Slam dunk: Tracie Morris ready to bring ‘musical poetry’

Tracie Morris, a Brooklyn native, considers herself a musical poet. She has been writing poetry informally since childhood and has had many musical influences in her life.

When Morris was young, she picked up much of her education from books and music. “I lived in a neighborhood which didn’t always attract the best teachers,” she said, “but I loved to read.”

Morris added that she kept up her education not only by reading novels and news magazines, but also by listening to the radio.

“A lot of my information came through songs and songwriting — there were a lot of groups that put forth political information in their music,” she said

Some acts cited were Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire. She described such musical inspiration as “literature from the music of the ’70s.”

Interestingly enough, Morris got her start at a politically active event. “I was part of an organization called the Black Rock Coalition,” she said. “They put together a show at a place without a good sound system, and they wanted poets and acoustic guitar players.”

The group did not have any female performers, and asked Morris if she knew of any.

“Just put me down,” Morris told them.

When Morris later learned that they had found additional females to perform in the band, she asked to be taken off the list since she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to perform in the first place.

“But I wasn’t aware that they didn’t take my name off. One of my friends called me and said, ‘I’m seeing you’re doing the BRC show.’ I said ‘No, I’m not.’ She said, ‘I’m coming, so I’d better see you.'”

Morris finally brought herself to attend the show and did her first poetry presentation. She was surprised that people came up to her after the show and asked her to do her poetry at other shows. “At first, I was so scared,” she admitted. But she did her poetry at additional shows, and eventually performed at the Nuyorican Poets Caf.

She went on to win the Nuyorican Grand Slam and many other poetry slam awards.

Morris said that the subjects of her poems range from all across the spectrum.

“I go through phases where I only write about political issues, phases where I only write about race and gender and phases where I only write about desire and love,” she said. “Right now, my poems deal with desire and love, as well as politics. I include poems that I’ve written awhile ago along with new poems.”

Around 1992, Morris began infusing music into her performances. She felt her poems had always had some sort of musical elements, and her decision was largely influenced by her surroundings.

“I was around a community of artists in the ’80s. I had a lot of friends who made music that was daring,” she noted.

Ever since, music has been an integral part of Morris’s performances. She began to perform poetry with a band called Sonic Synthesis as part of a theatrical project. The band is now called Sonic Synthesis 2 — since it is the “second incarnation” of the band. Their music includes samples from jazz, blues and hip-hop music and is heavily electronic.

“Now it’s a permanent part of my life,” Morris said of her musical accompaniment. “I really love this band. I’m really lucky to have a tremendous group of musicians.”

Even after her success, Tracie Morris still considers herself an amateur. “Success is relative. I still feel like I’m at the beginning, I really do.”

There is no doubt that Morris is doing what she loves. “I feel happy with the acceptance that I write poems. I love poetry,” she said.

Her favorite part of doing poetry with music, she noted, is acting as a “bridge between the sounds that need to be heard and the audience that needs to hear them.”

“Poetry has infinite possibilities,” Morris said. “I just want to present a few more.”

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