Spoken word poet Yerrodin Akeel Bowen has had tongues wagging since his return to Guyana in 2011. Yerrodin made his debut at the former Upscale Restaurant but his love for writing poems began when he was just ten years old while still living in the Bahamas during which, one of his first poems was published in a book pf poetry called The Master.
“My teacher, Miss Trail, was compiling a book of poems which catered for children ages ten to sixteen including the author. I was one of the poets…,” Yerrodin said.
“I’ve always been creative about writing and my parents’ friends had a son who was participating in a writing competition and came to me for help. I was like 13 years old then. I kinda ended up writing it for him instead of just helping him with it and the poem won the competition,” Yerrodin smiled.
After migrating to the United States, Yerrodin went on to attend the Oakwood University in Alabama. “Every semester they would have a poetry show called Art and Soul. After sitting in about four shows I decided to go up, but I never had a chance to participate because we moved back to Georgetown. But I had a poem, ‘Autumn Leaves’ written already,” he recalled.
“After returning to Guyana my cousin introduced me to poet and [former] host of Upscale Poetry Nights Yaphet Jackman. This is where I got the opportunity to do ‘Autumn Leaves’. I got the chance to do it but I had never done a live show before. When I got up on stage, a lot of things hit me. One was… [my] accent cause I thought they’d want me to sound like a Guyanese. Because I was aware of how different I sounded, I made a mess. [But] I did get another chance to do ‘Autumn Leaves’ and did great.
“I’ve always been good with words. Even when I didn’t think I was good with words people would say I’m articulate. It was something people saw in me more than I saw in myself.”
Yerrodin believes that his love for English probably stemmed from his father being a linguist since he speaks English, Spanish and French. He gives credit also to the English programme he was exposed to in high school.
“Heartache, love and relationship are what are fed into my poetry,” he revealed.
Some of Yerrodin’s inspirations are Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def and Maya Angelou. According to him, Kanye was a huge icon during his high school years. But if he were to have a chance to meet on of them, “It’d definitely be Maya Angelou. She [was] so smooth. She lived the definition of a full life and seemed to do it with the utmost grace. You can hear a hint of Maya in my delivery of spoken word poetry.”
For Yerrodin, a year to remember would be 2012; that was the year he became recognized as a poet, but mostly it was because he came close to winning the Poetry Slam. “The poetry slam was three rounds. I did really well in the first two rounds. The last round had three pieces and in the second segment I was going to do a repeat but then I got the information that you can’t do a repeat. I did do another one that I didn’t prepare to do and messed it up real bad. I did place second which was a bit surprising for me but hey I was happy,” he recalled.
In the midst of our interview, Yerrodin performed his poem, “Hold Me Down”. It was smooth from start to finish. “Hold Me Down” was written after unforeseen circumstances gave him no option but to return to Guyana to study at another university. Leaving the United States meant leaving his sweetheart behind, which led him to writing the poem. In it, he’s considered to be a balloon being lifted into the air and he begs her to hold him down so he doesn’t float away.
He spoke of the tremendous support he has received from friends and fans. An especially good friend eventually is his wife today. “For a few years nobody came to my performances. My immediate family lives in the Bahamas. They heard over the phone,” he said.
“My main supporter is my wife. During the slam competition she was there every night. We were just friends at the time but her support went a long way. Now I’m well known. My family supports me a lot more. I have a lot of fellow poets and fans now too.”
This led to him sharing a funny story. “I remember a few years ago, probably 2012. It was an afternoon I was going into Upscale not for Poetry Night or anything just for a regular visit to hang out. Just as I stepped inside the door, a girl, a friend of mine who I had not seen in a long time; she pushes me back out of the door into the lobby out front and she proceeds to try and talk to me. Right behind her comes another girl and kinda pushes her out of the way and she was like, ‘Oh my gosh! It’s you! You’re the poet, aren’t you?’ And she’s like gushing and I’m like yeah, yeah it’s me. And she’s like, ‘I tried to call and text you but I’m not getting through and you’re not responding.’ So I’m like what? Cause I never gave this girl my number. I never gave anybody my number actually. So I was curious as to how she got my number and asked her where she got my number and she said a friend gave it to her. I asked her what was the number she got and she called out a completely different number. And I’m like okay, okay. Then she proceeds to ask my friend to take our picture and my friend was completely shocked as to what is going on and she was like in awe of the situation and so was I cause it was really unexpected,” he laughed.
