Shihan The Poet
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Shihan The Poet

Hollywood, California, United States | SELF

Hollywood, California, United States | SELF
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“People always say words are powerful, and it sounds so cliché,” Shihan said to a crowd of approximately 100 people in the Afro-American Cultural Center last night.

But this is a belief Shihan, the renowned slam poet, said he holds strongly and is the subject of much of his work. “You’re only worth your weight in words. So how heavy is what you say?” he asked in his poem “Flashy Words.” Speaking about race, family, society, and the power of words to change and teach, Shihan performed for an audience of Yale students Wednesday night at an event hosted by Jook Songs, the Asian-American writing workshop and performance group.

Shihan, a native of New York City’s Lower East Side, launched his career after he received a scholarship in 1989 to study creative writing at the Williston North Hampton School in Massachusetts. But Shihan said his love of slam poetry developed outside the classroom.

“I began going to open mikes not just to read, but to hear other people tell their stories,” Shihan said. “For some people church isn’t an option, so open mikes become the place where they can hear testimonies and testify. And that’s where I found my comfort zone.”

Presenting his own poems, such as “Flashy Words,” “Father’s Day” and “Wings,” and recounting humorous anecdotes about his family and experiences in the world of slam poetry, Shihan used his performance to share his views on identity, race and family. At one point, he recalled notes jotted down while sitting in the Hartford Airport where he reflected upon the influence of family in shaping his performance art. Then, spontaneously, Shihan began to slam — sharing this particular poem with the crowd.

“My father was a superhero that I in some ways had to live up to,” Shihan said. “My mother was a DJ — she cut in and out of my life.”

Though he slammed about societal problems and negative racial stereotypes, Shihan said, “I’m a believer in people.” He said in his poem “Father’s Day,” “You’ll never hear me say I’m only human, because that makes it seem like it’s a bad thing. And I’m not a mistake.”

Kayla Vinson ’11 said she was struck by the significance of his words: “He’s amazing. There’s so much truth. His poems are packed with truth.”

Another audience member, Moses Balian ’13, said Shihan was able to engage the audience in a discussion through his performance.

“Shihan’s contagious enthusiasm and colloquial delivery were such a breath of fresh air,” Balian said. “[He] made the evening feel like a conversation rather than a performance. His poems are a testimony to his belief in the power of words as meaningful entertainment.”

Named the 2005 National Poetry Slam Champion, Shihan has been featured on the HBO show “Def Poetry,” Oprah’s Oxygen Network, Al Gore’s Current TV and CNN. He is YouTube’s most-viewed poet and the first poet on iTunes to have a “download of the week.” - Yale Daily News


Spoken word is not the type of poetry where you quietly listen and clap for poets after they read a piece you may have never understood. Spoken word evokes emotion and response at every turn of a phrase; even if you cannot personally relate to those words, they move you all the same.
SAB held a spoken word poetry night April 11 featuring an open mic session followed by Shihan the Poet. As students and visitors took to the stage reciting their own poems, the audience soon realized how much talent sat in the room. Some recited from memory, others from paper, and one free versed right on the spot.
As Shihan took to the stage, the audience could not help but be captivated. We were on a journey with excitement and anticipation which Shihan took advantage of as he enchanted the audience not only with words but his life stories. Taking a moment between poems to answer questions from the audience not only kept us engaged but gave a personal understanding of Shihan which enhanced each poem. Shihan was like a comedian and poet all in one, wrapped in this down to earth, we’ve been friends forever, T-shirt and jeans kind of guy. You couldn’t help but like him and with each poem, you wanted more.
Shihan’s poems ranged from ones inspired by his kids, one dedicated to his wife, another from frustration for applauding the ignorance portrayed by rap music, all the way down to a letter sent home from college asking for more money. When asked how he got into writing poetry, he said it started with a love for books. When he was not able to get into a night club, he went across the street to listen to poetry instead. He began taking random jobs for Nike and NSYNC when finally Def Poetry came around and opportunities emerged. From his story, it seemed this was not the life he expected to lead, but it was the one presented to him for which he is thankful. Shihan said, “We bought a house off poetry, I did something right.” - The Ledger (University of Washington - Tacoma)


A National Slam Poet Champion and National Poetry Slam Finalist returned to Whitworth on March 30 since his last performance here in 2010 to show how his poetry has evolved.

