Whether in song, poetry or his monthly columns in Real Change, Gui Jean-Paul Chevalier invokes a sense of humanity in every word. The writing always speaks to a piece of humanity we’ve lost, to the connections that have been broken.
In 2016 Chevalier released his first book of poetry, “Radical Human: The Anthology.” The book contains 40 poems that Chevalier conceived over 40 individual nights. Chevalier highlighted seven significant pieces in the book, each published with an original piece of art.
The work reflects his experience as an activist and an artist, two ideas that are very much one and the same in Chevalier.
Chevalier will speak at the Seattle Urban Book Expo, running at Washington Hall Aug. 26 from 1 to 5 p.m. As he approaches the one-year anniversary of the publication of “Radical Human,” he will “make a special announcement concerning the book.”
Chevalier spoke with Real Change on May Day in a quiet coffee shop while protests carried on outside. He reflected on our loss of humanity, our need for connection and how we must build protective shields to protect our soft, inner cores.
Could you tell me what “the radical human” means?
It’s a philosophy. “A point of spirit” is a philosophy and that philosophy is being resilient in this crazy, reckless world and being a decider to protect yourself and humanity and everything sacred. And if you do that, you protect yourself, but also, you have the emotional capacity and integrity and will power to protect those around you. It’s a spirit that’s weathered, that’s been through the fire. And so really that forging process, it’s the refinement process that teaches you the importance of humanity and empathy, understanding how emotion and heartbreak and stuff can hurt you and being aware of that so you can prevent it from someone else. It’s protecting yourself and having a strong shield of hard resiliency that protects our inner core. And our inner core is really soft. And because it’s soft, it’s hard for us to accept that. So it’s radical to be strong; it’s also radical to be soft and to decide to accept that.
In your poetry and your pieces for Real Change, you seemt to be reminding people about being human almost as if we’ve forgotten how. Do you think that’s the case?
I do, definitely. And I feel like if we really dig into humanity, we would see a different world. So I think we need reminders. It’s all we have, it’s all to live for. Really nothing else, of all of our time spent in our day, doesn’t mean anything if we’re not doing anything good.
How do we get back to that humanity?
I think we have to talk to each other, we have to hear our story. We have to hear who we are and take the time to talk to somebody. I think there’s a lot of things that we don’t know how to say because we don’t know somebody and we don’t know how to fix a problem. I think people are a puzzle and are worth the time to figure out with pause and reflection, and sifting through the good and bad of experiences and empathy and strength, we can begin to find our own roadmaps to our own souls.
You said there are a lot of themes of resilience within the book. Why is that?
Because we live in a crazy world, not just politically or socially but even just in human dynamics. I write these poems from human experiences, experiences that I’ve had from judgment or fear, judgment of me, mischaracterization and too many times of not being heard or given a chance to speak for myself. I think if we were to let people speak for themselves instead of trying to tell people who they are or who to be, we open up the conversation for their own talent and spirit and beauty to shine. I think everyone has a level of beauty and magic that we don’t always see because we haven’t given them the space to do that or given them the emotional freedom to do that. We don’t know people. We really don’t. We have 500 to 1,000 people on Facebook, but we don’t know who they are. We really don’t know who they are. If we did, we’d see a better world.
But back to resilience, I write this for the hope that people that have been quiet and trodded down, that have not been heard or listened to or had a chance for themselves, for them to find their own strength and courage to be themselves in this reckless world. I was one. I was a quiet person, I sat idly by for the sake of just making a smooth day and just satisfying others for the sake of the peace even though that peace didn’t foster peace for my own self. With that, I wanted to inspire people to be themselves and to find the power of resilience of the human spirit, for themselves, that they might become strong, independent, but also learners of community. You can only do that if you know who you are and if you trust yourself. And it’s hard to trust yourself when people don’t listen to you.
Where does the spiritual element of your writing comes from?
Yes. I’ll preface it by saying “Radical Human” is a book that I write for all people to hear and to read and interpret for their own way. I was born and raised Christian my whole life and do believe that God is real and have found solace in that. I’m not asking for anybody else to, but I borrow terms that are often found only in scripture, analogy and metaphor, to communicate these things that are a part of our lives tied to emotion in trying to communicate the gems and the beauty that’s here. And I think to communicate the beauty, you have to liken it to something ethereal and otherworldly.
