Denver Poet Theo Wilson Explores The ‘Law Of Action’ In Life And Activism

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Photo: Denver slam poet, activist Theo Wilson
Denver artist and activist Theo Wilson.

Listening to rap music in college made Theo Wilson want to write poetry. The Denver artist and activist later joined Slam Nuba, a Denver-based performance poetry team that won the 2011 National Poetry Slam. His high-energy, intense performances often focus on activism and social justice -- themes at the heart of his new book, "The Law of Action: Master Key to the Universe We Actually Live In."

Wilson tells Colorado Matters the book is part autobiography, part prose, and part meditation on Wilson's personal philosophy. He will also present at TEDxMileHigh in Denver, which runs July 7-8.

Conversation Highlights With Theo Wilson

On growing up in Denver's Park Hill:

"I remember the friendships and these very brilliant summers of us playing outside. I also remember the violence, the overshadowing of the gangs and how that entered my life around 6- or 7-years-old... There was a young black guy cleaning the halls of my school. And I remember my teachers sitting us down and telling us that he got shot. And I remember this mind-blowing thing happening to me. It opened up this world that my parents had tried to keep me from. I saw these guys around my neighborhood, but this really reinterpreted it for me who they were. And then, I began to see more talk about it in the news and how Denver was considered 'Baby Los Angeles.' This shadow was cast over my neighborhood."

On why he stayed away from gangs:

"My father used to be an active gang member in Brooklyn. He got out of that life when he got drafted. But my father had a context for it that I think was advantageous for me. And part of that advantageousness was the fact that he was so powerful. Even some of my friends who would come around, who I knew were kind of into that life, were afraid of him. Thusly, since this was the man taking care of me, any appeal that that life had [for me], my father put that in check right away. There was no way I was gonna come home, talking about I'm a part of this life, and have to answer to this man."

On how rap inspired him to write:

"I got to writing because I needed to work through the stuff that was in my head -- a lot of sadness that was going on because I got to know too much too early. Then that sadness got kind of vented into rap and I began to hang out with some guys who were battle rappers. These guys were wicked clever with the punch lines. They were very destructive in what they were talking about, but at least they were putting thought into it. So I started to go that route, but it wasn't authentic. I wasn't doing the stuff that rappers were talking about what they were doing. So it didn't make any sense to [rap about that same stuff]. I started to focus this ability that I learned [making] the punch line into these political and spiritual topics... and I began to write slam poems."

On what a rapidly changing Denver means to him:

"Prior to black people living [in Park Hill], there was white people living there. It's this shifting thing: there's white flight, then black people move in and then gentrification once more. It's a strange pendulum. Gentrification is economic warfare to a certain extent. There are other ways to do urban renewal. You don't have to gentrify. There are ground-up examples that have been used... But this gentrification situation in Denver have shot up rent prices so high before there was a safety net in place. And that's the thing that I get concerned about."


Editor's note: In the interview, the host said Wilson is a founder of the slam poetry team Slam Nuba. Wilson is actually a founding team member.