Kyle “Guante” Myhre
An interview with Bryan Thao Worra
Asian American Press recently caught up with the dynamic Kyle “Guante” Myhre in between projects. An emcee, spoken-word poet, activist, writer and educator based out of Minneapolis, he’s been slam champion of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Madison, and most recently took first place at the 2009 National Poetry Slam as a member of the St. Paul team.
As an emcee, Guante is signed to rising indie label Tru Ruts/Speakeay Records and is a multiple Independent Music Awards nominee, Urb Magazine “Next 1000” artist and one of City Pages’ “Artists of the Year” for 2008. Guante has shared bills with many in independent hip hop, including Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Zion I and dead prez.
Guante’s also commits time to write for nationally-recognized music blog CultureBully.com, facilitate university-level social justice courses and spearheading the “Hip Hop Against Homophobia” concert series. He teaches writing and performance workshops through the Minnesota Spoken-Word Association and serve as arts coordinator of the Canvas, a St. Paul youth center. For more information, check out www.guante.info.
AAP:How did you get started?
Kyle Myhre: I always liked to write; it’s something I showed a lot of aptitude for at a very young age. I was lucky and privileged enough to be encouraged by family and teachers to I kept writing. In college, I got involved in the spoken-word scene and also started rapping, and that opened up a new world of possibilities for me – I saw my art not as something I could get published, but as something I could travel around and share with people, face to face.
AAP: What keeps you going as an artist?
KM: A lot of spite. I say that only half-jokingly. I’m a critic as well as a writer, so sometimes I see and hear things that I greatly dislike (unoriginal, manipulative, exploitative, boring, etc.), and that inspires me to create something better. Aside from that, my work as an activist inspires a lot of my writing.
AAP: What are the themes you really enjoy examining in your work?
KM: When I’m writing “political” work, or work that examines social justice-oriented material, I like to stress things like the importance of perspective and the power of collective action. I think we have enough blunt, unimaginative political poetry, and also enough hyper-abstract, borderline-nonsensical political poetry. My work tends to fall in the middle stylistically. In terms of content and themes, I’m interested in activism, the construction of masculinity, working-class issues, and more – admittedly not the most revolutionary or unique topics to tackle, but I think that’s part of the challenge.
A million poets have “masculinity poems” and “poetry poems” and love poems. I enjoy attempting to come at these topics from a fresh angle and try to breathe some life into them.
AAP: What are your projects that are really exciting you at the moment?
KM: I just released a hip hop concept album called “An Unwelcome Guest,” which tells one story across fifteen tracks. The story deals with zombies, superhero mythology, the displacement, the difference between the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed and much more – and it’d a love story. The album has had a huge push behind it and we’ve been able to get it into a lot of people’s hands and have some great reviews.
I’m currently finishing up my one-man spoken-word show, “The Fist that Lives in Your Neck,” which examines how work informs identity and how what we do for a living has a part in shaping who we are. I’d like to debut that (along with a book and DVD) later this year. Finally, I’m trying to get back on the St. Paul poetry slam team again and defend our 2009 National Poetry Slam title.
AAP:Where in your latest work do you feel you are you really trying to push yourself?
KM: To me, there’s the never-ending challenge of creating work that is at once avant-garde and “pop.” I want to make music and write poetry that anyone can appreciate, but that isn’t stupid. The artists whom I look up to do that very well – balance pop sensibility with some really forward-thinking stuff… it’s about challenging the audience while entertaining them. Too far in either direction and it’s pointless, at least to me.
So this balance has always been my goal; with my latest work, I think it’s about refining it. I want to write stuff that I can stand behind 100 percent philosophically, politically and artistically, but I also want to write stuff I can perform in any context and find success.
AAP: What’s your next project you’d like to take on?
KM: Definitely a graphic novel. They’re pretty much all I read these days, and I’m exciting about exploring the areas where graphic fiction, poetry and hip hop can intersect.