Poet Chris Lilley Reads From His Collection, “Je Suis Noir”

Up and coming poet and musician, Chris Lilley, shares his inspiration for his new poetry collection Je Suis Noir. The 24-year-old lives in the Bronx, and studied at the Manhattan School of Music for both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in opera music.

The collection, Lilley shares, was first conceived in November of 2015. Je Suis Noir (or, I Am Black), is a stringing together of the author’s responses to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and individual tragedies that have taken place. The poem “Phobia” initiated this responsive writing, which was written after the Paris terrorist attacks.

“I looked at the collection of poetry I had in my notebook and it seemed to have a common theme” says Lilley. “There was a yearning to put something together I could call my own”

Much of Lilley’s background and upbringing serves as the foundation where this project was built upon. The artist expresses a disconnect he felt from his school and church after these events in the news would take place was what lead him to penning many of these verses.

“I understand why the disconnect would be there” the poet shares. “But it didn’t lend itself to an environment where I could talk to other black Christians about”

Lilley began writing spoken word poetry 3 years ago, and committed to performing and writing regularly in 2014. He has performed with the Christian-based poetry group True Voices since the start, as well as the New Testament Temple Church of God’s previous ministry “Word Up”

Lilley plans to work on a new book of poetry that is centered around suicide and the aftermath of his own story of an attempted suicide. Though a difficult topic, Lilley shares a newly found bravery and courage that derives from both his faith and his writing. “I’m still trying to get over that shame” Lilley says. “If I wasn’t an artist I wouldn’t of had the courage to share my story”

Lilley read two of his poems for CreativeNYC during his interview. Listen to both “The one where bullets are like flowers” and “Phobia” below




TrueVoices Conveys Message of Unity in Latest Poetry Performance

Snap, don’t clap. Performance poetry group, TrueVoices, celebrated their four year anniversary this Saturday in the Bronx with their event  Progress: The Narrative.  The collaboration of singer-songwriter performances, painters, and vibrant slam poetry electrified audiences leaving a long-lasting impact with those watching.

Leah James, age 25 from New Jersey, performing “Dear Black Man”

Miguel Rodriguez, from the Bronx, is the director of the New York City chapter where young adults workshop their poetry along with receiving personalized training. However, Miguel expresses his work goes beyond planning events.

“I’m your guy’s biggest fan. I’ve memorized most of your poems.” Miguel, 24, tells the team prior to the performance as they gather for a fan Q&A.

Wanesha Spencer, age 31 from Atlanta, performing “Mama Was a Rollin’ Stone”

Eloquently performed, the poems possessed collective themes of the Black Lives Matter Movement, racial inequality, and a demand for change. Their message of progress was charged with hope, and included stories of both trial and triumph. Not only did TV’s New York poets perform, also alumni and artists from Chicago’s and Philadelphia’s chapters traveled to join the stage.

Prior to the event, I spoke to poet Michael Brantley of the Bronx. In preparing for an event of this scale, he says the most important thing is prayer.

“It’s for the glory of God and to serve others. You humble yourself to pray and you really get into the mindset that this is not about me. otherwise I would be performing to myself in the mirror.”

-Michael Brantley, 29

This same thought was echoed in other performers, including Sammie King of Brooklyn, who was the youngest performer of the group. To spiritually prepare for Progress, Sammie talked about fasting in the days prior. He spoke with wisdom beyond his years when speaking about humbling himself before going on stage.

“Remembering that God didn’t make me to be the star, He put me amongst the stars just to point to Him.”

-Sammie King, 18

Leon D. Labastide, age 29 from New York, True Voices Alumni

Now four years old, TV is a national organization that combines ministry with art. Founded by Pastor Jonathan Escobar of the Bronx in 2012, TV now has chapters in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

What’s next for TV? They plan to expand their ministry into a church where artists and poets alike can gather in community and faith. Although their events attract believers as well as nonbelievers, they hope to make an impact in both the faith and artistic realm of New York City and cities along the East Coast.

Are you a performing poet and want to be a part of True Voices? They have an application process that poets can share their work to be considered for entry. Delsey Alvarez, co-director of the NYC chapter says that the most important thing during this process is for the leadership to know your story and build a relationship. “It kinda feels like family”  she says, “we’ll always keep in contact with each other.”

To apply, click here.

To learn about more events around New York City, follow them on all social media platforms using @truevoicestv