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Artist connects WKHS students to poetry

Kyle "Guante" Tran Mhyre, a spoken word artist from Minneapolis, performs his poem "Family Business" for a class at William Kelley High School in Silver Bay. (Photos by Jamey Malcomb/News-Chronicle)1 / 3
Guante and William Kelley students brainstormed the "raw materials" that form the basis for poetry. 2 / 3
William Kelley senior Max Andrus listens to spoken word artist Guante during his college writing class. 3 / 3

Students at William Kelley High School in Silver Bay were mesmerized as Kyle "Guante" Tran Myhre performed his poem "Family Business" during their college writing class May 10.

Tran Myhre, a spoken word artist based in Minneapolis, is a poet with a twist. His lyrical work comes alive when he removes his glasses and slips into character and raps about his fears of getting lost in the "family business" of custodial work.

After he finishes he asks the class what they noticed about the poem.

"You used concrete examples, like playing chess in the back room," senior Al Robertson said.

For many of the students, Guante's week-long residency at WKHS was an eye opening experience, showing them poetry could be about anything, not just the cryptic stanzas printed in their literature books that often seem to have little or nothing to do with their day-to-day lives. The artist's performance of his work grabbed the attention of students, causing them to take notice of the content as well as his style.

"His style is just so much how we talk, us as kids...I don't know it grabs my attention a little bit better," WKHS senior Max Andrus said. "His poetry is so interesting. The songs I listen to are like rap and stuff like that, and it completely connects to everything and you can connect poetry to everything."

Guante's residency was paid for by the Northern Lake County Arts Board, which supports and promotes the value of art and artistic expression in the area, putting particular emphasis on programs for youths and community cultural events.

At the start of his residence, Guante and the classes conducted a brainstorming activity where they thought about all the things that affect their lives, from a national level down to a personal level. The class recorded these "raw materials" of poetry on the chalkboard in teacher Katie Fritz's room. The list included everything from politics, poverty and school shootings to roads, isolation, boredom and even food.

The class then conducted a similar exercise on their personal poetry. Students chose a topic and then wrote down everything they could think of about their subject, which would become the "bricks" for the poem they were building, according to Guante. The exercise helps kids translate their ideas, values and principles into a poem.

"We talk about how you take something that is abstract and make it concrete," Guante said. "How do you take something that is big and broad and zoom in on it so it is small. The metaphor that I like is that poetry isn't a movie, it's a photograph. You start with this whole giant story and you zoom in on the one single moment from that story and build the poem around that photograph instead."

The classes also took time to discuss and write about what makes their home on the North Shore unique and how stereotypes of rural life, both good and bad, can affect others' perspectives of Silver Bay.

"Poetry, especially spoken word, is a way to talk about where you're from and your community," Guante said. "What are the stereotypes associated with living up here, are there things that other people don't understand or that you could write about in a way to make them see it in a new light. That's always the most interesting thing to me and this is one of the areas where it is different here than in other areas. People have a sense of their community, which is cool."

Andrus thought even a little further outside the box and chose to write about a video game he enjoys, "Fortnite." The online multiplayer game pits groups of 100 players against each other for ultimate survival and with a little help from Guante, he saw a deeper meaning.

"When you drop down with all these other people, you're always competing in life, not just this video game," Andrus said. "It actually correlates to college and after college you're competing for jobs. I didn't think about that, but when he talked about it, it made me see it completely differently."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Silver Bay City Council and high school sports in Lake County. 

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