What does it mean when you say, “My faith will not blink to the flash of light.”
Yes. That’s in the first poem of the book, and I wrote that poem to say being who you are requires not being persuaded by influence or what people think you should be or any distractions out there, but looking into yourself and finding everything that’s true and deciding to stick with that. I wanted that to be a phrase and a point of resilience and strength and empowerment. Really it’s the power to decide and just the confidence of making a sound decision for yourself.
There was a theme in the book — particularly in “Center,” which reads “Anchored to Foundation, behind the reach of timed faith” — of this idea of standing in the center of the chaos.
What’s that about?
Sometimes, you feel like you’re in the center of a storm and being aware of circles of gossip that your name has found itself in. Sometimes that can be push and pull between advice that you don’t maybe agree with or feel pressure to listen to for whatever reason. So if you’re kind of at the center and not this side or that side of any pool that you are attached to. On this poem, I pictured being in a dark closet and just kind of meditating. And it’s when I said “anchor to foundation behind the reach of timed faith,” it’s really another quiet analogy for prayer. “Timed faith” is me saying that prayer is almost like pulling the trigger on demons, and the whole realm of faith and prayer is kind of like that back-pocket weapon you use when everything else you’ve tried doesn’t work. In those moments, you have to quiet all the ruckus and noise and clamor of the gossip and ruckus and just zone into yourself and say, what do I want, what do I feel and there’s a lot of power in just being at center and not leaning to anything around you.
So there’s 40 poems in the piece and that number’s important. Tell me about that.
Yes, I wrote the book with 40, and my own quiet, subtle reason for that is to symbolize 40 days and 40 nights of hard, long thought of the 40 nights that I wrote this book. And, of course, those 40 nights are stretched out, they’re not 40 consecutive days — not at all — but 40 days total. So I did that just to communicate seasons of trial and turmoil and maybe if people knew that, that I reach out from a pure premise and I feel like if people are aware that someone’s having a hard time, like, oh, they want to do something about it. But a lot of times, it’s hard to ask for help or want to trust somebody or a conversation, just to be a friend or whatever, if we don’t trust that that person is going to take what you have to say and hold it as sacred.
Tell me about your music projects.
I’m very excited for that. The album is set to be released at the beginning of 2018. Just last week, actually, I was working with the producer by the name of Shuad and Hekl the Mad Scientist. My artist name is The Radical Human because I wrote the book. So the music is pop and it’s dance and it’s soul and some rock influences in there, too. And because I am the only dichotomy of both the alter-ego created and the “me” underneath it all. It’s quite fun, it’s quite fun. It’s a very interesting process and it tells you a lot about yourself but quite rewarding to see what happens and kind of trusting yourself to see what comes about. Sometimes it’s surprising and sometimes it’s scary but it’s rewarding. I think right now, I have about six or seven songs that are close to being finished. I still have a couple collaborations that I still have set, just trying to figure out the timing to get those together.
Is writing lyrics for music a different process for you than writing poetry?
Oh, yeah. Tenfold, oh yeah. They come in waves. I wrote a lot of songs in 2015 and 2014, a bit of a drought in 2016 because, for me, the best way I get lyrics is with a melody, which doesn’t come when you want it to, but when it does, it comes. And sometimes you’re at a bus stop and it’s cold and you’re scrambling for a pen to remember the words. The first video, which should come out, ideally in September, that I’ve shot is for a song that came together faster than anything else. One is called “Only Stars,” and that one’s just about us artists, our minds are always kind of just out there in the clouds, in the sky and so just kind of a fun way to accept that our minds are always up there going somewhere else. Yeah, so the writing for songs, it’s to a melody. While many of these poems have their own kind of rhythm to it, as I’ve heard people say, not that I did that intentionally but as I’ve heard people say, there’s specific moments that you have the inspiration to write a song. It’s the time it takes for that moment to come. And then there’s also those moments when you’re in the studio with a producer and you hear a beat and then you write new words off that that you didn’t know where there and that’s always a very fun experience.
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