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Friday October 27, 2000

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Feeling the roots

By Phil Leckman

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Local poet/rappers see strong ties joining poetry, hip-hop

Anyone who doubts the continuing vitality of poetry as an art form need only talk to Heidi Haro and Anton Smith.

These two young artists, selected by the UA Poetry Center to bring a local voice to tonight's Mondo Hip-hop performance, are full of enthusiasm and energy, excited to demonstrate their proficiency as poets and rappers.

Haro, a 2000 graduate of Tucson's Pueblo High School, has long been "heavily involved" in Tucson's hip-hop scene. A rap performance for a high school poetry class attracted the attention of Poetry Center director Jim Paul, who encouraged Haro to develop her talents.

She had her first open-mike performance this summer.

"It was a great experience - it showed me I had talent and could perform under pressure," she said. "Male emcees weren't showing me no love - I guess they felt threatened - but other people were like, 'Yeah girl, you show 'em, you be rockin' the mike.'"

Haro said that her involvement with the Poetry Center has "opened a lot of doors" - she said she hopes to continue performing and already has shows lined up at several venues around Tucson.

As Haro has learned more about formal poetry, she has realized it has much in common with hip-hop.

"At first, I disregarded poetry," Haro said. "The way I was thinking, I was like, ugh - nerds write poetry! I never made any connection (between poetry and hip-hop), but now I see that everything has an origin, and that's where hip-hop came from."

Haro now views the forms as two sides of the same coin.

"One can't exist without the other," she said.

Anton Smith, a UA sophomore majoring in interdisciplinary fine arts, was teaching a hip-hop dance class when the Poetry Center asked him to help find rap performers for Mondo Hip-hop. Intrigued, Smith decided to try out himself.

"They thought, 'He's teaching a hip-hop class, he might know some rappers,'" Smith said. "I just took a look at the flier and said, 'I want to do it.'"

While poetry may be new to him, Smith, a life-long dancer and actor, sees strong links between spoken word and other arts.

"The writing part (of spoken word) is new to me, but the performance part of it has always been in me - it's part of my spirit," he said. "Spoken word is performance poetry, just like being in the theater - you have to not only bring a knowledge of your piece to the crowd, but you have to bring the drama, too."

Like Haro, Smith sees the connection between traditional poetry and hip-hop.

"People have to understand that hip-hop music is the poetic voice of today," he said.

Smith added that he is confident that hip-hop will someday take its rightful place in the American poetic tradition.

"We as Americans can't just accept something new right away, we have to warm up to it for a while," he said. "But it's starting to come around. It'll happen - change always happens."