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Idris Goodwin brings break-beat poetry to the UI

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | DECEMBER 08, 2010 7:10 AM

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Ever since Idris Goodwin can remember, he's held some sort of crayon, pencil, or marker.

But he's no ordinary writer.

The 33-year-old poet has been observing and deciphering the world around him and presenting his findings to society through an avenue of his own creation.

Break-beat poetry.

But don't confuse his work with beat boxing — even though he's dabbled in it.

"My role as a writer is everyone else," he said. "I think all the poetry and interesting things are actually in the world — are around me — and my job is to collect and curate all of these observations and poetic things that are said and done and sort of put them together and show them back to people."

Goodwin, also an author, recording artist, and award-winning playwright, has recently been recognized for inventing a unique blend of free-verse poetry and rap that draws from a foundation of hip-hop culture and tells a story.

Influenced by the hip-hop generation from about 1970 to 1981, break-beat poetry can best be described as an attempt to make music with words, Goodwin said.

Break-beat poetry is occasionally paired with music, but the music serves only as a supplement to the fast-paced prose Goodwin uses to challenge his listeners to think.

"A successful break-beat poem will bob heads, tap feet, jump fingers, launch chills, fling words into mouths," Goodwin said in his book These are the Breaks.

And his performances do just that.

One such performance, which took place at the University of Iowa during a Martin Luther King celebration, affected a UI employee to such a degree he felt compelled to encourage Goodwin to enroll.

"I found his performance art not only bold and dynamic and creative, but also democratic and inclusive," said Joe Henry, a recruitment and outreach coordinator in the Office of Graduate Ethnic Inclusion at the Graduate College. "I found myself engaged, not only with the pace and beat of his work but also his thoughts and ideas."

Henry said immediately after Goodwin's performance, he had to wait in a 15-minute line just to shake his hand.

Then he encouraged him to apply.

"I thought his art spoke to the complexity of all human beings from all walks of life," Henry said. "That his artwork was informed, not only by modern and contemporary awareness, but that there was a sense of memory and respect for the historical as well."

Now, Goodwin is a student in the Playwrights' Workshop.

David Hoffman — a UI senior and classmate of Goodwin — said he has benefited from interacting with and watching his performances.

"Just watching his command over a microphone or over a stage is awesome, but it's his personal style, too," Hoffman said.

"I get to see him in his day-to-day life, and he's just a regular guy working in this world to make great things and just be happy like everyone else. I think its really relatable for all sorts of people, and I really enjoy that in his work, and I try to do that in my own work now."

Hoffman said Goodwin has also been helping figure out how to write from his heart.

"He's the man," Hoffman said. "And I hope I learn more from him."


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