wordsmiths. By day, she works as deputy director of the Nebraska Writers Collective, a nonprofit organization that promotes creative writing and performance poetry throughout the Midwest. With fellow poet Felicia Webster, she runs the Verbal Gumbo open mic at House of Loom every third Thursday of the month. She will graduate this July with a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha—her second postgraduate degree. She’s a mother of three, an advocate for individuals living with autism, and an awe-inspiring woman who makes at least one Omaha Magazine contributor feel like an indolent narcissist by comparison.

As if all that weren’t enough, Troxclair is currently engaged in a residency with The Wordsmiths at Bemis Center’s Carver Bank. The group is working on a spoken art showcase addressing domestic violence (Love Didn’t Do That To You) and a new project dealing with corporal punishment and violence within the African-American community (From the Whip to the Switch to the Gun).

“I’ve got my fingers in a lot of stuff right now,” she quips.

For a good introduction to Troxclair’s poetry, check out her YouTube videos, particularly “The Trigger,” an urgent work addressed to an unnamed police officer that has unjustifiably killed a black woman. The performance starts with a single shadowy figure clad in a black hoodie staring at the floor of a stark white room whose brick walls are cracked and peeling—a subtle visual symbol of the entrapment many black Americans feel subjected to by a predominantly white bureaucratic power structure. The poem surges on the waves of Troxclair’s words as her cadence quickens, slows, and syncopates around gut-punch metaphors and unflinching appeals to civility. At the piece’s climax, the shadow-figure, Troxclair herself, removes her hood and speaks directly to the camera:

You don’t know me. I am a 46-year-old mother of three. I’m a homeowner, taxpayer, and I got a master’s degree. I don’t want you to love me, like me, or even respect me. I just need you to let me be. So please take your finger off the trigger. 

It’s an uncompromising performance that stays with you, a piece that wouldn’t cut so soul-deep if rendered only in print.

Besides developing her own powerful art, Troxclair takes pride in cultivating Omaha’s young poetic talent through Nebraska Writers Collective’s Louder Than a Bomb initiative: an extensive poetry-writing and performance workshop conducted in area schools and capped by a friendly tournament. The program strives to reach students who might not be served by such activities as sports, music, or visual arts.

“[Louder Than a Bomb] gives me, at age 46, hope that the next generation is thinking and they’re active and speaking truth to power…and using words to do it. It’s absolutely amazing what they have to say.”

Some of these students will go on to become the next powerhouses in Omaha’s poetry scene. In fact, Troxclair says, The Wordsmiths are bringing in younger members “just for some new energy and innovative stuff.

“I’m the elder here,” she adds, laughing, “and eventually, I will be leaving.”

But not before leaving a legacy that will cast the longest of shadows.

MichelleTroxclair

Verbal Gumbo

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Felicia Webster’s voice produces chills up the spine. “And then he kiiiiissssssed me, and I melted. Like buttah.”

Her friend, Michelle Troxclair, nods and waves a hand. “Mhm, girl, we know what that’s like.”

This is spoken-word entertainment. It’s theatrical, it’s heartfelt, it’s ethereal, and it happens every third Thursday of the month at House of Loom on 10th and Pacific streets. This is not your safe-bet night out. The words you’ll hear could be dark, could be sexy, could be hilarious. It could be anything really, which is why Webster and Troxclair, the open-mic evening’s organizers, call this night Verbal Gumbo.

Troxclair arranges the club’s random chaise lounges, velvet chairs, and embroidered hassocks on the dance floor. Webster picks out the candles and incense. If guests outnumber the usual crowd of around 70, there might be a few people standing. A $5 cover charge gets you a simple meal, like Troxclair’s white chicken chili or her brother’s highly requested mac-and-cheese.

The evening begins around 7 p.m., giving guests enough time to sign up to speak if they wish, get their bowl, and settle into a seat. Troxclair is strict about minimizing distraction during the spoken word sets that begin about 8-ish. Of course, feel free to get up from your seat to wait for the massage therapist set up in the corner or the body painter off to the side as someone else speaks at the mic.

“For those who haven’t come here before,” Webster explains, “they’ll find out that it doesn’t matter what order you sign up in.”20130321_bs_8812

Troxclair laughs and says, “It’s whoever I’m feeling like hearing at the time.” The two women make sure speakers alternate male and female, but other than that, there are few rules. People offer poetry about anything from relationships to violence to the triumph of breaking cycles. “Sometimes it’s comedic,” Troxclair says, “but there’s always a message.”

The only requirement is that “you respect the mic,” as Webster puts it. Verbal Gumbo creates a flow between audience and speaker, almost a conversation. The speaker shares his work, and the audience participates in the performance by responding verbally when something resonates.

“Say yes, say amen, say all right, honey!” Troxclair suggests. “You’re validating what they’re saying.”

About 15 people speak per night for about three to five minutes apiece. If time’s not running tight, each person should feel free to offer two pieces. A short intermission makes room for a few public service announcements and to refill a drink.

Felicia Webster

Felicia Webster

If the easily stage-frightened start to come out of their shells as the evening progresses, all bets are not off. Walk back to the sign-up sheet, add your name, and you’ll probably be called on. Deliver your offering with confidence that whatever you bring will be accepted. “This is not The Apollo,” Webster says. “You don’t get the hook.”

Let’s be clear. Verbal Gumbo is not another poetry slam. A poetry slam is an entertaining competition. “Spoken word incorporates storytelling,” Troxclair says, separating spoken word from slam. “It can be prose or poetry.” Historically, it’s an artistic—and sometimes secret—way to spread information. It’s an oral tradition shared by Africans, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and many other cultures.

“You are disseminating information to get people to think, to move, to change, to progress, to become empowered,” Webster says. That recipe ensures that Verbal Gumbo, like its culinary counterpart, is savory, spicy, and never the same twice.

Sample the next Verbal Gumbo on Thursday, May 16, or Thursday, June 20.