You may have seen him flying through the streets of College Park on his longboard, with his headphones in, and a mustard-colored cardigan flowing behind him like a cape.
Or you may have caught him on stage at The Clarice, Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville or on the Library of Congress National Book Festival performing his slam poetry, tangling the audience’s hearts around his tongue, leaving a sense of awe after he steps away from the microphone.
Kosi Dunn has transformed this university in so many ways. One of them being the is the founder of TerPoets UMD Spoken Word Collective and is currently the Black Student Involvement COSI (Community Organizing Student Intern) at MICA.
Q: What’s your name?
“My name is Mandla Dunn, but most people call me Kosi. I’m a junior and I major in Transmedia Storytelling and minoring in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It just got passed yesterday.”
“I’ve been basically trying to create my own major for the past like 3 semesters. I finally got the idea and it was just a matter of time of putting things together.”
Q: Were you in another regular major before that?
“I was in a ton. I went all around the university. I was a College Park Art Scholars drop-out unfortunately. I was an engineering major, pre-material science engineering because I like had a serious heart for calculus and physics. And then I was like, ‘I’m an artist man.’ I like poems and shit, I don’t care about the real world as much so I switched to a double major in computer science and studio art and I was like, that’s kind of cool. I switched to film. One day I was just like fuck it, I’m going to combine them all.”
Q: Do you always feel like nothing ever defines you?
“I think I am defined by a lot of things. I used to be very concerned with people labeling me but then my mom always says that ‘it’s not what you’re called, it’s what you answer to.’
Q: How did you start this journey of being interested in art, creating art, just being involved–you do a lot of community service–what’s the origin of it all?
“Oh okay, creation stories. I started writing poetry to impress cute girls on Facebook my freshman year of high school, I was that guy, right.”
That doesn’t happen anymore!
“I had a Facebook page and writing these cheesy-love poems. Luckily, no one really fucked with them so I kept writing. One day, this dude Eric was like, ‘Yo, you should go to this open mic, you should go to the slam,’ so I went with my two little shitty poems with DC Youth Slam team. I think slam poetry really made me the kind of character I am today because I was usually that kid in the back of the room reading Artemis Fowl. I was not very outspoken. Slam poetry forced me to go on stage. I kind of brought that to the University of Maryland because there was no slam community here. So I was in this really tight poetic performance community and I was thrown into this giant field of everything. I was like,‘Okay, I should be a real person, I should do engineering, I should do a marketable skill.’ But I realized that it’s embarrassing to lie to yourself, to everyone around you.”
Q: So, hip-hop is really integrated into who you are. Who’s an artist who has really impacted you or who you want to imitate?
“The first person that made me think that I was allowed to hip-hop was this poem that’s called How I Got Over and it’s based on The Roots song. I was this suburban, middle-class black boy in Largo, MD. There were so many different kinds of black identities and perspectives. Watch Blackish and you’ll get it. But, Lupe Fiasco was the first person to be like, ‘Yo, it’s cool to skateboard and read manga, and be black and into hip-hop’ and at the same time I learned to rap from Food & Liquor. I would say now the rappers that I am looking at are the Chance the Rapper’s, the Kendrick Lamar’s, that space between poetry and hip-hop, that’s what I am trying to occupy.”
Q: What’s your favorite style of poetry?
“Spoken word, ‘slam’ poetry. It’s a very fervent art form. You get up on stage, people aren’t going to remember that entire piece for that three minutes that you’re allowed on stage so you just come hard and have people feel it, right. Split This Rock! would sponsor the DC Youth Slam team, so we would always have to do social justice related shows, so my poems were about me being black in America and trying to take on this whole monolithe of racism and prejudice. I’m in the Writer’s House so I’ve been forced to like do “academic” poetry. This is the first time I’ve even considered the type of styles, and qualities I want in my poetry. I’ve been looking at publishing and getting my work out there. I would like to do science-fiction-y elements, I don’t think we do that a lot in black communities.”
Q: What do you want to see more of in your writings–certain themes, topics, other people’s writings?
“In my writing, lately, I find myself tiptoeing along with what I might think is embarrassing or what I might be afraid to write about. I want to be ugly, you know. Definitely be more raw and how to raise the stakes of poetry. I want to get into comic book writing, screenwriting and fiction. I’m really interested in writing science fiction with my background with engineering. Creating these very raw types of situations and elements.
Oh I’m sorry, I am rapping.”
No, you’re awesome, I was like “We need a profile of Kosi.”
“Man, lately I’ve been thinking about fame and money and how they are not mutually exclusive or whatever. I’m trying to be the black Walt Disney.”
Q: What has been your most fun performance? You’ve performed at the Library of Congress National Book Festival, Busboys & Poets, and so on.
“Nothing’s better than the youth open mics I used to host in Busboys & Poets. Sometimes I like hosting more than I like doing poetry because you just get to kick it. They were lit because I was hella nervous, right, and I still get nervous doing every show but I was hella nervous so I was just rambling. It was really a tight-knit community, it was fam so you were kicking poems and I try to find that vibe when I’m doing all the other types of gigs I do.”
Q: So you’re a junior, next year you’re going to be a senior, what are some ways this university can present more opportunities for poetry?
“Dr. James McShay was saying that the role, the flagship institution at any state is to advance the research, the intellectual kind of agenda of the state. I never felt that the government values poetry, it’s the art of making language beautiful. I don’t think they value poetry and I’m kind of exhausted with trying to make people who don’t value poetry, value poetry. I’m now more concerned about creating a space for people who do and allowing them to breathe. So creating a stronger literary community, that knows each other. I have no one to write with–I’ve done a thousand workshops here and no one to write with, it’s wack. I would like to say, ‘Yo let’s all vibe, let’s go get coffee and write and listen to each other.’”
Q: I need to constantly be covered or surrounded by words. Are you like that?
“I’m a horrible writer in a sense of diligence. Poetry is a really sonic thing for me. The page is just that I can’t carry the sounds with me. It’s funny because I kind of grew up in a deaf household, silence is something that I’m very used to. What’s beautiful to me about poetry is when I can hear it. Language to me is like a conjuring of things, so like spells, even when I tweet a lot, I have a really unhealthy thing with Twitter.”
Q: Why do you use “…” in your tweets? It’s okay if you don’t want to say.
“I’ll tell you after. Twitter is my notebook in a lot of things. I need to get better at it. I like it when language is snappy. The effect of it, it’s like another line in consciousness, another excerpt.”
Q: Finally, what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
“Cookies and cream, I’m a classic man in that sense.”
Feature Photo Credit: Featured is Kosi Dunn. (Josh Loock/Bloc Reporter)
Karla Casique is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.