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Voices and Verses

National Poetry Month: “This Side Up” By Outspoken Bean

The Houston poet reads a poem inspired by a daring escape to freedom.


Grady Carter Photography
Emanuelee Outspoken Bean


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In this sound portrait, we meet poet Emanuelee Outspoken Bean. He shares the story behind his stage name, talks about his projects #Midweekstanzas and Five-Minute Poems and describes why poetry is important to him. He performs his poem, "This Side Up."

Outspoken Bean is a national-ranking performance poet, writer, mentor, entertainer and educator. During his senior year in college, Bean founded and coached Prairie View A&M University's first poetry slam team, which received regional and national recognition. His many honors include 2011 Texas Poet Laureate nominee, 2016 Idea Fund recipient and 2017 Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs Artist-in-Residence. He has collaborated with multiple genres and institutions, including Houston Ballet and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Bean serves as the Project Coordinator and Lead Coach for Meta-Four Houston, a project of Writers in the Schools.


This Side Up

A few things I've learned from Henry Brown.

First, he was a Virginia slave –
Henry Brown arrived in Philadelphia March 30, 1849 as a free man
Second, he got a nick name –
Henry Box Brown shipped himself in a wooden crate
that was 3 feet long by 2 feet wide and displayed the words “dry goods” and "this side up"
Third, this side up is the best example of foreshadowing I've ever learned about
Fourth, when Box Brown rose out of his crate that he had just spent 30 hours
inside of …
he called
that moment
a resurrection.

So I ask –
Let your truth seep
What is within you that should rise
If you feel froggy – you leap
When was the last time
You truly felt Phoenix –
Because I can see –
That you're fire – you're fly
(At the same dang time)

I wonder
What are the limitations of your hunger
The trench of your thirst
Not for water – not for food
But for your future
I have a query of questions
For your internal tribe

Marching has become partial payment
The stakes of Freedom take a Kobe investment
Sometimes we're fork and knife ready with no plates – no mats – no table

Our people find moments of perseverance
When we're being gambled
In between
Distraction and Destiny
Destruction and Divinity

Seventh thing I've learned:
Perfection is overrated
And it's not worth more than the
Complete path.

Other than skin color
Henry Box Brown mirrors Dr. King
Sometimes you're too busy thinking outside the box when God is telling you
to go in
Dream packages are shipped with His stamp of approval

So square up dreamers
We're already inside the ring
And it's up to us to
Be boxed in
Or be ready to Box

Because as you know
As foreshadow-boxing goes
It's always This Side Up


This poem is reprinted with permission of the author.

Music used: Forte (excerpt), Sun Will Set (excerpt) and Possible (excerpt) by Zoë Keating from Snowmelt and One Cello x 16: Natoma

To learn more about this series, go here.

Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Senior Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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