Shihan, who is a husband and father of two, has worked with stars such as boyband ‘N Sync and has been featured on HBO’s “Def Poetry,” Oxygen Network and NBC.

The poet began writing and performing as a full-time job in 1997 after deciding to go to school and become a teacher.

“I was in college when I started performing, and I just wanted to continue because I feel like poetry is an art form which definitely needs to be pushed and exposed to more and more people,” Shihan said. “I do feel I will go back and teach at some point, but right now I’m comfortable with reaching all these different people.”

Shihan said it was a difficult career choice. When he was 16, he moved from New York City where he lived with his father, to live with his mother in Los Angeles, where he lives now.

Once a poet who was thrilled to receive a $15 payment and a free dinner for his live performance, Shihan now travels the world sharing his ideas in 80 to 90 shows per year.

Throughout the evening Shihan constantly told the audience that words hold real power.

“I want you to hold on every word because they’re worth it,” Shihan said. “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will always teach you.”

“Expectations” is a poem written for his two children, which challenges preconceived notions held by society about their gender and skin color. To do that, the poet satirically stereotyped his 10-year-old daughter’s and his 5-year-old son’s future lives.

The audience laughed as Shihan told how he explained to his daughter that love was not like a Disney movie.

The poem finished: “No matter what they want you to be, you will always have a choice.”

As a slam poet, Shihan takes 70 to 80 flights a year. “Father’s Day” was written after Shihan returned from one of his shows and his young daughter turned to him and asked, “Daddy, do you still love me?”

The poem describes problems faced by parents who work away from home. A line from “Father’s Day” is, “I sacrifice every time I step to the mic, so you tell me, is it worth missing my family for?”

While many of Shihan’s poems are politically and socially challenging, he always incorporates humor; the audience often clapped and laughed along with his ideas.

The poem “Robots” exposes Shihan’s fear of a world dependent on technology, and society’s sole focus on developing material products rather than appreciating what the earth already has to offer: “You can laugh if you want to but mark my words: The Robots are coming.”

He told the audience how his life experiences helped fuel his creativity. Shihan’s mother was a Marine and left Shihan at a young age, and he said he had always had a great relationship with his father growing up until, at a fast pace, the relationship broke down.

Junior Curtis Gatley, who found Shihan on YouTube, knew some of Shihan’s work so well he was able to repeat Shihan’s poetry along with him.

“The more you hear it the more you like it because every time you hear it, the words impact you more,” Gatley said. “These are real words about real things.”

Shihan said society regards poetry as the “retarded daughter of theatre,” as it is often overlooked, or mocked, as a medium of entertainment and public discourse.

“Poetry is basically just storytelling,” Shihan said. “I think it allows for social commentary and for certain issues to be brought up within conversation. Any artist should have a purpose and a message; something should be said that inspires you.”

He also told the audience how important it is to continue reading other artists’ work and he read a short untitled poem that attacked capitalism, by Nikki Rakes.

“Reality is more ridiculous than fiction,” one line said.

A poignant question Rakes’ poem asks is, “Why apply for college when it’s easier to go t - The Whitworthian (Whitworth College)


