With our upcoming event, indieBerlin immersion, this Friday at Entropy Collective, we caught up with two of the poet and spoken word performers, Shajara Bunny and Luke Swenson about their ideas and experience. Their work will be interlaced between musicians and visual artists on the night.
Luke Swenson is a poet, performer, translator and collaborator, often focusing on the physicality of poetry and regularly uses his entire body to express various ideas on stage. Exceptionally abstract, Luke says he considers the future, birds and melodrama and someday he will consider them all together and that he is desperately trying to forget how to read. His poems and translations have been recently propagated by Bloomsbury Publishing (expected Winter 2017), Trashaus Publishing (May 2018) and Lost Sparrow Press (Winter 2017). He is also a contributor of Künstler/Künstlerin, an artist’s event in Berlin.
Shajara Bunny is an Egyptian-American poet and spoken word artist living in Berlin. With the ability to create spoken word pieces out of thin air that are both poignant and sometimes hilarious, Shajara knows how to read his audience. Shajara says that right now he’s working on an original collection of poetry while trying to figure out what eight hours of sleep a night looks like.
indieBerlin: Why do you think it’s important to mix art forms?
Luke: I think that there are nearly infinite ways to perform or write a poem. Performing with artists of other mediums reminds me of how many ways there are to skin a cat.
Shajara: Being a spoken word poet it is easy to get too caught in your own head, with your own rhythms and stories. Working with other artists to think about how to convey the same sentiment in a new medium makes me really think about what I want to say. Which not only leads to great collaborations but also helps me create clearer narratives in my own art.
indieBerlin: What does immersion mean to you?
Luke: Being in a forest is immersive because you can smell the plant life, you can see colors, you can hear animal calls, you can touch the leaves. Artworks are immersive that are accessed by many senses.
Shajara: To me, immersion is about creating experiences. It’s about taking the usual hierarchy of art and realizing they’re silly and limiting. I’d much rather craft a moment with a room of people invested in co-creating the moment than try to chase people for their attention. The right audience finds the vibe welcoming, and the best collaborations take you in artistic directions you could never reach alone.
indieBerlin: How has Berlin inspired your work?
Luke: I have been really inspired to live somewhere where multiple languages are used in daily life.
Performing with artists of other mediums reminds me of how many ways there are to skin a cat.
Shajara: I started with spoken word three years ago. My first week at university, an upperclassman took another student and I to 16th and Mission in San Francisco. It’s a weekly open mic that happens on the street above the subway station. The people there were so real compared to the all the high profile techies I’d meet around the city, that I immediately fell in love with the vibe. I went back every week and with it got a lot of practice with my poetry. Since then I’ve organized, participated and competed in spoken word events all over. One of my favorites was definitely working with a few friends to organize a poetry slam in Hyderabad, India with a local poetry organization.
Luke: John Giorno has really inspired me. His live performances as well as his poems.
indieBerlin: How did you come up with the name Shajara Bunny?
Shajara: Shajara is actually my third first name. I started changing my name for different phases of my life before I realized it would help my art to have at least one constant name. Hence I go by whatever my first name happens to be at the time and “Bunny” when performing. I decided to go with Bunny because it was my middle name on facebook.
How Bunny came to be on my facebook name is because my high school sweetheart and I were both really into this steampunk band called Steam Powered Giraffe. All the members of the band dressed up as automatons for every performance, I kid you not. Anyways, one of the main members was called Rabbit, but after they transitioned they felt more comfortable going by Bunny. Facebook wouldn’t let them change their first name because understandably it seemed fake. More fake than Rabbit? Debatable. However, Facebook didn’t have such restrictions for middle names, and thus a bunch of fans changed our middle names to Bunny. I was too lazy to change it and so now, six years later there are some people who only know me as Bunny.
indieBerlin: What was your biggest stage fuck-up?
Luke: I’ve torn open the crotch in my jeans. Lord knows if anyone noticed.
To me, immersion is about creating experiences. It’s about taking the usual hierarchy of art and realizing they’re silly and limiting.
indieBerlin: If your work was a movie, which genre would it be in?
Shajara: Some absurdist student film. None of it makes sense and it is definitely in need of a bigger budget.
indieBerlin: What was the nicest compliment you once got?
Shajara: A stranger once told me I have a kind smile and then asked me for a Euro. He used it to buy a beer, which we ended up splitting as we crossed Berlin talking for 6 hours. That was an unexpected and lovely day that came from a single simple compliment.
indieBerlin: How does the writing process work for you?
Luke: It changes so much. Almost every time feels different.
indieBerlin: In ten years you look back to today and think:_
Shajara: I should have bet everything on Croatia winning the World Cup in 2026.