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Spoken Word And Circus Absurd

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Joy Young, a poet that includes elements of the circus in her performance.
Phoenix-Based Poet Joy Young Uses Sharp Wits, Entertaining Antics And A New Spin On Spoken Word Poetry To Work Toward ‘Queering’ As Much As She Can


By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

July 24, 2014 — Joy Young has made herself a fixture among Phoenix’s art scene, especially within the world of spoken word poetry. Her performance pieces have earned her accolades as both an individual and with last year’s Phoenix National Poetry Slam team.

But for her poetry is about more than competition and open mics. Young hopes to use her poetry as a means to take a humorous look at numerous queer issues, as well as spark conversations about how to affect real and lasting change for both the queer community and humanity at large.

Her funny poems and sketches are accentuated by her dress choices which often includes suspenders and bowties. But what really separates Young from her contemporaries is her use of circus shtick such as juggling, stilt walking, and balloon animals in her performances.

“I’m fond of telling people that  I am a 12-year-old boy trapped in the body of an adult woman wrapped in a mix of boy and girl clothes all held together by suspenders,” said the Orange County, Calif., native when asked how old she was. The quirky Young can often be found on Fifth Street performing at Lawn Gnome, or hanging out at Jobot, and is definitely one of the most recognizable faces in the Phoenix poetry scene.

Modern Times Magazine: What’s your goal as a poet?
Joy Young: I want to share stories and spark conversations primarily about social justice (not all of my work is about social justice — I have a poem that is a ridiculous persona piece where I’m the Hamburglar, though I also am doing a duo version of it at NPS with The Klute where he is Mayor McCheese and it’s about the Occupy movement). While most of my storytelling has a social justice element to it, it isn’t always obvious. I deal a lot with identity. I also do a  lot of teaching workshops. I’m on hiatus to prepare for NPS 2014 in Oakland, but I’ll be back teaching at 1n10 (an LGBTQ youth center) soon. That is one of the most rewarding things about this work — finding ways to connect and open other people up to things. One of my goals is to run more workshops and focus on creating more space for queer and female voices as well as other more marginal groups.

Sometimes I tell people I want to be a “famous poet” and that being a “famous poet” is a lot like being a rockstar without nearly as much fame and almost no money. I see art really as activism for me. This is my way of trying to transform the world — or more accurately, I’m trying to point out the ways power operates to create consciousness so others might help imagine a world of more possibilities for more people. That sounds pretty touchy-feely, but I assure you my activism isn’t really falling into the category of “we’re all the same and can’t we just love one another.” I think the answers to the problems we have are at least as  complex as the problems themselves, and, that sometimes fighting might be necessary in different ways.

MTM: How many competitions have you performed in?
JY: I compete quite a bit. I’ve probably been in over 100 competitions if you count the weekly slams at Lawn Gnome, but the most notable things I’ve done include: Winning the Phoenix Festival of Arts Slam in 2013 and the slot for Sedona to rep at WOWPS (Women of the World Poetry Slam), and making it to semifinals last year at NPS (National Poetry Slam) in Boston. My team also won Copper State last year which is happening again soon (I’ll be co-hosting the Haiku Death Match and Nerd Slam side events!). Most notably in terms of things I’ve done that have boosted my national presence was that one of my performances in Boston was picked up by Button Poetry. So, now I get fan mail from all over from people who have seen that which allows me to have really interesting conversations with people about the work I’m doing and it really pushes me to keep writing. (editor’s note: You can see that here:

I’m really excited to bring my new work to the national stage, because I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a writer this year. I have an IndieGoGo if anyone cares to donate.

I have a lot of fun perks for donating — like a pocket portable lesbian paper doll of me designed by local artist Crowe Withane who I’m currently collaborating with to make a queer coffee table book thing, chapbooks, and even circus things.

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