Although being gifted with poetry Yerrodin is faced with challenges from time to time. “Some challenges I face is being prolific. I wrote the most when I was at UG because I had free time and had fewer responsibilities. I had the luxury of being very introspective. The more responsibilities I have now, the more I’m being drained out of myself. Writing happens in my head so if I’m not allowed to be in my head it feels like I’m dried up. I feel like a lot of poetry was shocked… out of me because of maybe heightened emotional states,” he said.
Looking at another aspect of it, Yerrodin said, “It’s been hard to monetize the art form mainly because it’s not something that a large section of the population appreciates and we’re fighting to raise awareness of the art form in Guyana.
“Upscale Poetry used to be the home of poetry in Guyana. They [the proprietors] put in a lot of time and effort in incubating poetry. After Upscale closed down, there was a gap in poetry because there wasn’t a steady place to perform so the challenge was lack of places to really perform. A lot of people who came out of Upscale kind of do their own thing: like Poetry on a Stool at Julian’s Bar. There are also OMG Poetry Nights and Poetry Nights at the Marriott. Recently we had the 50th Jubilee Poetry Slam Competition and a lot of other entities… a lot of other stakeholders are noticing poetry because of the work that started at Upscale.”
Yerrodin works full time as a Project Manager at W&T George Group of Companies. “My employers are the guys who owned Upscale and who pushed Upscale Poetry Nights. I made such a good impression that they wanted me to work with them. It took years before I took up their offer but it worked out well,” he said.
He is currently a medical student on hiatus. When asked about his future plans he said, “Well, I definitely have to finish studying medicine. It’s what I was raised to do.” But does he want to study medicine or is he doing so because it’s expected of him? “A little of both,” he said. “The line gets blurry sometimes. It’s something I’m good at and that I can see myself doing. Specifically I want to work in Sports Medicine. That doesn’t mean I want to give up poetry. I think poetry is most appealing to me as something that I do because I want to and not because I have to. I don’t know if it would work out as a profession.”
Yerrodin believes poetry to be a luxury to some extent. “It’s a product of introspection. It’s not always practical,” he said.
“As far as how poetry has bettered me; I’m a naturally shy person and it’s helped me to be more competent with public speaking. It’s something I’m still working on. I’m developing and poetry has helped me a lot in that. Also it’s given me an appreciation for writing and for people who speak well and I notice that I can better appreciate when I see good writing.”
He admonishes other poets to write. “My advice to aspiring poets is: write, write, write. Seriously, even when you aren’t very inspired, just make a commitment to write something every day. Whole poems can come from lines you scribble down. It’s happened that way for me, where I was able to distill a performance grade spoken word piece from poem stubs. ‘Hold Me Down’ is a poem that I wrote like that. Listen to other poets. Listen and in case of written poetry, read. It helps you to have perspective and to assimilate the style of the experience into your own.
“It took me at least a month to complete ‘Hold Me Down’. But [then again] they’re never really complete, complete. They reach a stage where you’re content with them for a moment. Poems will be tweaked or added to or subtracted from as time goes on.”
Yerrodin also enjoys working out, playing basketball and reading, mainly books on psychology and sociology. He’s currently reading 48 Laws of Power and an all-time favourite of his is Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. “It gives insight into what makes us behave the way we do and how emotional intelligence could be as much of a predictor of success as traditional intelligence. It’s a good read.”
Some of his other pieces are: “Shout,” “Massive Mango,” “Butterflies,” “Drive,” “More Money,” “(Excuse Me) Big Feet,” “Raindrops,” “Black Woman,” “Beauty Is,” “Love,” “Live.Love.Learn,” “Desperate Times,” “Coded,” “Heavy,” “The Mighty Pen,” “Heart & Mind,” “Kaleidoscope,” “Motherland” (co-written with Mark Luke Edwards), “Black is Not” (co-written with Mark Luke Edwards) and “Flow.”
Yerrodin is contemplating releasing a spoken word/rap/hybrid mixed tape sometime this year.
He is also working on an ongoing project called ‘The Unity Ambassadors,’ which seeks to deal with segregation and to bring together artistes from all genres, backgrounds and beliefs. On the project he is an executive producer, co-writer, poet and vocalist.