Courtney L. Smith

Poetic Liberation behind the Microphone

By Courtney L. Smith

13th Amendment has been liberating microphones in the southern portion of Atlanta,
Georgia and most recently Houston, Texas. The gospel has been poetically dispersed upon
numerous microphones in addition to his artistic styles of lyrical protests against many of the
social injustices commonly observed by our society. He has embedded his voice in the minds of
poetic patrons through his book Beautiful Scars: The Bittersweet Struggle. 13th Amendment
has two compact discs. Both Psalms of Liberation and Street Corner Slaves release vocal
extrications from generational curses, oppressive habits, and environmental ignorance. Sowing
seeds into the adolescents and younger people of his community is a mission that led to his
spoken-word involvement. 13th Amendment is a prominent member of both Tower of Poets
and Christian Poetics, the Houston based organization that he is looking to see a lot of great
things from as they go into the future. He is also a part of Tower of Poets in Atlanta, Georgia,
which is a poetic collective, and they have done some phenomenal things as well. He obtained
his Masters in Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary on June 18, 2016. These are his words
regarding the length of his activity in poetry: “I would probably say I have been performing a
little bit over twelve years.”
Touching people with his vocal fingertips brings more than simple performances that
are riddled with artistic patterns and poignant expressions. His objectives combine spreading
the gospel and bringing awareness to sex trafficking, racial discrimination, and civil rights. He
invests himself into his art with the passion and determination of an obsessed gambler filing for
bankruptcy before entering the casino, again. Every opportunity to convey the love of God is
engrained into him like a circuit board. 13th Amendment ignites his words in a manner
resembling lit matches and gasoline. This is his account regarding his motivation: “As far as my
motivation for performing poetry, honestly, is just to communicate every aspect of who I am to
the people and giving to them spiritually, socially, and mentally. That is just making sure that I
try to communicate who I am to the audience. In some cases, I would probably even say
communicate the love of God. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but you know, I want every
person that I have an interaction with or engage to know that it’s more than just speaking
words through a microphone. It is, in a sense, getting in touch with who they are in their
essence.”
Fostering relationships bear more significance for 13th Amendment than seeking
awards or plaques for his performances. Encountering countless individuals and affecting their
lives with performances yield more merit for him than grasping plaques and objects of wood,
metal, and plastic covered in metallic paint. Penetrating the hearts and minds of listening ears
with the impact of a flaming meteor disintegrating the surrounding areas fulfills his desires
more than any form of recognition. Having a network of people awaiting communication with
him or others brings 13th Amendment true satisfaction. Here is how he feels about
recognition: “I don’t know. That’s a really good question. I don’t really look for recognition in a
sense. I’ve built a lot of great relationships over the years, and I think those relationships have

mattered more to me than the actual recognition. I have done things where I was not
necessarily trying to be the poet-of-the-year in a sense, but I have done things where I was just
consciously building relationships to get to know people, to build networks and stuff like that.
But I don’t think I have ever done things consciously to say I wanted to gain recognition.”
Having influential people who are known for their activities throughout the city, nation,
and world witnessing his performances tends to fulfill his accomplishments more than most
others with the exception of implementing his messages of God’s love through poetry. No
enthusiasm courses through the poet’s body like rapids within the rivers with achieving fame or
wealth. However, 13th Amendment will clutch a microphone as though a winning lottery
ticket is produced. Competing in poetic competitions such as the slams does not ignite his
passion like having someone being baptized or accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord. Here is
Thirteenth’s perspective on the matter: “One of the highlights is being able to stand before a
lot of prestigious people. I mean people who are quite notable in the community, nationally,
and internationally. You know, being in the presence of those kinds of people who recognize
you in honor of what you do, to me, was way more than any award I would have ever received.
And honestly, that is kind of what I got into poetry for: to interact with people, so I don’t think I
have ever been gung-ho about trying to receive accolades and awards in slams and stuff like
that. Now, the poets do it, but I know that even when I have gotten into poetry slams, my
heart wasn’t really into it. There are slam poets who are phenomenal and dope, and, you know
what I’m saying, they are good at what they do. I think there are a lot of poets who are just
well rounded and whatever. For me, I only want to go where my heart it at, and my heart has
never been into slam poetry.”
The goals upon 13th Amendment’s agenda involve launching Emissary MDM
International and Liberation180 Communications and immersing himself in obtaining his goals
for the future. Having printing presses release another book for later times brings some degree
of contentment for 13 th Amendment prepares for approaching events. His desire to reconcile
the church with the streets fuels his personal movement to unite people with God. Liberation
enthralls the audience upon hearing his voice. His mind is always active in regards to bringing
people, poetry, and the gospel, together. He explains his experience in his own words: “I’ve
gone through a lot of transitions. I used to stay in Atlanta, and one of my reasons for moving to
Houston was because I wanted to pursue a Masters in Divinity to fine tune my theological
perspectives for engaging urban communities, and it is a graduate school with the best
programs. Fuller Theological Seminary is one of the best schools in the country for theological
engagement. As a result of that, I said how can I fuse what I do theologically and poetically? In
the future, I am releasing a book that is going to connect the existence of the church with the
mission of God in the streets. It will help people know what it means to be a follower of Jesus
Christ as well as the mission of the church. This is the reason for Emissary MDM Int. An
emissary is someone who speaks on behalf of another. MBM are the initials of our last names.
I see myself as an ambassador of The Messiah. This whole concept is being able to build and
take different facets of who I am and package it for public consumption.”

