Culture

Spoken word duo’s final act: Animated poem ‘Stargazing’

Gabriel Giron shares the inspiration behind his final collaboration with spoken word partner Kirk Latimer.

For 14 years, motivational speakers Gabriel Giron and Kirk Latimer performed for groups – mostly marginalized youths – at a time in life when they were struggling with self-worth and challenged to find their purpose, their unique giftedness.

“Our goal was always to inspire, uplift and motivate people to be their best … to overcome obstacles,” says Giron. “I think we both believed in the potential of the human spirit.”

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One of their spoken-word poems, “Stargazing,” which was also one of their last collaborations, encapsulated their message that every person is a unique creation with their own abilities and with the potential of leaving their own imprint in the world.

“If there was going to be a final piece for us to do, and with the way everything went down, this is what it was to be,” says Giron, who paired with Latimer as part of the spoken-word duo Kinetic Affect to write and perform their poetry.

Less than 18 months ago, in September 2020, Latimer died unexpectedly, putting a sudden end to the live work of the Kalamazoo-based Kinetic Affect.

But this week their powerful message conveyed through “Stargazing” has been released on YouTube, animated and set to music by the STUDIO in New York City.

It is dedicated to the memory of Latimer, who was 40 at the time of his death.

Giron, who is also a freelance photographer for NowKalamazoo, says Latimer wasn’t the only loss he suffered in 2020. Giron’s cousin, Taylor, who was the inspiration for “Stargazing,” died a few months before Latimer.

Giron remembers lying in the grass with Taylor a year earlier, looking at the stars and hearing his cousin say how they made him feel so insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

“The conversation started to turn to all the things that had to take place to even arrive at that situation,” Giron says.

After he related to his cousin all the precise occurrences in the universe necessary to enable them to become who they were, and to be at that place and at that time, “my cousin turned to me and said, ‘Any girl you would share that with would ask you to marry her right away.’”

“I spent the next week kind of mulling the concepts in my head until it worked out on paper,” Giron says. “I wrote the piece in an hour or two as … (creativity) allows you to do when you are really tuned into an idea.”

Latimer was excited about the poem when he read it, and added his own special touches to it.

“Kirk was brilliant in being able to add imagery and metaphors” and to sharpen phrases, Giron says.

“I remember him calling me and saying, ‘I think this is one of the best poems you’ve ever written.’”

Gabriel Giron and Kirk Latimer perform a poem
Gabriel Giron (left) and Kirk Latimer perform at the Council of Michigan Foundation’s annual conference in 2011. Courtesy of Kinetic Affect

By that time they had written and performed some 60 poems together, Giron says. Still, Latimer shocked him when he said he had emailed the poem to the STUDIO to consider having it animated.

“Kirk was just a shoot-for-the-stars kind of guy,” Giron says. “Animation is insanely expensive, so I just never would have asked.”

Latimer approached that particular studio because of a past success Kinetic Affect had on an earlier project.

“We had worked with them a couple of years back on another animation that we were doing in collaboration with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation,” Giron says.

But that project, called, “A Simple Question,” was funded by the foundation.

With “Stargazing,” they reached a deal with the STUDIO to make payments over a three-year period, with completion expected this year. 

“Then 2020 happened and my cousin Taylor passed away over the summer and then Kirk died in September,” Giron says.

The animation project could have been stalled or terminated right then, but Giron was determined to carry it on.

“I just felt this strong urge that it was going to come together,” he says.

Receiving assistance from local foundations and the nonprofit Speak It Forward Inc., which Giron and Latimer founded in 2009, Giron was able to get the project completed on schedule.

“I think it’s beautiful,” he says, giving credit to Nick Lobel, “an amazing, talented (music) producer,” with whom they also had collaborated on the previous animated poem.

Meanwhile, Giron, 39, is carrying on what he and Latimer started together in 2006, shortly after they met at a Kalamazoo poetry slam competition, but now as a solo act again.

“The performing I now am doing on my own,” he says. “It’s taking a little adjusting to get back into that pre-2006 form.”

And then there’s also the work of Speak it Forward.

Before Latimer’s death, he and Giron had collaborated with Ed Genesis, who has succeeded Latimer as co-director of Speak It Forward and has helped guide the nonprofit, which focuses on seminars and workshops geared toward struggling youths and adults, into more community work in conjunction with local institutions, particularly as it relates to preventing self-defeating behavior or conditions that lead to homelessness.

Also part of Speak it Forward is an area dear to Giron’s heart: Mindfulness.

“I would always find ways to work that (mindfulness) into our workshops with youth and adults,” says Giron, who founded Mindfulness Over Matter LLC last year. “It’s really about being in the present moment and paying attention to ‘what is.’

“Mindfulness is about paying attention to what we are giving attention to, even unconsciously.”

With the deaths that have occurred to those close to him, and setbacks he has experienced personally (he is a cancer survivor), Giron is finding a way to continue the positive message that he and Latimer started more than a decade ago.

“I had kind of an ‘aha’ (moment) in 2018,” he explains. “I was on a retreat and I realized a lot of us want to be happy … but we don’t institute habitual practices to do that in our life.

“A lot of us have practices of apathy, distraction … we’re more drawn to the negative because of survival instincts.”

“I create habits and routines in my life that perpetuate purpose,” he says.

“So when things get difficult, I have things in place that keep me grounded.”

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