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If you would like me to come perform at your school, college, university, organization, conference or event please fill out the contact form. I perform solo and in musical ensembles for people as young as five.

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Artist Statement

I am both an avid traveler and a rooted community member. This paradox puts “place” at the center of my work. In my poetry I explore how I have been sculpted by my natural, political, and constructed surroundings. My work is rooted in my own experiences and the people with whom I’ve shared them. My poetry also branches out to explore how the plants, concrete, sky, rivers, streets and buildings are a part of my stories. Further, I imagine how the past and mystical or fantastical forces have shaped my experiences and the settings where they take place. I bring a traveler’s eye to my work, looking in all directions with a heightened sense of awareness seeking to absorb and understand.

Two recurring themes in my poetry are separation and rootedness. I’ve written about my separation from the natural world as someone who has lived in the city my entire life. I’ve written a conversation between my younger self a dandelion growing in the city. I’ve documented my first experiences in untamed nature through the lens of a teenage me standing in a take-out restaurant in my neighborhood looking at a framed picture of the jungle. I write about separation from other people, experienced in the mundane realities of not acknowledging the person sitting next to you on the bus to the personal and structural violence that my friends, neighbors and I have experienced.

My Grandfather and his family were forced to flee their home in 1941 when the Nazis invaded Belgrade, Yugoslavia. As refugees they crossed borders, bribed public officials, hired human traffickers and eventually, during the dead of winter, they walked through the Alps from Italy into the safety of Switzerland. In 2009 I retraced their route and returned home with a deep appreciation for my hometown and community. Since that trip my artistic practice has grown to include celebration and appreciation. I shout out friends in poems, lionize my local baseball league, write about my block party, street vendors and hole-in-the-wall music venues.

Writing and performing are equally important to me. I write poetry to connect. Performing poetry is an opportunity to build relationships and bring newness to the poem every time it is performed. The majority of my work is meant to live on the page and stage.

This commitment to performing comes from my initial entry into being an artist. Since 2002 I’ve freestyled in ciphers (improvisational rapping circles). Ciphers are incredibly nourishing, creative and inspiring spaces in which everyone contributes. Ciphers are often the starting point of lines, poems, concepts, projects and ideas. The symbiotic relationship between the different people in the cipher and the rapid building/bouncing of ideas/trains of thought from one person to another is where I feel most at home as a creative person. When I perform my poetry live I encourage audiences to respond audibly, tapping into the collaboration and connection of the cipher.

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Story and interview about retracing my family’s escape from the Nazis.

 

 

 

Photo Credits: Apiary Magazine, Daryl Cobb Jr. For The Harvest, Conrad Erb Photography for Live Connections

  • Now

    Now By Jacob Winterstein

    The alarm clock will not go off.
    The calendar will not turn to a day on which the alarm clock will go off.
    There are no appointments
    pocket books in which to put them
    wallets stuffed with receipts and intentions
    there is no ink with which to sign checks
    nothing to check.
    Check off, check up on, check in with, check. Check. One, two.

    There is no counting to be done
    inches to measure or columns to sort.

    There are no grudges to hold and nothing in which to hold them.

    There is no down to be let
    up to keep your head

    no locks
    doors
    not floating down creeks
    no broom sticks that aren’t masts
    bed sheets that aren’t sails
    beds that aren’t doors floating down creeks

    there are no clouds
    unworthy of your watching

    no breeze that you have felt before
    street vent steam beneath your curiosity

    there are no ones doing nothing
    you have never done nothing
    there is no need to worry about stillness

    no need to want
    there are no wants
    they are literally figments
    struck flint with no fuel

    there are no beings who aren’t being
    there is no no

    there is
    an uncontainable
    is

    there are, us
    breathing, beating

  • Step Through - Parts 1 & 2

    Step Through By Jacob Winterstein

    Pt. 1

    It’s not the man pinning a woman nose to nose with the hood ornament
    or the promise fist cocked behind his head
    that makes this story worth telling.

    It’s the four of us who stepped in,
    out of the lines we follow home.