SHIHAN VAN CLIEF: KNOWS HIS FEMININE SIDE
Posted by mcclungsonline on January 24, 2011 · 2 Comments
By Sophie Yalkezian
Photos by: Sophie Yalkezian, Rebecca Sands and Katia Dmitrieva
Ryerson’s Urban Hip Hop Union saw a packed house on Friday night for their event ‘Love, Hip Hop and the Spoken Word’. Guest speaker Shihan Van Clief both entertained and fascinated the audience with stories relating to those three topics, each one brimming with positivity.
Van Clief is a spoken word artist from New York, best known for his spot in the Def Jam Poetry series, produced by HBO, and later in its follow-up national tour hosted by Russell Simmons. He is counted as a friend and peer to poetry and hip hop greats including Saul Williams and Mos Def. The event’s second portion was a poetry slam of Ryerson’s own student talent, judged by four of Toronto’s established spoken word artists at the Ram and the Rye.
In regards to love, Van Clief advised male students to be open with their feelings, instead of “letting it fester inside them,” thinking of it as feminine or womanly. “I think in many ways, love is vulnerability, like just being open and vulnerable to things,” he said. He named trust, communication and fearlessness as some of the key components to a loving relationship, like the one he shares with his wife of ten years (who, he says, proposed to him).
Van Clief had mixed feelings about the world of hip hop today, saying that it needed more “responsibility,” but also that he felt pride in the genre’s international popularity. “Music is the new cotton,” he said, referring to the negative image that rap artists enslave themselves to through songs about pimps, crime and murder. He cites a 50 Cent awards show performance as the perfect example, describing how the rapper stood among half-naked girls in a flashy suit and cane.
On the other hand, Van Clief is happy to see spoken word poetry getting more recognition in both hip hop and general culture. “I think it’s important when poets are recognized because poetry has always been seen as the retarded stepdaughter of theatre,” he said, creating a joyous rumble of laughs in the audience.
The light-hearted Van Clief spent the rest of the evening performing and answering audience questions. He performed some of his more popular poems, but also took many requests. - McClung's Magazine (Canada)


“Shihan has proved a word merchant whose currency is honesty.”
LA Times

“Shihan's spoken- word performances are usually breathlessly animated, the words tumbling over one another. They stop and start or shoot through the air, popping like bottle rockets.”
The Baltimore Sun

“It’s Hard Not To come out of a performance feeling inspired.”
Kokomo Tribune

“Shihan is undeniably one of the most successful talents in the industry.”
About.com

“Shihan's satire...you have speech that truly sets you free. “ Stagecritic.com

“Shihan's "Negro Auction Network" elicited nervous laughter...while the in-your-face provocative poems packed a punch, there were a number of introspective, personal narratives that were equally powerful.”
Des Moines Register

“Shihan's spoof of hip-hop stereotypes "Negro Auction Network" is classic.”
Nashville Review

“Shihan kicks it up a few notches in his consciousness-raising rhymes…laugh-out-loud funny on the surface but bites down to the bone. He brings the uncomfortable truth...”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“...one of the evening's funniest and least PC performances, Shihan's infomercial-like "Negro
Auction Network"
Washington Post

“Seductive”
New Haven Advocate

“One poem, titled "love in five parts," was so powerful that it brought several of those in attendance to tears.”
The Eagle Eye

“With titles such as "the Iconoclast," "the Negro Auction Network" and "Love Like," he seems to value gritty emotion over padded symbolism or safe lyricism.”
The Leader

“ricocheting back and forth between emotions, rapidly going from righteous anger to violent love to fear to levity at times left the audience spinning, waiting for the next punch or punch line, never entirely sure which was coming next. The only thing that was certain, though, whichever came, it would make them think.”
The Retriever

" words fly by so quickly that writing them down would be impossible. Phrases and metaphors are juxtaposed in surprising ways and the poet covers the audience with a blanket of wordplay. “
Georgetown Voice

“On his debut album The Poet Shihan shifts gracefully between hip hop and traditional a capellas, layering crisp beats with pointed lyrics…”
XLR8R Magazine

“Truly a Def Poet…”
Daily News (LA) Pick of the week

“Shihan combines razor-sharp spoken words with fluid flows rolled tightly in an honest and compassionate expression.”
Poetic Soul Magazine (Canada)

Shihan's lyrics stitch a fabric of philosophical critiques on modern life, stirring up controversy and thought along with a reverance for the duality of complexity and simplicity in everyday living.
Properly chilled magazine

“It’s grown folks hip-hop for heads jaded by the icy pseudo thugs ruling the charts.”
Remix Magazine

“Shihan…most dangerous weapon: humor. Shihan uses humor to discuss complex issues, including unrequited love on “Love Like” and “In Response”; technology run amok on “Robots”; and stereotypes on “Auction Network,”
Soundslam Magazine

“His lyrics are thoughtful and unpretentious; creating a verbal landscape that drips with sincerity.”
Pop Matters Magazine

“For poems closer to the truth than most would push for, 'Auction Network' and 'Robots' are what this man does best...”(5 Star rating)
DJ Magazine (UK)

