I have such a deep appreciation for Omar’s work, and how it finds me. How it really seeks out different ways to cope, move, feel, express. On one hand, I think it may be easy for some writers/performers to shrug off the use of humor, but Omar truly crafts it to fit his purposes. I’m one for turns in a poem, sure. But I like my turns to happen without me knowing they’re happening. I don’t need to be thrown around a curve as much as I need to be gently pushed. I need another hand on the shovel, pushing me to dig. There are levels to Omar’s work that I think often don’t get the attention they deserve, so it was a real joy to get him to break out of his shell a bit. More importantly than that, and I truly believe this is true, no one is a bigger listener and appreciator than Omar is. I don’t ever want that to go unnoticed. He is here for the work of others, and that brings me such a great joy, as well.
This is really tough because I only have ten questions, and you’re someone who has a lot of moving parts, as far as what your work does, and the role it plays. Obviously, so much of your work has humor as a starting point. Because you’re just an organically funny/animated person, I imagine there can almost be an expectation when an audience consumes your work. But, because there’s #LEVELS to this, can you talk a bit about what else you place into your work that isn’t always seen?
Foremost I hate talking about myself dude… so you better appreciate this shit.
I think there are a lot of references to science that I put in my work that most don’t catch. That’s the root of it but that’s like the multiple Russian dolls inside one another or the inception dream 4 levels down beneath the jokes that not everyone reaches.
On the back of that, you have poems that navigate loss really effectively. One thing we have in common is that we have both lost a parent, and we both place that in our work. However, I often find myself a bit envious of the way that you frame using humor as a coping mechanism. Often times, I think that’s something that we’re still told to shy away from. How important do you think humor can be to the healing process?
Peter Ustinov said, “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious” and that makes the most sense to me. I’m not the “let’s talk about it” type. I bury shit. However, loss and death aren’t so big that they can’t catch the fade via jest either. If we’re joking about it we are taking power away from the damage and acknowledging it as well.
So it might not be healing or coping but just breaking even. My mother said I had a great ability to see the humor in anything which gets me in trouble more often than not. So I stay true to that in my art regardless cause that’s what’s true to me and thank (insert your preferred deity or religion) it just so happens to not be the norm.
You’ve been deeply involved in the New York poetry slam scene for a lot of years now, and you’re currently hosting at Urbana. With your role consistently evolving, where do you see the NY scene going over the next few years? And, though this may be somewhat loaded, do you see yourself still there?
Hands down it can go without saying that NY scene was straight Battle Royale in terms of slam. Cats would come up here thinking they goin cop them body bags and wound up lookin like a life alert commercial. Man listen, it used to be like playing Street Fighter II and goin to any of the NY venues and test your mettle like 1992 Ryu going to the USSR to see what them fists do against Zangief.
It’s not like that anymore, mostly cause the folks that made it that way aren’t here anymore or gone off into other things. Now it’s a changing of the guard, transitioning with younger / newer people coming in as the regulars. This is their time now. I don’t see myself in this scene; I had my era and it’s just about time to give the baton pass.
The thing that I think your work does has a lot to do with creating a level of self-confidence and comfort in a listener. In a weird way, sometimes I think when I hear people talk about your work and only say “it’s so funny!” I want to be that guy who jumps up and down and says, “NAH, GUYS. LOOK. THERE’S MORE TO IT”. Do you think about the messages that come through strongly in your work as you write, or is that not part of the process?
I can’t tell you the number of times someone yells out from the crowd “make me laugh” as if that’s some kind of fucking compliment. The contrast of that is being asked to read because everyone has been so serious and the audience needs a break. So these are the two borders I’m stuck between for whatever message I have to convey. No matter what I say it’s going to fall between people that just want to laugh and know I can do that for them or for people that are glad to have a break from the norm and are acceptable to whatever different I have to bring. They will appreciate the message even if there isn’t one because the performance broke the norm and gave them their catharsis.
I honestly can tell you there isn’t always a message. Sometimes it’s really just some shit that I find fucking hilarious inside my own head but for the pieces that do have a point I make sure it’s never me preaching, force feeding, or talking at people. I make sure it’s relatable and as close to the way I am in an actual conversation as can be.
I feel like the way you address race when you do is really important, and somehow plays into that “being comfortable with who you are” message that tends to bleed through in what you create. Something about what you present breaks down a lot of stereotypes about what blackness is, or can be. Much like the last question, how much does an examination of race play into what you’re attempting to present?
I feel like I never mentioned race up until recently in my work. My thinking when I was starting out was not wanting to give what was expected of me (The black poet doing poems about being black) unless it was just a diversion to fuck with what an audience thought was coming. Me playing of the stereotype or pigeon hole you think you have ready for me. Now however after a lot of change, growth, (no fucks left to display) and looking at the country we live in I’m like “ I don’t give a fux, we goin talk about this race shit nerd wise, dating wise, and just trying to live in America without being gun down or beat down wise” because this is the reality of the situation.
