September 2023
Dee Cohen on Poetry
Dee Cohen

Truth B. Told

"Forget poetry, I write lifelines."

The dynamic live performances of Phoenix spoken-word artist Truth B. Told have captivated, educated, and enlightened audiences worldwide. He’s opened for acts including Floetry, Mint Condition and Musiq Soulchild, and made many appearances on VH1 and MTV. He’s received National Poetry Awards and performed everywhere from schools to sports arenas. He’s completed a book, Words I Remember, and a hip-hop/jazz-infused spoken-word album, Oxymoronicotineverland. And he’s just getting started.

For Truth, words are sacred, allowing him to share his vision with others and elevate their consciousness regarding the need for social change. “I believe artists have a responsibility to speak on important topics, whether it be political or personal. For the last seven years the overwhelming majority of my work has been tied to social-justice issues, given the importance and volatility of the times we are living in.” He finds many parallels between writing and preaching, as illustrated in his spoken-word poem “My Testimony.”

But I thank God that I’m a poet

See, I stay devoted

Spoken word for me is more than Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights,

poetry slams and open mics

I don't play poet

‘cause this gift ain’t a game God gave me

He made me design each rhyme as if each line is trying to find salvation

Born Christopher Owens, Truth’s love of poetry began early. By the sixth grade he was writing poems with social-justice content, including one called “More Than a River.” “It discussed racism and its effects on the city through redlining, environmental racism, etc. Looking back, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I became a writer and spoken-word artist.” He continues to find much inspiration in the world around him. “Life! Personal experiences and observations, the experiences of others, the highs, the lows, the pain, the joy, every color of emotion and experience gives me an opportunity to express myself and share stories through this medium.”

Guys, this ain’t poetry

These are testimonies

And every cat you hear speaking ain’t nothin’ more than a deacon

And we didn’t come here for some game or some show

And this stopped being a poem about a minute ago

His performances are energizing and inspirational, an open communication between poet and listener. “I believe performing gives the audience an opportunity to connect, engage and move on an emotional level that isn’t provided with poetry on the page. You get to feel the poem on a human/spiritual level.”

This ain’t a poem

These are God’s teachings reaching my thinking

Leaking through my inkpen onstage speaking in hopes that I reach them

Truth finds spoken word to be more expansive than other forms of poetry. “The structures and restraints that exist in certain styles of poetry don’t exist in spoken word, which gives me the ability to not only incorporate different writing skills, but provides a freedom to engage and connect with audiences on an intimate level that welcomes and encourages dialogue.”

So how can I reach you from a pulpit if you think I’m full of it

That’s why that young kid who feels his life ain’t worth living

Feels his spirits lifted from the lyrics I give him

Ain't that deliverance?

His influences are varied and extensive, including many poets and musicians. “Too many to name, but hip-hop and jazz have heavy and noticeable influences on my work. Original influences include Gil Scott-Heron, Nikki Giovanni, The Last Poets, The Notorious B.I.G., and Jay-Z; modern influences include Taalam Acey, Georgia ME, Black Ice, and countless others.”

I’m a poet

And I know it don’t make me better, poets never ever claim to be

Never said we were better persons,

just try to make you better persons through our Verses

And this ain’t me versus churches, I just know what my purpose is

Truth loves performing and connecting with audiences, inspiring them to confront social inequities and work toward change. He encourages others to “Do what’s right because it’s right, not for the likes.” Ultimately, he can’t picture himself doing anything else. “To be honest? It’s one of the few careers where I can speak freely about my experiences and personal history through the lens of a Black man and not have to worry about being fired.”

So it's safe to say I write the hell out of a poem

Exorcising demons just by speaking

Truth refers to himself as a writer, spoken-word artist, teaching artist, and entrepreneur. For the last five years he has devoted time and energy to working with Culture PHX, a community-focused company dedicated to preserving and promoting Black cultural arts throughout Phoenix. “A long-term focus of mine has always been to create lasting and impactful avenues to empower creatives, entrepreneurs, and small-business owners in the Black community.” Besides his work with Culture PHX he continues to write and maintain a busy performance and speaking schedule, remaining attuned to original ideas for poems. “I’m usually drawn to write about whatever is on my heart or mind, especially in relation to social issues. Emotion and inspiration are always the two main catalysts for my work.”

The doors of my verses are open, let the church say Amen

The doors of my verses are open, let the church say Amen

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Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer.