In Memoriam of Tonya Ingram


We are immensely saddened by the loss of our dear friend and collaborator, Tonya Ingram.

Tonya was such a bright light for all of us. As a poet and mental health advocate, Tonya’s impact will continue to resonate. We are so fortunate to have been able to learn, watch, and work with Tonya throughout the years. We have especially fond memories of working with Tonya as a member of Button’s 2014 National Poetry Slam and countless Get Lit Classic Slam filming crews.

We will continue to celebrate all of the magic that Tonya shared. Rest well, friend.





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ENDS JANUARY 8

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Kevin Yang at BlackBerry Peach

Hello everyone! My name is Kevin Yang. I had the opportunity to compete at the inaugural BlackBerry Peach National Slam Poetry competition hosted by the National Federal of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS) in Daytona Beach, Florida this past October. I’ll be reflecting on my experience out in Florida and about what learnings I brought back with me to Minnesota.

I have been writing spoken word poetry and competing in slams for almost the past 12 years, but between different life transitions and the pandemic, it had been almost 4 years since I last competed. When I saw the Button Poetry qualifier pop up on my feed, I was eager for an opportunity to get involved in the slam scene again.

After a week of preparing and practicing my set, I showed up at Icehouse really nervous and unsure of how the night would go. It didn’t feel real until we all lined up and did our bout order draw. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share poems in a bunch of different contexts, from protest rallies, to classrooms, in front of friends and families, at memorials, and there is nothing that is more nerve-racking and similarly more energizing to me than finishing the bout draw and waiting to hear the sacrificial poet. The poet read their piece, scores were given, and it was on.

Being on stage again and seeing the lights and the faces, breathing in the energy, it was a reminder that I was alive and doing what I loved. I had practiced these poems alone for hours but hearing the reactions and the room shift when I hit my favorite lines made my heart sing. Being able to hear other amazing poets share their work was also so inspiring, especially since I hadn’t been around this for so long.

My favorite memory from the night was waiting to go onto the stage during the final round and sharing boatloads of appreciation with one of the other finalists. After all the scores were read, I was so excited to have learned that I won and that I would be representing Minnesota at the national slam. I spent the next couple of months preparing my poems and packing and before I knew it, it was time to board my plane headed to Florida.

The BlackBerryPeach National Poetry Slam was hosted by an organization called the National Federal of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS) as a part of a larger conference for different state poetry societies around the country. Many of these organizations hosted slams and sponsored poets, like me, that would compete at the slam alongside other poets who signed up as individuals. There were roughly 40 poets from around the country competing. Each night there were 4 bouts with 10 poets each. Each poet was to compete at 2 preliminary bouts with the top 12 advancing to the finals that Saturday night.

My first bout was in the early evening at a beautiful venue called the Midtown Cafe near Bethune Cookman University. It was a cozy space with most of the poets squeezed next to each other at cafe tables, like many other slam venues I’ve performed at before. One thing I love about smaller spaces is how easy it is to feel the energy of everyone around you.

Performing in the first bout was such a joy. I was super nervous and forgot a line mid-performance but was able to push through. Even though I didn’t score as high as I would have liked to, it was still such a beautiful night being surrounded by poetry.

One of my favorite poems of the night was by a friend who I had carpooled to the venue with. Before he started performing, he moved the mic to the side and created space for him to move around and interact with the audience. When he began performing, I could feel the space transform, pushing past the 3-foot-by-3-foot box around the microphone that I often feel locked into. Similarly, that night I watched so many other lovely poems that were beautifully written, played around with different forms, and that expanded my understanding of what this artform was capable of. After my bout was over, I stuck around for the late-night bout and continued to be blown away by how skilled at writing and performing these poets were.

My second bout was the following night in a larger meeting on the Bethune Cookman University campus. The space was much bigger and spread out which made the energy a bit more diffuse. At this point in the competition, I knew that I didn’t have much of a chance to qualify for finals, so I gave myself the grace to not need to worry about the scores or giving the perfect performance. Instead, I just came in with the intention of enjoying the poetry. With another night in, it was also fun seeing familiar faces from the previous bout and meeting new folks. I was happy with how I performed for my second bout, even if I didn’t qualify for finals.

Later that night, I got the chance to experience my first underground poetry slam. Unlike the usual format of 12 poets competing against one another, the underground poetry slam had a group of 16 poets putting up their own money and facing off in one-on-one elimination rounds with nothing but audience noise as the judge. The atmosphere was wicked. The audience was a circle of the same poets who had been competing against one another these past couple of days. It was artists competing and appreciating one another in a room full of other artists who understood how difficult and rewarding this journey could be. Each round ended with raucous applause and the two poets exchanging handshakes and warm hugs.

Saturday was Finals Day and I spent most of the day just hanging out with folks I had met that week, getting food and relaxing. We hung out in our hotel rooms, watching TV, discussing our favorite Marvel characters, and reminiscing on our own past slam experiences. It was a great way to decompress and to enjoy some downtime after two nights of competing.

One interesting aspect about the conference was that while the poetry slams were happening at night, there was another set of programming during the day for the folks from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. This included their own poetry competition that had invited folks to send written and video/audio versions of their poems which were also judged and given prizes. They also hosted critique sessions, social hangouts, and workshops.
I had the chance to attend an afternoon workshop where former slam-master and organizer, Bob Holman, shared his life’s work around language activism and was blown away hearing about his history working with others to create a larger spoken word community and how he incorporates multiple mediums like documentary filmmaking into his exploration of the work.

It was great getting the chance to interact with the other conference participants, seeing them at our bouts, and hearing how excited they were to share a poetry space together. One of NFSPS’s main objectives for hosting the slam was to encourage a younger and more diverse group of poets to participate in the work that they do, and it was exciting to see how eager they were to welcome us and learn from each other.

Before finals, the conference hosted a haiku slam that I attended. Similar to a poetry slam, a group of competitors faced off in one-on-one rounds, reading haikus and that were judged by random strangers selected from the crowd. It was a more lighthearted atmosphere and was also the first stage where participants from the other part of the conference were competing against our group of slam poets. Even though there weren’t many poets who competed, it was still a fun experience, and it was a wonderful way of keeping the stage warm and ready for finals.

Final stage was a treat. I had gotten a chance to either compete or watch bouts of most of the competing poets, but there were a handful who I hadn’t seen at all because of how the preliminary bout schedule worked out. I’ve been to finals in bigger auditoriums with louder audiences and more fanfare, but what I loved most was knowing that I had spent so much time getting to know most of the poets on stage and in the audience. When the three rounds finished and a winner was crowned, we were all so genuinely happy for one another and what we had all experienced together.

After the finals were over, we headed back to the host hotel and celebrated each other with an impromptu afterparty. Still high from the excitement of the performances, it was a night full of “you were awesome’s” and other warm affirmations.

Before I knew it, it was Sunday and the last day of our conference. Out of my entire week in Daytona Beach, the thing I was most grateful for was building friendships, especially with two poets that I had shared bouts with. On the last morning of the conference, as folks were packing their suitcases and saying their goodbyes, the three of us took a last walk on the beach. We watched and walked past the tide pushing and pulling against the sand. We reflected on the week and shared conversation about our art and our lives. After a long walk, we stopped for a break in the shade and shared poems we hadn’t yet heard from each other. We walked back to our hotel, eager to find ways for us to stay in touch after we got back home.

This is what I loved most about the slam, the understanding that there is so much more to slam than slamming. The hours we spend crafting and practicing our work. The nervous energy that builds inside of us before bouts. The workshops and discussions where we talk about how this art creates change. The friendships that come out of meeting folks who love what they do so much. I am reminded of a common refrain heard at slams, the points are not the point, the point is the poetry.

A few weeks after I returned, the League of Minnesota Poets invited me to perform at their Fall conference and it was a joy reflecting with the folks who had helped make my journey possible, many of whom were in the room at Icehouse and who were also present during my bouts in Daytona Beach, and I could feel it all coming full circle. Sharing conversations over dinner after my presentation, one of the poets expressed that these were such good people, and I couldn’t help but agree. I am grateful for all the good people I’ve come across doing slam.

Rudy Francisco – “Drowning Fish” (250K Views!)

“Sometimes, ‘I’m fine,’ is the quickest way to say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’”

Congratulations to Rudy Francisco for topping 250,000 views on this incredible poem! Watch more from Rudy here and here.

Check out the 2022 Button Poetry Chapbook Contest! Open NOW – January 9, 2023. More info and full guidelines here!

While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, or check out our newest release from Siaara Freeman!

Urbanshee: Now Available!

It’s Publication Day for Urbanshee.

Get yourself a copy of Siaara Freeman’s debut collection.

We have limited SIGNED copies still available!

ABOUT THE BOOK

Urbanshee is Siaara Freeman’s retelling of fairy tales and mythological stories through a modern and urban lens. This collection discusses the weight of being Black in America, Freeman’s relationships to lovers and family, and how the physical place you grew up can become part of your identity. Urbanshee expertly combines humor, fantasy, and raw emotion to create this astonishing reinvention of classic fables. Freeman’s poems are ventrously unique and are sure to enchant anyone who reads them.

PRAISE FOR SIAARA

Siaara Freeman changed everything I thought I knew about what it means to be a courageous writer. She is my favorite living poet.

— Andrea Gibson, author of You Better Be Lightning

Urbanshee is the debut that we’ve been waiting for. Only if we’re ready to reckon with our own harsh dealings of the truth, can we fully appreciate this body of work. Siaara Freeman aims and does not miss, she crumbles and still reigns.

— Ebony Stewart, author of BloodFresh

In a searing debut, Siaara Freeman wails her Urbanshee poems as an act of reclamation for all a Black girl has lost, all she dares to dream for, and all the ways she can peel herself together. Open this book, put your head in the maw, and emerge with a soaring Black girl song in your ears.

— Tyehimba Jess, author of Olio

SHOP SIAARA

While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Rudy Francisco, Rachel Wiley, Dave Harris, Porsha Olayiwola, Ebony Stewart, Andrea Gibson, and our newest release from Topaz Winters!

Best of Button Week 397

“I’ve wanted to be an incredible mother for as long as I have feared being a regrettable daughter.”

Don’t miss this week’s Best of Button playlist, featuring the top-viewed recent videos on the Button YouTube Channel. Today’s addition: Blythe Baird! Congrats Poet!

While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, or check out our newest release from Blythe Baird!

Interview with Sierra DeMulder

Two-time National Poetry Slam winner, Sierra DeMulder (she/her), discusses her books We Slept Here (Button Poetry, 2015), Today Means Amen (Andrews McMeel, 2016), and her
forthcoming collection, Ephemera (Button Poetry, 2023). Since 2004, Sierra DeMulder has
dazzled her family, friends, and fans with her raw vulnerability, and radical acceptance of the
impermanence of it all—the kismet, the magic, the dirt in every garden—the imperfection. This
interview was conducted on 10.04.2022 on Zoom by Lin Flores (she/they).

***

You are a poet who has accomplished many feats. From co-founding Button Poetry
to publishing four books, including We Slept Here in 2015, and Today Means
Amen
in 2016. In 2018 you started your hit podcast, Just Break Up available on
Spotify and Apple Music. Can you tell me about your journey and how it all came to
be?

In my first year in my undergrad, I discovered spoken word. I was immediately enamored with
it. It was live, vulnerable, and performative. I started writing with the stage in mind and this was
back in 2004 before YouTube was the global phenomenon it is now. I found my first poetry
community when I was twenty. It was magical. My poetry team in Twin Cities, Minnesota went
on to win the national poetry slam competition. That was the first steppingstone to what I can
now identify as my poetry career.

When we talk about the origins of Button Poetry and of my work, I have to give credit to Derek
Brown and Write Bloody Publishing for seeing that spoken word poets are amazing writers first,
and then they are great performers.

I went on to make a living as a touring performing poet for five-plus years. In addition to co-
founding Button Poetry—it is now the largest digital distributor of spoken word. I went on to
publish four books and stepped away from Button. I shifted my energy when I started the
podcast, I needed a creative break.

What has surprised you most about all of this?

Well, you’re getting me at a sentimental moment, I am thirty-six now, just had my first baby this
past year and I am realizing how fast time moves. What is most surprising is that I am here! It
was what I was meant to do—I was so enamored by the art form that I always equate it to Wile
E. Coyote running off of the cliff, and when I was twenty and I discovered spoken word, I ran off
the cliff and never looked down. I am surprised that it has taken me this far. I am so grateful for
all the opportunities and the stages and the readers that I’ve had.

So, would you say, you’ve looked down? Or have you not looked down yet?

I feel like I have a little over the last couple of years because when you are a spoken word poet
professionally, performatively, you end up having to function like a musician, meaning you have
to play the classics. I was disenchanted with performance because I knew in order to pay my
bills, to get the shows, I had this setlist of poems I would have to perform and I wasn’t writing
the same type of poems that would get me the shows.

What advice would you give young poets, performative or not?

It’s too high of an ask of yourself to demand your work be perfect before you let other people see
it. None of us are perfect writers. It is enough right now in its imperfect state. Our art form is one
of exchange—it is an energetic exchange, it’s an emotional exchange, it’s a literary exchange.
We need readers and listeners. You are worth reading and listening to.

So, exploring this idea of vulnerability, I wanted to talk about the book that you published
in 2015, We Slept Here. “Uninhabitable” is a powerful poem you included in both We Slept
Here
and Today Means Amen. This is one of my favorite poems. Tell me about it. It’s
fascinating because there’s an epigraph that opens WSH: “the landscape / after cruelty is,
of course, a garden.” So why did you choose this? And did it happen before or after you
wrote “Uninhabitable”?

I’ll speak quickly about the book—We Slept Here is my third book. It’s more of a chapbook-
length, there are only twenty to twenty-one poems in it. It is a themed book all about an abusive
relationship that I endured and thankfully survived and me processing through that relationship
years later. I talk about the [abusive] relationship in the book, but I also mention my father, my
parents’ divorce, and where I first saw relationship dynamics that were unhealthy. A reason I
wrote this book is that I found myself as a writer, naturally returning to this relationship as if I
still had poems left in me. I chose it after I wrote it. I wanted to have a quote at the beginning…this poem is so beautiful
and this book is not just a bunch of sad poems, it is the full gamut of grief and healing. This book
is about finding forgiveness for myself and understanding myself than the relationship.

Definitely. So, you included “Uninhabitable” in both collections, can you tell me about that
decision?

WSH was my favorite. All my books were published in my twenties. For TMA, the publishers
required forty poems from me, it was so many poems! So many poems. TMA reads less
cohesively but more like a diary of my life. It talks about relationships, my family, and mental health… with a smattering of other…poems. The finesse I was able to accomplish in WSH because it was smaller and tighter, I wasn’t attempting to recreate in TMA. [“Uninhabitable”] was a poem I thought could stand on its own.

One of my questions that speaks to what you were talking about earlier, is how this
collection unfolded. There had been time between this relationship—how much time had
[passed] before you decided this was a chapbook?

It had been seven years, maybe. Again, this relationship kept popping up. Part of the first poem
reads: “a poet told me / to write about / you. Write it / out honey. / As if you were / a fever or / a
horse to break. / As if you don’t / already show up, / uninvited, / unbeckoned, / into every poem.
/ Your hand / guides my wrist / as I write this, / even now.” The idea that seven years later this
experience that I went through was still dictating my healing, my processing, my poetry, and
instead of fighting it, I leaned into that experience to explore more about what this meant to me.
Isn’t that life too? You don’t realize the impact something has on you until years later when
you’re still unpacking what it truly meant in your life.

