Kyle Tran Myhre has been a national slam poetry champion, a hip-hop recording artist, and a speaker and educator. Under the name Guante, he’s gone “viral” more than a few times for his social justice focused poetry, like “Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up’” and “White supremacy is not a shark; it’s the water.” Now, Tran Myhre has a new book out, called “Not a Lot of Reasons to Sing, but Enough,” put out by Button Poetry.
The work is not exactly poetry, and not exactly prose. Sometimes the stories are epistolary, framed as a dialogue, or even as a panel discussion. The works veer into science fiction at times, with an emphasis on character and world building. Throughout, the book acts as a call for resistance against authoritarian forces.
“This will probably get filed as a poetry book in bookstores,” Tran Myhre said. “But I’m actually not sure what the math is, in terms of how much of the book is actually poetry. It’s probably around half.”
The other half of the book often features characters in conversation around the poems and the ideas Tran Myhre presents. “I like to not be super bound by form,” he said. “A big part of the book was to play around with writing and let the thing that I wanted to write about drive how I actually get there.”
Tran Myhre began writing the book before COVID-19, but the experience of living during the pandemic, and the uprisings after George Floyd was murdered by police, helped to clarify what he was trying to say.
“The pandemic put a lot of stuff into perspective about individualist notions of ‘getting by’ versus more collective notions,” Tran Myhre says. “The pandemic goes live at the same time as the uprising after George Floyd was killed. There’s a lot in the book about abolition, as well as that collective versus individual tension.”
Tran Myhre was interested in broadening his writing into new territory. “Most spoken word stories tend to be very first person and personal narrative, and that’s beautiful, but I wanted to do something that was just a little bit different,” the poet and author said.
Woven through the book are scenes that take place in schools and in educational settings, a place Tran Myhre spends quite a bit of time as a teaching artist. He wanted something practical in the book that might be useful to an aspiring poet or writer, as well as aspiring activists and organizers. “So much of the stuff in the book is about the power of telling stories,” Tran Myhre said. “It is informed very much by being in classrooms.”
Throughout the book, Tran Myhre brings in a character called Hen March, inspired by the author’s grandmother, who passed away a couple years ago. In pieces such as “Hen March Freestyles a Constitution” and “Hen March Passes Her Wisdom to the Youth,” the character anchors the book on an alternate timeline than the main arc. “They’re structured as kind of like tall tales,” Tran Myhre said. “That was a way to say, Yeah, I’m writing something that is allegorical and unapologetic.”
“Hen March Outlaws Cops” is in some ways a very straightforward piece about police abolition, not couched in metaphor other than its framework as a story. Rather, the piece states simply what the author wants to express about the concept of abolition. “There’s no fancy imagery,” Tran Myhre said.
Not all of the Hen March stories are political, though. “Hen March Loves Her Cat,” is a quieter meditation that takes its time to develop its main character. Hen March loses her beloved cat Hammond, and her new cat Jumpy, a gift from a friend, senses the ghost of the previous pet. The new cat’s awareness of the former cat’s presence provides comfort to Hen March.
Ghosts and spirits permeate the book. Tran Myhre writes about personal losses and collective losses, with works like “ALL THE PEOPLE i WANT TO SAY i TOLD YOU SO ARE DEAD.” He writes:
and the thing about big, world-shattering changes
is that not all much really changes. A hundred
thousand people catch a plague but it’s not so bad
here. A hundred thousand people drown but our
village is a day’s ride from the nearest real river.
The piece touches on what it means to go through grief as a community and society, particularly in this moment after two years of the pandemic and the uprisings of 2020.
“The lack of grief and the lack of kind of collective spaces where we can come together,” Tran Myhre said.
Besides Tran Myhre’s writing, the book is filled with beautiful illustrations by Casper Pham, which give the text a graphic novel aesthetic. The combination of Tran Myhre’s pithy words and Pham’s energetic illustrations begs for further collaborations between the two artists.