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Mykki Blanco on poetry

The controversial NY rapper delves into her poetic past of twisted rhymes and industrial dissonance

Before he adopted the stage name Mykki Blanco, Michael David Quattlebaum, Jr. was a practiced poet. In 2011, the performer gave a snarling rendition of his epic poem From The Silence of Duchamp to The Noise of Boys in New York that was more suited to a hardcore punk show than the measured poetry salons that still thrive in the city. With a bassy soundtrack from DJ Physical Therapy and aggressive, sensual body-popping, it made other punk poets look like pussycats.

On 2012's Mykki Blanco and the Mutant Angels EP, the poem morphed with the poet. 'From The Silence…' became eight tracks of industrial dissonance with lyrics that told of Adderall in hotel rooms and Buddhist meditation. In the video for 'Join My Militia' Mykki maniacally drags herself through a dingy beach before ending with a money shot involving a squid, while the twisted wordplay of her recent mixtape Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss also has roots in the poetry that the rapper started writing as a 8-year-old. Here, Mykki talks us through the literature that continues to inspire and inform her work.

I really started writing poetry in third grade. My grandmother gave me four huge stacks of paper on the first day of Hanukkah one year, and I was so excited! My sister's 13 years older than me, so I pretty much was an only child. I had a huge imagination, and I would literally spend hours writing stories for my imaginary friends. My early poems were just about taking in the world. I remember I had a poem called Applecrack Boulevard. It was a twisted nursery rhyme poem - like Brothers Grimm turned on its head. 

Performance art was one of the first things I ever learned about, and I actually had a performance art collective as a teenager in Raleigh, North Carolina called Paint Unconsciousness.  I ended up winning an Independent Spirit Award, because I was one of the only people doing performance art in that town.

I ran away to New York when I was 16, and having that experience definitely shaped a lot of my ideas as I got older. I've always been really adventurous, and I used to read a lot of biographies as a child - Madonna, Oscar Wilde, Bette Midler - anyone that had a fringe lifestyle, because I wanted to know how they did it. It's like they served as a blueprint for me to get out into the world and explore my future. My poem American Boy is about me and my best friend doing cocaine for the first time at a party behind the dumpster. We did it off a cardboard box in a back alley!

My poem From The Silence of Duchamp to the Noise of Boys really touches upon the period of my life from about 16 to 24. It's a reflection of my experiences with psychedelia, with sex, love, loss, and accepting that from very early on I was not going to live a 'normal' life. Really learning what the artist's life is and accepting that. It's as if each poem is multiple layers of my consciousness from each age, because I would write them, and then add to or re-write them years later. There are poems where the first four lines were written when I was I was 16, and then the last stanza was written when I was 23! [laughs] When I look at that book I see so many stages of myself.

No Fear was a band for a while. It's the root of Mykki Blanco. No Fear began because I had written the poems, but no-one within my generation really reads poetry! I knew that I was going to have to communicate it in a way that was more like theatre, but then I realised that the poems could translate into songs too. Honestly, I used Patti Smith as a model. I got my friend, the artist Jeff Joyle, and Daniel Fisher (DJ Physical Therapy) and we started to practice the poems as songs. When Jeff had to go back to Bard there was no more band, and I was like 'well, I wanna keep doing this!'  At the time, I was really inspired by Suicide. The Mykki Blanco & The Mutant Angels EP was definitely a companion to my book of poetry.

My favourite book is Under A Glass Bell by Anaïs Nin. People associate Anaïs Nin so much with her sexual literature, but her books of fiction are amazing. They will transport you to other worlds and states of consciousness. Under A Glass Bell is imagist writing to the most extreme, it's so juicy! I always say that Anaïs Nin taught me to use metaphors, Pablo Neruda taught me how to use imagery, and Sylvia Plath taught me how to make my writing succinct.