    A man from the islands ran,
    his leather shoes flashed like his gold chain.
    Another jumped down from a truck
    with a Puerto Rican flag clinging to the antenna.
    A black man whose twang could have been North Carolina or North Philly
    called out and changed direction.
    And me, the youngest.

    Us four men converged
    from different corners
    arriving like choreography.

    Would have been a sight to see us share a table at Elena’s Soul
    Now, at this unwholesome hour,
    willing to step through the hesitation
    of what may be concealed in the waistband of the man
    holding a wrecking ball
    above
    this woman.

    The street lights holding us accountable,
    eight tense palms laid upon their estranged brother,
    “just go home, man.”

    I’d like to think the trees whispered down
    “We got you. 49th and Osage has got you.”
    That the autumn air cooled some fellas down that night, said,
    “Yo chill, don’t talk to her like that.”

    That the cables above our heads
    lifted up this scene
    and flashed it across the city

    and for a just moment

    people were acting right.

    At 6th and Alleghany
    a car slowed
    next to a woman
    walking alone, home
    and the driver yelled out

    “Yo Tina, it’s me, Tony, from around the way. You want a ride?”

    And they laughed the whole way.

    And he dropped her at her door.
    And waited for her to get in safe before he went home to his family.

    In Olde City
    at the let out
    a man’s drunk words began to stumble
    but before they could fall
    on a woman
    his friend caught them
    and offered up his just hailed cab.

    Back on Osage
    where a bomb once dropped
    the four of us didn’t beat the suddenly not so tough man,
    didn’t even threaten him.
    Just stared him away.

    This isn’t some “we’re heros!”

    The cab fare we all offered up.
    The ride home accepted.

    There were no good game
    handshakes
    before we scattered
    like peanut shells
    on a windy day.
    No acknowledge nods
    just bowed heads
    shaking

    This shouldn’t be

    a story

    worth telling.

    Pt. 2

    On the night I write this poem
    Nuala and Mari were harassed on the walk from their car  
    After they decided to drive the 3 blocks home
    from a planning meeting
    to stop street harassment.

    I want them to know that
    the streets they dream sleepless for: gentle
    at their best, indifferent
    at their worst

    exist in moments,
    which they will soon outgrow.

    the sandpaper hands that
    poured concrete flow
    from door to door
    will decorate these streets
    welcome. like livingroom
    needlepoint

    the baritone chorus of wires
    humming ominous
    will sooth
    like Clark Park congas  
    or go unnoticed like elevator music.

    this grid
    laid beneath our feet
    will be less block and sharp angles
    and more
    a pulsing reminder of
    blue chalked four-square courts

    Shadowed alleys to be navigated  
    will charcoal smoke warm invitations
    like the beef ribs Quan grilled
    at the 46th street block party

    street lights will no longer be
    inadequate solace.
    instead, glowing orange monuments
    to the purple pinata
    that Sarah and Alanna strung

    men
    will be satisfied.
    with the generous power
    of telling the kids “Order what you want, I got this”
    when the icecream truck rolls up

    empty front porch mouths
    will blow graduation parties onto the sidewalk

    eyelid window shades
    will bloom open
    releasing the fragrance
    of a homecooked meal.

    And the journey home
    will be celebrated
    like a marathon  
    or your journey home will feel less like a marathon
    the journey home will be less journey
    and more
    home  

  • Carpenter at the Mummers Parade

    Carpenter at the Mummers Parade By Jacob Winterstein

    stock and gruff and grated
    vocal chords
    brimmed with beer

    in shiny little bo peep drag
    that you had to wake up drunk to put on
    enough sequins to make disco look dim
    your wife's bra cradling newspaper and misplaced glitter
    wig cocked like a fitted
    you open the door to the new year
    sporting your mother's lingerie
    for all the neighborhood to see

    you started
    off singing
    out of key
    in unison
    with your fellow fancies
    clowns
    amateurs

    now you find yourself
    alone
    January sun pinging
    off your dress

    you uncork
    your bedazzled wand
    relieve your last
    inhibition

    on the side of this tire shop

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