How can poetry translate or disrupt political dialogue? In what way is classroom teaching a performance?

In Episode 34 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach and guest Karen Jaime discuss the history of queer and trans* Puerto Rican poets in New York City, how professors can use the classroom as both an artistic and activist space, how poets paradoxically use language to bust through language barriers, poetry as consciousness raising, and why queer and trans artists of color turn to multimedia and transdisciplinary work to forge social justice movements.

We invite you to check out the episode, as well as the show notes and highlights below.

Guest: Karen Jaime

Karen is an Assistant Professor of Performing and Media Arts and Latina/o Studies at Cornell University. Karen’s current book project, The Queer Loisaida: Performance Aesthetics at the Nuyorican Poets Café, reveals the world-renowned Nuyorican Poets Café as a historically queer space—both in terms of sexualities and performance practices. Karen has published in the journals Women and Performance, e-Misférica, Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism, and TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. In addition to Karen’s critical writing and research, she is also an accomplished spoken word and performance artist. She served as the host and curator for the Friday Night Slam at the Nuyorican Poets Café, participated in the spoken word documentary film Spit!, and was featured in the Emmy-award winning CUNY-TV program Nueva York, a television show focusing on the different aspects of Latino culture in New York City. Karen’s poetry is included in The Best of Panic! En Vivo From the East Village, Flicker and Spark: A Queer Anthology of Spoken Word and Poetry, and in a special issue of Sinister Wisdom: A Multicultural Lesbian Literary and Art Journal called “Out Latina Lesbians.” 

We chatted about

  • How Karen entered the world of spoken-word poetry (03:58)
  • The political nature of Karen’s poetry and poetry more broadly (08:21)
  • Ways to increase access to our messages through poetry and mixed-medium art forms (10:17)
  • The classroom as an activist performance space (13:53)
  • Karen’s particular mix of art, academia, and activism (19:38)
  • Imagining Otherwise (23:14)


The political nature of Karen’s work

“I think of a lot of my current work as a type of performed historiography where I engage with current events, social justice movements, and how the media covers that information.”

The politics of poetry

“[Poetry is] very much a populist performance genre, and a type of vernacular cultural production that allows direct dialogue with audiences, and it doesn’t require a lot of money to do it. So it allows for a different type of access.”

How Karen pushes her art in new directions

“Always trying to think of ways that you can reimagine art, so that you can reach these audiences, that wider dissemination of what you’re trying to articulate.”Karen Jaime pull quote, Imagine Otherwise podcast

Why marginalized groups often turn to multimedia art forms

“When you’ve always been relegated to the margins, it’s about trying to figure out ways to articulate your voice and have people listen to your reality.”

How Karen’s identity informs her classroom teaching

I’m very clear as to what my gender presentation is. I’m very clear as to the fact that I am a queer brown body that is masculine of center, standing in front of this classroom of students who may never have experienced this before.”

Imagining otherwise

“First I would like to live in a world where we have a different president—and we have a different relationship to discussions about race, class, and sexuality.”

More from Karen

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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