Kirk Latimer was a high school English teacher when he heard a student get up and perform spoken word poetry for the first time. He was so moved by the experience that he encouraged all his students to tell their stories through spoken word poetry.
But then in the middle of class, one of his students called him out. He challenged Kirk to share his own story the way he wanted them to share theirs. And he did.
Now, he’s one half of Kinetic Affect. A full-time spoken word duo that’s made up of Kirk and his poetry partner Gabriel Giron.
When he was a teenager, Kirk Latimer says he was angry, violent, and into drugs. Then, when he was a senior in high school, he experienced something that would change his life dramatically.
“Five of my friends killed themselves in a three month time period," he recalls. "The media called us, ‘Suicide High,’ because I guess it had a great ring to it."
Kirk says those events opened his eyes to let him see how blessed he was to just be alive, even with some difficult trials.
Those trials include things like being a victim of child abuse.
“You can choose to use those circumstances in your past to say, ‘Oh, poor me— it justifies why I hate the world,'" explains Kirk. "Or, you can say, ‘It was hard at the time. But this is a gift. Can I use this for other people? Can I use this to improve my own life?’”
In 2006, Kirk met Gabriel Giron when they competed with each other at a poetry slam competition in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Gabriel moved to Michigan from New York when he was young. As part of that transition period, he attended four different schools in four consecutive years.
He says he began to close down to others, and that eventually put him with the wrong crowd.
“For me it was in middle school, getting involved in drugs and alcohol and gangs at a young age,” he says.
At 14 years old, Gabriel went from using drugs, to selling them. Not having many options after high school, he decided to enlist in the Army.
Shortly after making that decision, he was diagnosed with cancer and spent three years at Walter Reed Medical Center. He was there when the attacks of 9/11 took place.
"It was a very eye-opening experience for me. A lot of self-reflection and introspection.”
Gabriel says he always loved writing— it was a coping mechanism for him. So when he moved to back to Michigan, he decided to pursue creative writing, and that eventually led him to spoken word poetry.
“I grew up writing a lot of rhymes, raps, that kind of stuff," Gabriel explains. "At some point, for most artists, you end up having to sacrifice part of the message to be able to contain that format."
He says when he found spoken word, it was all about free verse. He creates his own rhythm, his own metaphors, and the means which he uses to drive a message through the poem.
Kirk Latimer says what they are doing is nothing new. Poetry has been around forever. But he says it’s important to share their stories because it helps them realize that they are not alone.
“It’s part of building our culture, and building who we are as people," Kirk explains. "And really what we do is harken back to what is an ancient art form. We just do it in a way that’s more contemporary."
Kinetic Affect performs in Traverse City, Thursday September 22, at 7:00pm. They are part of SPEAK UP, a free public event hosted by Addiction Treatment Services at the City Opera House.