No obscure or esoteric desire exists for how 13th Amendment wants to be
remembered. He simply wants his performances, influence, and legacy to characterize his
career with his mission to leave the imprint of Jesus Christ within the hearts of his audiences
throughout the nation. He does not mention having statues erected in his honor or possessing
financial accounts with six or seven digits as a goal. His mission and objective in poetry and life
is making sure social ills are addressed and Jesus Christ is exalted through his performances.
Here is his perception of the matter: “I really want people to remember me as a poet who
really loved poetry, and someone who was not only a great lyricist but was intentional about
practicing what I speak and trying to walk the walk of God. If anyone sees that, this essentially
highlights what I would want anyone to remember about me. In essence, I love both poetry
and people.”
Obtaining his products is as simple as going to Amazon or approaching him, personally.
A CD or mp3 of his performances are only a few electrical impulses away through a few
keystrokes connecting to the Internet. Having the previously mentioned access or obtaining his
email address should permit availability to his products. Knowing how to reach him is as easy
as blinking. Of course, this is how he conveys it: “As I always say, ‘in the back of the trunk of my
car.’ When you see me in the streets, hit me up. My first published called Beautiful Scars: the
Bittersweet Struggle is still available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, other major online retailers.
It’s available there, so they can pick up Beautiful Scars: the Bittersweet Struggle. You call also
go to http://www.christianpoetics.com.
There is no way to list all of the influences affecting 13th Amendment: it is as lengthy as
the U.S. Census. He feels the need to credit many of the poets he has meet and shared the
stage with for influencing him. Urban Light (I cannot forget, is like my other mentor. I talk to
her as often as I ever get a chance to.) and Hank Stewart (who hosts The Love Jones Sunday
venue as well as The Hank Stewart Foundation) are two influences who have exposed 13 th
Amendment to a larger audience. Hearing the appreciation of others within his circles provides
the satisfaction he desires. 13th Amendment communicates this through his response to his
influences: “It’s a collection of a lot of people from Gil Scott Herron (I love his work because he
was able to masterfully fuse politics, love, and social issues.), Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets
to Def Poet Black Ice have been a huge influence. Black Ice literally defined how I wanted to
come off in spoken word as well as the ATL poetry culture. I remember a lot of poets from
Atlanta have inspired me. Tommy Bottoms, an Atlanta Def Poet, forced me to think, more
politically. I could talk about Georgia Me, Abyss, Malik Salaam, Cocktails, and the list goes on.”
The story behind 13 th Amendment’s stage name is nearly as intriguing as its origin. The
powerful motivation pushing the agenda associated with his name reflects the purpose of the
poet. Liberation inundates his purpose and name as it saturates poetic venues with
enlightenment and empowerment through his art. The transition of his development from its
initial stages to the present was not completed easily in one day. 13th Amendment expresses
his own growth from his poetic conception into the powerful poet currently having his
following’s familiarity: “It was a very difficult process. When I first become widely recognized,
they knew me as Anonymous Composer and, then, eventually Anonymous. One [name], of

