Q&A: Provoke thought that provokes change with Aubrey Barnes

Aubrey "Aubs" Barnes|Facebook

Aubrey “Aubs” Barnes, a Rock Island, Illinois native, is an educator, author, poet, community arts facilitator, and the featured artist for Watershed Voice’s third annual Artist Showcase on July 15. Aubs. has performed and taught workshops in Chicago, Atlanta, and schools outside the country, as well as self-published three books of his poetic work: Unfinished, I’m Not Anti Love, I Swear, and It is Good, It is Written. For more on his creative process, inspiration, and upcoming performance next week, Watershed Voice interviewed Aubs:

Beca Welty (BW): How old were you when you discovered your passion and talent for writing, and what was the process like for you when you decided to perform for audiences?

Aubrey “Aubs” Barnes (AB): I was in seventh grade when I wrote my first poem. So, around eleven or twelve years of age. I didn’t see it as a ‘talent’ then, but just something I gravitated to with much curiosity. I didn’t start sharing my poems vocally until after my fourth year of college when I left and tried to figure out what I really wanted to do in life. Around that time, I was introduced to spoken word poetry by a couple of teens. After that, the process wasn’t any different than what I had been used to, with the exception that I wrote poems long enough to engage a crowd for three minutes or so, as well as internalize my work through much dedication towards the memorization process.

BW: Can you describe how you have developed your art form over the years? Does it continue to evolve?

AB: I was initially influenced by rap and battle rap when it comes to my style that I have developed. You can still hear it now to this day in my work when you pay attention to the rhythm in which I create with my work. As I grow as a human, my work grows as well when it comes to the style in which I tell stories through poetry. Even despite that, the root inspiration of hip hop’s contributions echo through my work.

BW: Can you explain how hip-hop has influenced your art?

AB: Hip-hop to me is the ‘seasoning’ to the art of poetry. One of my critiques when it comes to poetry is that there isn’t enough ‘style’, ‘swagger’ if you will. When you hear a poet whose influences come from hip-hop in juxtaposition to a poet who’s exclusively influenced by poetry, you can tell the difference when you pay attention to the literary style and how the poem is delivered. Not only that, the uniqueness in how hip-hop continues to speak about socio-political issues through storytelling has influenced how I tell my stories as well. “To Pimp a Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar, along with art from other creatives such as Propaganda, really influenced me to creative narratives that reflect the good and the ugly that is in my world, with hopes that it will inspire others to speak they narratives, as well as provoke thought that will in turn, hopefully, provoke change.

BW: Who are some of your biggest influences?

AB: My influences always change depending on the season of life I am in. As of lately, writers like James Baldwin have influenced me as a creative. He was a prolific artist, and a thinker who was well ahead of his time.

BW: I’d love to hear more about Young Lions Roar. Can you explain where you got the idea, and what it has been like to lead a program for young children?

AB: Young Lions Roar was kinda birthed organically through my roles as both an educator and an artist. I have been teaching poetry internationally since I was twenty-five. It wasn’t until as of recently, realizing my contribution to education, though I have a degree in Educational Studies, doesn’t necessarily mean giving myself to a system that doesn’t really serve their body as they should. So I created Young Lions Roar, which is my medium in which I invite students to find creative expression through the literary arts of poetry, spoken word, rap, and battle rap. This program has been life changing for myself and my students. It has definitely inspired much unlearning of what I believe education to be due to my prior academic training, as well as adjusting the practices in which I lean on to best serve the students who have trusted me inside their world. It has been transformative beyond what words can express. I am just as much a student as the students I work with when it comes to what this entity has become and what it continues to become.

BW: What does the creative process look like for you? What inspires you, when do you write new material, and when do you decide a piece is “done”?

AB: Nowadays, as a creative, my inspiration comes from simply being present with life, and drawing ideas creatively from things I observe in life; a conversation I overheard, a conversation I had, a butterfly passing by me. One of my poetic inspirations, Propaganda, says that “Truth is always screaming at us”, and so I make it a practice to be present with everything deemed as ‘mundane’, and pull a narrative from it that can teach me, and in turn, teach others. With that considered, nowadays I go by the “feel” of certain works to decide if they told their narrative the best way they could. Some of my work can do that in three simple lines, others in ninety-nine lines.

BW: When you are creating a new piece of work, what do you hope the listener or reader takes away from it or learns?

AB: That’s a good question… I think, nowadays, understanding that we all will read and interpret art through the lens of our understanding, which will more than less differ from the creative who produced the art, listeners and readers will take different meanings or applications to my work. I think at the end of the day, my hope is that my work inspires my audience to think outside the boundaries we create for ourselves, invite nuance and different perspectives, and wrestle with them. Whatever is arrived after that depends on the individual. The fact that the work was done to really meditate on my work and what that means to their narrative is the work I hope for to be done.

BW: What can folks look forward to hearing from you at the Watershed Voice Artist Showcase this month?

AB: New work that I haven’t shared with an audience yet. Work that is reflective of where I am in this current space of life. And vulnerability, which is the root to all my work nowadays.

BW: Are there any upcoming projects or performances you’d like to plug? 

AB: I always have something going on creatively. I encourage folks who gravitate towards my work to follow me in the social media world to keep up with what I am working on.

Catch Aubs and the 12 other artists set to perform at the Watershed Voice Artist Showcase on July 15 at The Huss Project (1008 8th St.) in Three Rivers at 6 p.m. Keep Your Voice Down co-hosts Alek Haak-Frost and Doug Sears, Jr. will be your MCs for the evening, and general admission to the showcase is $5. There will be limited seating provided but guests are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs. The third annual showcase will feature performances containing explicit language, so while all ages are welcome, Watershed Voice leaves the decision to the discretion of parents as to whether the concert is appropriate for their children.

A full breakdown and introduction to the rest of the spectacular acts set to perform is coming soon.

Aubs invites everyone to follow him on Instagram or Facebook for more on his artistic journey.

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.