You’re genuinely, like for REAL about that nerd shit. You’re not a tourist out here, you’re truly an architect. I was joking with someone a while back about what they called “nerd gentrification”, or this idea of nerds becoming cool in culture once again. Any thoughts on that? Do you wan’t people to get off your lawn?
I talk about this with my brother a lot cause growing up for us. It was like some civil nerds right era shit man. Cats saying “you’re not black cause you like comics, dress this way, and listen to this music” (it ties into the nerd shit) but now… nerd is so chic. On some “lemme rock these obnoxious size frames” or “Yea I’ll wear this Green Lantern Shirt That I bought already faded so it looks retro not knowing the name of any of the fucking 7,200 of them”
Fuck those people. That’s my thinking Fuck All Yall Muh fuckas. If you like batman and you got a batman shirt on cool (personally I think bruce wayne is a fuck boy but hey that’s me). If you rocking a flash shirt and I ask you who is your favorite just be able to tell me. That’s all I ask.
What naughty by nature say? “If you aint from the hood don’t talk about the hood”. Well Negus if you aint read the comics then don’t talk about the comics. I’m just saying.
How did “Black Nerd Problems” come about, and tell the uninformed masses about what it aims to do.
Through Will Evans all things are credible. He really had an idea for likeminded ethnically nerdy individuals and he really gathered folk together on some Avengers shit man. He Luke Cage’d this whole clan together on some Mighty Avengers shit (good book yall should read it to get the reference). As far as aim I think it’s going to be like a lighthouse for poc nerds (others as well) to say “hey there are women and men that look like me or are different like me talking about what I like” which is hard cause there isn’t much of that representation.
Now the flip side of that and I’ll use marvel as the example cause they been doing a lot with diversifying their characters for the times. I got into a conversation about T’challa The Black panther (marvel hero) with Thuli Zuma who pointed “Africa has at least 55 sovereign nations why is he from the made up place of Wakanda while Captain America gets to rep non fictional America?” Shes right. Even tho we are starting to see more ethnic heroes there still a misrepresentation present that we’re still waiting to be addressed.
The Black Nerd Problems site is a place where we can get all that out, talk about it, aaaaaaaaaand review comic books and video games so we can get these Ign passes b.
What about a book? Why am I not holding a full book of Omar Holmon poems, musings, rap lyrics, and directions on how to send the best provocative photos to a consenting partner? Is this a project on the horizon, or is the idea of being published in that fashion something that doesn’t really get you excited?
I really never thought about books like I dunno…. Didn’t think it was me or whatever I have no real answer as to why I didn’t do then but I can give you the answer on now…
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz MADE me write a manuscript. The heart of it is done. Now she had me go back into it with a twist which I don’t want to say what that is however I will say that it moves like you’re reading through a mash up of Street fighter II and Scott Pilgrim vs The World.
I think a flipside to the fact that you’re on the board of directors over at Team Terrible is the fact that you’re also a very vocal fan of your peers, which I always enjoy, knowing how much you’ve seen. Who are the people pushing you now? The artists you watch and get excited about?
No one is going get me man cause I get influenced by what I’m reading in comic books. That’s my poetry man. Matt Fraction, Geoff Johns, Brian Michael Bendis, J. Michael Straczynski, Al Ewing, to name a few. Music wise Homeboy Sandman above all things gets my head in the right space and poet wise I’ll go William Evans (a given of course he paid me to say this) Robbie Q Telfer, Nicole Homer, Falu, Big Mike.
If we are talking currently well scene wise this year its all the new kids on the block man I gotta give it to Crystal Valentine, Olivia Gatwood, Nina Belen , Mcpherson, Anthony Ragler, and the man that will take the baton from me Usman Hameedi. These people were and have been creating a reign with their work this season.
In as detailed fashion as possible, tell everyone reading this why you do not, and will not ever fuck with J. Cole.
I hate that guy man. I bet he is a nice person. Taking care of his family and shit. Like gives back to his community and shit. But….I…I…I just look at him and it feeeeels like he murdered my brother or just wronged me in another life, maybe he cut in front of me in line in another life, ate the last slice of pineapple and peperoni pizza in another life, maybe we were roommates and the mutha fucka didn’t do the dishes in another life, maybe muh fucka hit my car and didn’t leave a not in another life, I for real don’t know but I just can’t with this guy.
Sometimes I download his songs just to give myself the pleasure of deleting them, sometimes I keep them on my ipod listen to them as a way of taking my hate to the gym,
Omar, genuinely. Thanks for doing this. I hear there’s a good chance I’ll be seeing you in Detroit soon. I look forward to it.
OMAR HOLMON is a New Jersey native as well as a Rutgers graduate Majoring in English. Omar started competing in slam poetry in 2008 and since then he has become a four time Grand Slam (2008, 2009) Loser Slam Grand Slam (2009), Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe Grand Slam (2010), and Urbana GrandSlam champion. He has been on the final stage at the national poetry slam and has opened for performers including Saul Williams, Amiri Baraka, and Sonia Sanchez. Omar is the only man alive to punch the planet Jupiter in the face and also as of five minutes ago discover three new species of ferns all of which he did not just make up to fill space in this bio.