course, was a shortening of the first one. The whole concept of how Anonymous Composer
occurred was typically whenever you read those poems and look for who wrote it at the very
end and see ‘unknown writer’ or ‘author unknown,’ I was thinking ‘here is an anonymous
composer, and I wanted to be that anonymous composer. It did not matter whether or not
people knew me, and I am not too big on people knowing me as a personality. However, I
always wanted people to know that even if they have forgotten me, I wanted whatever I spat
on stage or wrote on paper to stick with them. That is what I wanted. It got to a point that
Anonymous Composer was no longer sufficient in the sense of bringing out the various
dynamics of who I was, poetically. So, I started thinking about another name and came up with
13 th Amendment. The concept of the physical liberation of black people post Civil War as well
as the continual need for spiritual, socio-economic liberation provided pertinence for the name.
This will be a great way to fuse the spiritual with the social issues combine everything in a
gumbo without ever having to sacrifice my identity. So, when people think of 13 th Amendment,
Amendment, some people may think, ‘Oooh! This brother is deep!’ Others may think, ‘What is
the 13th Amendment?” So, when people think of the 13 th Amendment, it gives me an
opportunity to share who our Lord and Savior is from a conversational standpoint.”
The artist’s introduction into the Tower of Poets signifies a major manifestation of his
influence in Atlanta. Wanting to foster other Christian artists and create a platform for them is
part of the brand of Tower of Poets, which initially began with Robert Fields. The following is
the result of 13th Amendment reminiscing about this period: “I am part of Tower of Poets in
Atlanta with fellow friend and poet Rob Fields. There’s a whole host of other poets who
associate with The Tower of Poets brand. Robert Fields is a dynamic artist, and what we
wanted to do was create a core group of Christian poets and really just go anywhere and
preach the gospel through poetry. A lot of the poetry places out there were not necessarily
honed in on proclaiming the gospel. We decided to be one of the few that did. I am also part
of Christian Poetics, which is headed by Sister Monica Matthew-Smith since she is married,
now, and, of course, Courtney L. Smith her husband. They are dynamic poets, as well, who
have a heart for God. Those are definitely two of the cliques that I am part of. I did start a
teenage poetry collective in Atlanta, which has taken another form within itself. It was young
people that I have mentored and encouraged to take poetry to another level formerly under
the brand of Skillful Writers, which was inspired by Psalms 45:1. They went on to form their
own identities.”
The greatest challenge conveyed by 13th Amendment regarding poetry involves some of
the division associated with groups of poets alienating themselves from one another. Another
obstacle within the genre, as he perceives it, is the challenge of transitioning poetry into the
mainstream of entertainment such as singing, dancing, and acting through mediums such as
radio and television. Artists are still exploited through their performances by people and
organizations profiting from them without giving them any portion of the funds produced by
their inclusion. 13th Amendment conveys he has a problem with people charging poets a fee to
perform although they are the main source of income for the venue without sharing the profits
incurred. Here are his words on the issues: “My biggest issue with poetry is, with some cases,
poets have become very controlling and cliquish. Our art form is still growing and trying to

break into different arenas. Another issue that we have is we still have not presented ourselves
as a united front or as a united artistry. We have to get past that if we want poetry to grow if
get to where it needs to be. When I refer to cliques, I am referring to how hip hop artists used
to battle each other, and it was healthy. However, I don’t see poetry having a healthy
understanding of competition other than a slam. There is not a lot of healthiness in the
relationships among poets that I would like to see. Because I think once poets come together in
every city and come together as one, we can become a force to be reckoned with. I know that
there is still a struggle for the mainstream to market poetry. In a sense, we are an art in its
purest form. We do not have a lot of the hype that comes with the traditional radio and the
television format. The third and last issue I would say is there are a lot of venues in which you
have people pimping poets without being poets themselves. They might use the artists to gain
some financial benefit that goes towards them and not necessarily the poets.”

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