Local Poet Visits Teens, Speaks About Youth Art Program

By Locke Meyer

According to local poet MK Stallings, a verb is the "most potent" part of a sentence. You probably haven't thought about that too much before, but Stallings? He thinks about it all the time.

On Wednesday, Stallings, founder of local youth art program UrbArts, spoke to a group of teens participating in the summer program “OneCity Stories.” OneCity Stories is a three-week program where students who enjoy writing learn about written journalism, radio, and filmmaking. The students interviewed Stallings on his experiences founding the UrbArts program, going through high school, and growing up with poetry and hip-hop. Although most people would have you know poetry and hip-hop are distinct, in Stallings’ opinion, they are one and the same.

Stallings started writing poems and raps when he was only seven years old. He enjoyed listening to the hip-hop artists of the time, but his main inspiration to start hip-hop was LL Cool J. Throughout high school he produced his own music with his brother’s help and released a demo in his senior year. This demo, “Secrets,” never made it to shelves. Despite this fact, it was a major step on his journey to eventually become a professional poet.

In 1999, he started the Urban Artist Alliance as a way to collaborate with other artists to improve their art and the community. In 2001, a program director from a juvenile detention center approached him and asked if he could help organize a project for the kids there. What would they do? Write poetry. There was just one problem: there was nothing in the budget to facilitate workshops. He was advised to seek out a non-profit organization to help fund the program.

“Entrepreneurial by nature,” Stallings started the UrbArts program. UrbArts began as an organization similar to the Urban Artist Alliance, but is directed more towards the youth of the region. At first, it was merely a collective of artists, but over time evolved to become a non-profit organization focused on teaching young artists and publishing and displaying their projects. Today, it hosts an annual youth poetry slam called “VerbQuake” and creates exhibits of its young artists’ work.

When asked about his tips for young writers, he gave the advice to immerse yourself in your genre of writing. For instance, read books about it. Expose yourself to it. Get “deep into it.” Although some people may believe that reading too much literature in your genre may cause other authors’ ideas to leech into your work, Stalling thinks it’s completely fine. This is what Stallings is all about: exploring and studying your craft.