I met John Trudell in Portland in 1993 at the Clinton St. theater. He was mingling with the audience after one of his spoken word concerts and we started talking. We ended up going outside to get some fresh air and taking a walk. I was kind of surprised but it happened very easily. I found myself on a quiet sidewalk with an artist who had just performed. I asked him about the lyrics of one of the poems he had recited (“Tina Smiled”). They were intense, evocative and political. I wanted to know more. He told me matter-of-factly the poem was about his wife, kids and mother-in-law, all of whom died in a suspicious fire after he received a threat from FBI agents. I felt time stop when he told me that. John Trudell had been a leader of the American Indian Movement — one of the organizations COINTELPRO targeted. They destroyed AIM and many people in the process. In the aftermath, John became a spoken word poet. He performed with musicians and developed a unique sound. We stayed connected after that first meeting and visited several times when he was to Portland. He has a way of shocking people with his intensity and his gentleness in equal measure. He’s also crazy as a loon and embraces the madness of life. This is one of his gentle poems.
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Here is a video of Trudell performing poem in studio