Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre is an MC, two-time National Poetry Slam champion, activist and educator based in Minneapolis, MN. His work explores the relationships between identity, power, and resistance, and has been featured on Upworthy, Welcome to Night Vale, Everyday Feminism, BBC Radio 6 Music, MSNBC, the Huffington Post, and beyond. Garnering over ten million views online, Guante has also performed live at the United Nations, the Soundset Hip Hop Festival, and countless colleges, universities, and conferences. He serves as a teaching artist on the rosters of TruArtSpeaks and COMPAS, and regularly facilitates workshops and classes on a range of subjects. Guante completed his Masters studies at the University of Minnesota with a focus on spoken word, critical pedagogy, and social justice education in 2016.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you a Page Poet or Spoken Word Artist? In your view, is there any difference between the two?
Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre: There is a lot of baggage to that question. Personally, I consider myself a spoken word artist, in that the bulk of my writing is explicitly meant to be performed, and has a somewhat different “life” on the page. I can only speak for myself, though, since there is an enormous overlap between the two approaches/forms/communities– some page poets are incredible performers, and some spoken word artists release brilliant books. Some reject those kinds of labels entirely, while some embrace one or the other in beautifully contradictory ways.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you start out as a poet?
Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre: I began like many do: just writing in a notebook, playing with language, messing around with form and content. I never thought it’d be anything beyond a way to kill time while sitting in the back of the class. But through relationships, through people bringing me with them to open mics and slams, it kind of snowballed into an actual career.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it easy to stand in front of an audience to perform?
Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre: I don’t think that it’s ever easy for me, but it becomes less difficult simply through preparation and repetition. I am not a “natural” performer or an extrovert, so a lot of the basic stuff (like projection and enunciation), I just had to learn, over time, through trial and error. But I think that’s one of the beautiful things about spoken word as a community–most of the elements that make someone a great performer can be learned; you don’t have to be born with it.
I am not a “natural” performer or an extrovert, so a lot of the basic stuff (like projection and enunciation), I just had to learn, over time, through trial and error. But I think that’s one of the beautiful things about spoken word as a community–most of the elements that make someone a great performer can be learned; you don’t have to be born with it.
Geosi Gyasi: What was the inspiration behind your poem, “How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist”?
Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre: If one function of poetry is to “make the invisible visible,” I wanted to write something that explicitly addressed how racism is a system and not just a behavior. That’s a basic concept to people who study race and racism, but it seems like it’s a weirdly radical, challenging idea to a lot of people who don’t. So I wanted to present a series of metaphors and images that could bring that idea down to earth a bit. My hope is that it can be a useful tool in educational settings–probably not on its own, but in conjunction with other resources, readings, and dialogue.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you earn a living as a poet?
Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre: My work is very much interdisciplinary, and my “work” reflects that. I spend some time traveling to colleges and conferences to perform (and also to facilitate dialogue around the issues that my work addresses); I also spend some time engaging in residency work at high schools and middle schools; I also manage my internet presence and sell books and CDs that way–like many artists, for me, making a living is a complex, multi-headed endeavor. But the bright side to all of this is that there is an audience for it; I work at that intersection of poetry, education, and social justice, and these are times that call for that sort of work.
Geosi Gyasi: Ezra Stead of ‘Eat Sleep Drink Music’ once said of you as “One of Minneapolis’s best and most important rappers.” Do you agree with him?
Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre: I do, in the sense that just about all of the rappers I know in Minneapolis are talented and important. I think a lot less about my art as competition with others, and much more about how it contributes to a larger conversation. My goal is never to write the “best” poem or song; it is to use my perspective and style to add something to our collective body of work that does not already exist. This goes for music and poetry as well.
Geosi Gyasi: This question is at the core of the hearts of many of your fans, I think. What is the inspiration for “Man Up”?
Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre: This is a small thing, but I always like to remind people that that poem is called “Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up,” and not just “Man Up,” since part of language is its effect even out of context and intention. But I wrote that poem to push back against what I saw as the exploitation of my insecurities by companies trying to sell me things–“buy this or you’re not a REAL man,” etc. In the process of writing it, though, it grew into a piece about how that exploitation is directly connected to the oppression of women and gender-nonconforming people, since men’s insecurities are so often based in power, dominance, and control. On some level, it’s a poem about how “small” things are connected to larger realities of harm and violence.
Watch Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre perform “Ten Responses to the Phrase “Man Up” here.
Interesting interview! Sounds as if he deals with a lot of important issues. I like the point about the exploitation of men’s insecurities and how that’s tied in to oppression of women and gender-nonconforming people. A lot of that is embedded in our language too.