So, let’s talk about TMA then. I saw that you moved away from couplets and did some
different things as far as the variety. Can you speak to that?

I was trying to create a reading experience as cohesive as it could be with forty different
narratives. It was my first time being published in a major press—I was focused on creating a
book that had a feeling to it. It was a collection manuscript; the publishers said, “collect your
poems and we will put the book out next year.”

Okay, so now that I know the background to why it is such a thick collection, and what the
logistics were, what did you want readers to feel?

I like the cover. If you turn the photo, the original photo was this woman diving into the water,
so I designed this cover myself. I liked the idea that you don’t know if she is diving in or out.
This book reminds me of exploring and claiming yourself, exploring your depths. It felt like such
a spread of me. I think of TMA as a short film into my twenties.

Let’s talk about TMA versus your new book because so much has changed since you wrote
TMA. What can readers expect?

My next book is coming out this coming June! June 6, 2023. It is available for pre-order right
now. On the Button Poetry website, if you look up my name. I am proud of this next book; it is
called Ephemera. Ephemera is something short-lived, seasonal, or [something] that doesn’t last
forever. I haven’t put out a book since 2016 so, there were poems from years ago that were
important to me that I needed to fit into this book even though they were four or five years old.

Are they poems we haven’t seen then?

There are definitely poems you haven’t seen. There are no spoken word poems in it. It reads
much more like WSH. There are four sections, and they follow four different themes. The arch of
the book is [movement] from death to new life. The themes are seasonality, nature, death, life,
[and] the fragility of time. I start the first section with poems about my grandmother’s passing the
first section is about endings. The second section is about my wife, who I reconnected with,
married, and started our [lives together]. That section is about queerness, love, identity, and any
familial tensions that came but choosing to be together despite time and tension. The third
section is about when I experienced an ectopic pregnancy loss. This third section is about trying
to get pregnant, death, loss, and experiencing what it is like to be someone who experiences a
miscarriage or any suffering in the world. How do you move through this very temporary world
and navigate all these feelings? The fourth section is about getting pregnant with my daughter
who is now six months old. And now that I think about it, there is a fifth secret section that is just
one poem which is the title poem of the book, Ephemera. The cyclical nature of life is what
Ephemera is all about.

Accepting that suffering is part of life, that’s one of the principles of the noble truths. So, I
was wondering if there were some influences there?

I used to have the four noble truths on my fridge all throughout college, so it definitely has
informed me as a person. There was a lot of duality in my life over the last couple of years where
I experienced extreme suffering and loss the same year my wife and I fell madly in love. When
we got engaged and got married, we were so happy and so joyful while the pandemic was
[unfolding] around us. Our first year of marriage, our first pregnancy resulted in a very traumatic
pregnancy, loss, and emergency surgery. It makes you remember that to be fully present you
have to hold all of this at once. Isn’t that so perfect for a poem? The best poems hold emotional
tension in them. The best metaphors have two things that create some sort of tension. It was
everywhere around us. It’s about signing up to love someone temporarily. Our daughter is
temporary, our love is temporary, my body is temporary, and how do you stay present and enjoy
the season of your life, the ephemera of it all?

How did writing Ephemera challenge you?

It was hard to create the sections. It was challenging for me to find the thread, it was there, once I
knew what it was. Something about me resisted the linear timeline of it—the death to new life.
To open a book with a death is a little opposite of some literary approaches. I think Ephemera
reads more like WSH than TMA. It was also difficult because I write about some family
dynamics, that I have had to negotiate. And I remember you asking me in class, how do you
write about a family member or how do you be your authentic self? And honestly, I have had to
edit some of my poems away from their original authentic form to maintain these relationships. It
was one of the first times I had to think about the consequences of publishing.

PRE-ORDER SIERRA

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ENDS DECEMBER 4

While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Rudy Francisco, Rachel Wiley, Dave Harris, Porsha Olayiwola, Ebony Stewart, Andrea Gibson, and our newest release from Topaz Winters!