“Shihan’s words flow without regard to iambic parameter or strained couplets. If my writing were this coherent and consistent, I’d be a Pulitzer author by now.”
Metro Pop Magazine

“And Shihan Van Clief, a champion wordsmith and family man, takes great pride in speaking the truth about his art and mission as a poet…”
2007 Maryland Film Festival
- Various Outlets


Slam poet Shihan moves students with beats
Katerina Belkin - Staff Writer

If we have learned one thing from the past few weeks, the power of words might be the most significant. Whether used in conversation or scrawled upon a wall, certain words can serve to denigrate, separate and propagate hatred; while just as easily, words can also be used to inspire or instigate much-needed change. Last Friday’s Black History Month Keynote Performance by the spoken word artist Shihan emphasized this idea, bringing refreshing verbal innovation with a positive message to an appreciative audience.

Native to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Shihan is the co-founder of Da Poetry Lounge, currently the largest open-mic forum in Los Angeles. He has made appearances on all six seasons of Def Poetry Jam, an HBO television series dedicated to the presentation of slam poetry by both rising and established artists. The 2004 National Poetry Slam champion and three-year finalist, Shihan has been featured on venues such as CNN, Oprah Winfrey’s Oxygen Network, NBC and Nike and Adidas commercials. Friday night marked the 22nd show of his four-month “Tour of Compilation.� Paresky Performance Space was filled to the brim with expectant listeners – poets and non-poets alike – who had come to hear the words that have made Shihan so widely known.

Apart from four bottles of premium Williams College water and a mic, Shihan stood alone on the stage, dressed comfortably and exuding an aura of confidence and ease. After receiving a warm welcome and connecting with the audience immediately, he proceeded to get right down to business, and as soon as Shihan opened his mouth, the room fell silent.

Every single word packed a punch, investigating and grappling with things like escapism, consumption and vagrancy, all in a fluid conversational manner. Shihan’s manner was eloquent yet simple, and he integrated his whole body into his poetry, using subtle shifts in his hands, as well as volume and pitch to accentuate his style. Looking around, it was stunning to observe the rapt attention focused upon him from every point in the room.

Shihan also spoke of lighter topics, poking fun at technology with a spoof of a television commercial, keeping the audience engaged by asking questions that sometimes segued into humorous stories, sometimes another poem and sometimes absolutely nothing at all. Shihan frequently delved into the topic of family, relating tales of his children and wife, but turned this potentially trite subject into one of substance by cross-referencing religion and his role as a father in his poem “In Response.�

Jokingly referring to poetry as the unwanted step-sister of theater, Shihan discussed the paucity of media opportunities for spoken word artists. “Poetry,� Shihan said, “is a live phenomenon which needs to be seen and experienced.� He explained the roots of slam poetry and the champion-oriented mentality which turns artistry into yet another scramble for fame and glory. Moving on to discuss black stereotypes on television and in the media, Shihan provided first-hand accounts of the deleterious effects of the entertainment industry on other countries’ perceptions of America. He underscored this with a satirical poem, “Negro Auction,� in which he painted a bleak caricature of the racial stereotyping present in the world.

Throughout the whole performance, I could not stop thinking to myself how intelligent this man is. He sees the big picture, analyzes it and relays it to audiences through a confidential and easy manner, never patronizing, guilt-tripping or self-righteous. He kept things light-hearted by telling jokes, and then would suddenly hit us with something so powerful and so original that one couldn’t help but gape wordlessly. My favorite piece, “Flashy Words,� was an intense diatribe on ignorance, with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and tangled twists of verbal calisthenics.

Near the end of the show, Shihan answered questions from the audience and then proceeded to finish with one last poem and a couple of jokes, leaving the night where it started – with a hearty laugh. Shihan was an entertainer in every sense of the word – talented, down-to-earth and incredibly versatile.

