Walking down the cobblestone hill into the DUMBO district of downtown Brooklyn, I quickly tip-toed over leftover puddles, thanking God for stopping the rain just in time for this moment that I had been anxiously awaiting. Jasmine Mans emerged from a quaint building, greeting me with a smile, hug and good spirits before we walked to a park nearby to talk. We became acquainted while in route, where I found out that along with her career as a slam-poet, we had some things in common such as our love for hip-hop, college classifications and the fact that we both were so glad the rain had stopped. Here she was, this amazing poet at the tender age of 20 who I had watched on YouTube nearly every day in the past year, now humbly dressed in floral threads, shorts and flats exuding the confidence that she projected through all of her poetry.
Naturally, I was so anxious to know where it all began. Jasmine took a breath, smiled and said, “I don’t remember exactly when I started writing poetry, but every time someone asks I say my 7th grade in elementary school. My teacher said, ‘You have something to say, so you should continue writing,’ and that was the first time someone recognized me as a writer. So I just continued on from there. I think the first time I started taking writing seriously, was maybe my freshman year in high school.”
The Newark, NJ native has never been mediocre. She explained that in her journey through her writing, she always remembered being surrounded by writers who were “better” than her. Mans said, “In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if it was my gift, but I always knew I wanted to be as good as the people that I saw. I would go home and I would write more and more and more because I wanted my writing to be able to exist next to theirs, and I wanted them to tell me I was good too.”
The transition from writing to performing her pieces became the defining moment in her identity as a poet. She began performing her sophomore year of high school, continuing on to be featured on HBO’s “Brave New Voices” in 2010 and crowned the winner of the Knicks Youth Poetry Slam. Now, Mans is now one of the newest artist of the elite Rugby Poet’s Club.
Mans is known for her stage presence and ability to evoke every intended emotion as a performing poet. She explained, “When I began performing my poetry, I started seeing it as my god-given gift because then I internalized what being a poet meant. Before I was just trying to be a really good writer, then I became a poet.” It made perfect sense. Even in our conversation, it was evident how precious the delivery of her words were to her.
A rising junior at The University of Wisconsin-Madison studying African-American studies and Sociology, its very clear that in addition to words, the poetic scholar has a deep love for her people and her history. With so much talent and wisdom gained so early on in life, it is easy to wonder who and what have influenced Mans. I asked Jasmine where she gets her intense emotion from when she delivers her work. She took a moment, and thought, “I would say knowing my history. Not saying that I know all of my history, but knowing the history that I know. My father made it his duty to make me aware that there are people who died in order for me to get my education, there are people who were killed because they were caught reading. Thinking about all of the things that my parents sacrificed, I can’t help but get emotional, and want to make sure that other people understand that.”
Motivated by her understanding, Mans is also driven by her frustrations with hip-hop culture, where artists seem to go against everything that their ancestors fought for. Often when listening to hip-hop, she admitted, “I become enraged that someone died for us to be called human and for us to be called women, and we degrade ourselves.” Her sentiments on this issue are articulately expressed in her piece “Nicki Minaj,” a raw analysis of the female rapper’s image and impression. A major hit on YouTube with sky-rocketing views, it was apparent that Mans had something to say and wouldn’t back down for anything.
It was no surprise when Jasmine said that her biggest musical inspiration in hip-hop was the legendary Tupac Shakur. Mans began to smile as she told me how her love for the artist began. When she was a child, all she used to want for birthday and Christmas gifts were albums. She started, “I remember coming across this Tupac CD..” With a deep love for Tupac myself, I energetically interjected, “Was it Greatest Hits?” She laughed and responded, “It was Greatest Hits. I played that over and over again, memorized every song on the album.” A rebel at heart, much of her fighter mentality came from him. She proudly admitted, “I began to internalize that thinking, I want to see a change. Just having that militant mind still bothers my parents until this day. I think I get a lot of my acts from Pac. He had this, ‘I don’t care, give me the consequences I honestly don’t give a fuck’ [attitude], and I see that in myself sometimes.”
She added, “One other thing Tupac taught me was to meet your people where they are, no matter how many times they hurt you, to always call them your people. To have a cause, to have a plan, to stick to it and to carry on.” Being able to get his message at such a young age and grow with it has had a great impression on Mans, one that she says caught her “at the right time.”
It is indeed the right the time for Jasmine, who is now blossoming into a sartorial poet. Mans expressed, “In my life I’ve always been a lover of two things: poetry and fashion.” Being the holistic individual that she is, her ideas about fashion go far beyond a color scheme or trend. She explained, “I’m a consumer of everything that I think is beautiful and one thing that I think that’s beautiful is clothing. My style of clothing is very specific, and when I wear clothing it wasn’t because I had it in my closet, it’s kind of like my word choice. It’s very similar to my fashion choice.”
Very excited about the new dimension she’s exploring in the Rugby Poets Club, she told me “It’s really cool because I get to be around people who see fashion like I see poetry.” Jasmine revealed that she and her fellow poet and fashion-savvy peers are cultivating new projects that will effectively portray the parallel between spoken word and style.
But this isn’t it for Jasmine’s future plans. When I inquired about what big thing we should be looking for next, she sat up to the edge of her seat and said with a smile, “My book! I’m very very excited about that.” The book, comprised of her original poetry, is coming out in January with help from the amazing Nikki Giovanni and includes featured pieces by Jasmine’s dear friend and poet Joshua Bennett. The beautiful thing about her artistry is her desire to learn and enlighten. She said a huge component to her poetry, is “really about knowing where I’m from and knowing where I am and the passion that exists in helping other people realize that.”
It was so refreshing and reassuring to sit with Jasmine Mans, a poet and peer that I am inspired by, and to see her humility. With all of her fans, her new fame and credibility, it was clear that she had stayed true to herself. She and I met in Brooklyn as strangers, and I left feeling as though I had gained a new friend. If you have not heard any of her poetry, you must take time out to listen! It is a guarantee that you will be inspired. Look out for her book in January 2012, and keep an eye out for any poetry performances in a location near you.
Tags: "Brave New Voices", Interview, Jasmine Mans, Nicki Minaj, poet, Rugby Poets Club, spoken word, Tupac