kinetic affect – they will move you


Poetry in motion


On a crisp fall day in October, 250 high school students gathered in Southfield at Hope United Methodist Church for the 2011 Youth Diversity Symposium. The event was hosted by the Youth Advisory Committee of the Southfield Community Foundation. There was an air of excitement in the room as young people from across greater Detroit assembled for the opening keynote to be presented by Kinetic Affect, a spoken word artistic duo from Kalamazoo.

This presentation was to be more than performance of poetry. It was clear that the two artists, Kirk Latimer and Gabriel Giron did their homework. They understood that on this day the students would be challenged to find common ground, break down walls, embrace their diversity and take away lessons from the day to their own schools and peers. The performers knew that to set the stage for their poetry performance and create a real kinetic affect would require becoming vulnerable and sharing their personal stories- sharing in a way that would create a connection for the students.

Kirk (left) and Gabriel (right) after their presentation

These guys are simply amazing. Together they have wrangled their emotions, experiences and energy into a performance style that is electrifying. They pride themselves in presenting themselves in a way guaranteed to dispel any stereotype. While Gabriel dresses and has the tattooed look of a hardened tough guy, beneath that exterior is an introspective and poetic soul. He has the wisdom and humility of someone that has faced a deadly disease and survived. Gabriel ended his teen years (which he describes as dangerous and turbulent) by joining the military in search of a new life. Early in his military career he was diagnosed with cancer and made a three-year journey to recovery. Every day he sees his stem-to-stern scar that runs the length of his mid-section as a reminder of his redemption.

Kirk’s buttoned down, shirt-and-tie look seems to match-up with his former profession as an English teacher – dig a little deeper and you find the invisible scars of an angry young man that, as a teen, lived a destructive life dealing drugs and acting on his anger. His story of redemption includes redirecting his anger into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and eventually into creating laughter with his sharp wit. He went on to attend college and become an English teacher specializing in forensics (the art of formal speech and debate – not the ‘forensics’ we hear about on television shows like CSI). Knowing that writing and spoken word were pathways to healing, Kirk talked about and encouraged his students to find their voice through poetry. It was a student that catapulted him into a Slam Poetry performance by challenging him to “walk his talk.”

In their presentation, Gabriel and Kirk make a vague reference to the meeting that brought them together. Based on their lives as they described them, it is easy to picture that their first meeting was in a competitive setting. Your mind goes to something physical – a fight perhaps. But no, it was a Poetry Slam competition. In 2006 Latimer showed up at a Kalamazoo poetry slam event to try his hand at competitive performance art. He was unaware that he was stepping on to Gabriel Giron’s home turf – where he was already well-known as a gifted spoken word performer. And, this particular night was a competition to select the finalists that would represent Kalamazoo at a national poetry slam competition. As it turned out Giron and Latimer placed first and second, and would become teammates not competitors.

It wasn’t long before the two were melding their styles into a unified performance. “We quickly realized that we were scrambling for three minutes of stage time when we could be creating a show of our own,” commented Giron. “We realized that we had more to say,” added Latimer. They started by putting on a show entitled Word Weavers that included themselves, a rhythm and blues singer, a musician and a dancer. In the summer of 2007, Latimer and Giron officially formed Kinetic Affect LLC, a for-profit business. “We quit our jobs and started taking on this work that we love full time,” continued Latimer.

A Kinetic Affect logo

Their art has taken them to performing on “America’s Got Talent” (a gig that they both say they are glad they didn’t win), to nurturing their business – Kinetic Affect. Spoken word is described as a performance art designed to move an audience. Since 2007, Kinetic Affect has been performing for foundations, corporations, youth organizations, and even for a prisoner re-entry program, as well as performing in bars, clubs and theaters. “We have found that our messages are resonating with all sorts of people,” said Giron.

In August of this year Kinetic Affect performed in Traverse City for a Grantee Conference put on by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The foundation approached them with a special challenge, create a poem inspired by the phrase “I believe in a Michigan where…” spawning the phenomenon that is The Michigan Poem which debuted at the Traverse City conference. The performance of The Michigan Poem at the Southfield Youth Diversity Symposium in October was only the second public presentation. Kinetic Affect and The Michigan Poem have been picked up to be promoted by Weber Shandwick, a global public relations firm. “While we would really like to hold out for a payday on The Michigan Poem – the truth is this poem belongs to Michigan,” said Giron. Latimer added “…and, it just needs to be out there touching the hearts of the people of Michigan.” On November 6th Kinetic Affect debuted The Michigan Poem in its first big public setting – it was ‘poetry on ice’ at the K-Wings hockey game in Kalamazoo.

Kirk and Gabriel perform animately for thier audience

With a repertoire of 40 completed pieces and the start on at least 30 other poems, it is clear that Kinetic Affect has the material to meet the needs of a broad variety of performance opportunities. In addition, they have created a collaborative performance space in Kalamazoo to encourage regular spoken word performances, and they have established a nonprofit called Speak It Forward which is focused on youth. Latimer designed the Speak It Forward logo and Giron proudly wears it on his forearm as a tattoo.

Latimer brings both a sense of humor and physicality to the performances that have morphed into a distinctive language of movement for both performers. “We don’t really choreograph our pieces,” said Latimer. “But we have created a style of movement that works with the poetry, and now it is a natural part of our performance.”

Reading poems written by Giron and Latimer will move you, but seeing them perform in person will move you to change – and that’s the Kinetic Affect.

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