Shihan’s new album, The Balance, is now out and can be accessed from his Web site. I would highly recommend giving it a listen. As Williams students, much of our success often lies in our ability to craft a satisfactory sentence, but just how often we really stop to think about the content of our words and really listen to the words spoken by others is a different story. In a world where “originality is unappreciated like butterscotch Lifesavers,� gifted individuals such as Shihan stop us in our tracks and make us feel and appreciate the value of a meaningful message. - Williams Reader


By Kevin Bronson,
August 18, 2005

Shihan the Poet makes the transition from spoken word to hip-hop sound easy. Then again, the 30-year-old has been making transitions his whole life.

From teenage prodigy signed by MCA Records to commercial jingle writer to legendary touring poet to host of Los Angeles' hot Da' Poetry Lounge to artist and talent consultant on HBO's "Def Poetry Jam," Shihan has proved a word merchant whose currency is honesty. Now, with the Sept. 6 release of "The Poet" on L.A.'s Groove Gravy Records, he breaks into song.

"If poetry is going to reach the hip-hop generation, it has to be put that way, has to be put to music," says Shihan, who found that forsaking free verse for rhyming lyrics "was very hard. You really have to retrain yourself."

Shihan's collaborators help hold together the album's seven songs, four poems and four poems set to music. Label founder Roy Shakked (as Jazzelicious) contributes production on four tracks. Electronica diva Ursula Rucker lends her voice and words on "Activism." And Gina Loring sings on the sultry, funky "Somebody Tell Me."

"I've been lucky in my life at how I get one job and that will lead to something else,"

Shihan says of his far-flung projects -- after all, he was once hired to choreograph a fight scene for 'N Sync. "Trying to live only as a poet is a very nomadic life. If you don't learn to recognize opportunities, they will pass you by." - LA Times


"NY-raised, LA-based lyrical wordsmith, Shihan Van Clief, delivers THE album to take hip hop and, more importantly, the spoken-word format forward. Himself a veteran of the industry and having established his place through prime spots on Def Poetry shows throughout the states, Shihan's official debut long-player shines incessantly. Following the jazz bounce of 'Poemcee', deft lyrical jousts with Ursula Rucker ignite 'Activism' and 'Love Like' talks of what he'd do just to have that perfectly lady in his life. For skits closer to the truth than most would push for, 'Auction Network' and 'Robots' are what this man does best... 4.5 out of 5 Stars."


- DJ Magazine(UK)


It's a well-known fact that Shihan has a way with words. As talent director of Def Poetry Jam, Shihan is undeniably one of the most successful talents in the industry. On his new album The Poet Shihan is calling out all the stereotypes. Backed with some excellent production and a varied arrangement of tempos and lyrical settings, Shihan clearly tells a story and doesn't pull any punches while getting his point across.

While any lover of hip-hop should already have a deep respect for poetic form and style – listening to this album is truly inspiring showing the power and intellect behind this ancient art form.

Starting things off proper, "Poemcee" is a friendly jab at the old days coming up as an emcee touting Shihan's impressive skills. On "Activism" Shihan is joined by Ursala, well known for her contributions to many of hip-hop's greatest while currently throwing down on this excellent jazzy joint. There are many other (fifteen total) excellent tunes on the album deserving some heavy spins.

Give this one a listen and you will see – why everyone's talking a bout po-e-try. - About.com


Discography

Syllabylism (2001)
Flowmotion (2003)
Music Is The New Cotton (2005)
The Poet (2005)
The Balance EP (2011)
Deciphering Gibberish (2013)

Photos

Bio

Along with being the 1st and only poet to have a poem named 'download of the week' on iTunes; this National Poetry Slam Champion and 3X National Poetry Slam Finalist has been featured on a variety of media outlets including 7 appearances on 6 seasons of HBO's Def Poetry, NBC, Oxygen Network, Current TV, Nike Battlegrounds, Reebok, Adidas, NBA, CNN, ESPN, Complex and Billboard Magazine, several national commercial spots, 5 National Tours including the Tony Award Winning Russell Simmons presents Def Poetry Jam International Tour and 2 Spoken Word documentaries, SP!T and the sequel to 1997's cult doc Slam Nation, Slam Planet. Shihan recently signed an exclusive Sponsorship deal with Sports Giant, adidas and is the current voice for The Sprite Street Mix, a radio program broadcasted in over 13 countries in Africa. His abilities to transcend cultural and generational boundaries have made Shihan a much sought after talent.