Local Poet Returns to the Mic at Poetic Libations II
By Brent E. Beltrán
Thursday night marks the return of Ken10 as a featured poet on the San Diego literary arts scene. Ken10, also known as Kenton Hundley, took a short break from performing his poetry regularly at local venues.
In the 2000’s Ken10 was a constant fixture at the various poetic happenings that took place during that period. He was a member of Goatsong Conspiracy and the award winning group, Los Able Minded Poets, and performed his socially conscious, hip hop and jazz influenced verse throughout San Diego.
Now he’s back in action with a featured spot at Poetic Libations II. Poetic Libations is a free, monthly open mic night literary series organized by myself though Semillas Cenyelitzli (a group created by my wife Olympia and myself) and hosted by Border X Brewing in Barrio Logan.
Ken10 read a poem at April’s inaugural reading and a few weeks later I asked him if he’d like to feature during May. Enjoying his short time on the mic at the first show he decided to come back for a full poetic set this month.
Wanting to hype Ken10 and the reading I decided to ask him a few questions regarding his life and work.
Here are ten questions for Ken10.
You grew up on the East Coast in the shadow of our nation’s capitol. Your mom is a teacher and your father was involved in the civil rights movement. What was your childhood like growing up?
Yeah, my mom taught for 27 years. My dad was involved in sit-ins in Virginia. He marched in North Carolina. My grandfather (mom’s dad) was one of the first black men to get a Masters Degree from the University of Virginia. This was before he had the right to vote. Trip on that for a minute.
He was in education his whole adult life. I remember him always telling me stories. Stories about the Negro Leagues, stories about students and stories about him coaching girls hoops and not being able to eat at restaurants after games and making sandwiches for them, so that they wouldn’t be subjected to institutionalized racism.
Man I was blessed. My dad has shared with us that he chose to move his family to Dale City, Virginia (before I was born) due to the planned diversity of the DC area. My neighborhood was real diverse- black, white, yellow, brown, a little bit of everything. Babysitters from Japan, Finland, Arlington. Most of my friends’ parents worked for the government in some form, shape or fashion. Military at the Pentagon, or at Fort Belvoir. So that in itself brought all types of people to the area.
At home, I thought we were just a normal family. However, looking back, we had a home full of books, magazines, posters and music. I’ve since learned that everybody didn’t have all that in the house.
Posters of sports stars, like most boys my age had. But also posters and pictures from the Civil Rights Movement adorned the walls of our basement. I remember having posters that Apple sent to the schools, of Picasso and Ghandi in my house. Posters of Malcolm and Martin. Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix. The one Isaac Hayes album that was like a cross, Black Moses.
Books about being black in America. History books about the presence of Africans in the Americas prior to Columbus. Books about animals, and comic books. We listened to Bill Cosby and snuck in Richard Pryor albums when mom and dad weren’t around.
Lots and lots of music. Soul music, gospel music on the record player and in the car with mom. 8 tracks! My dad played a lot of blues and jazz music in the car. He also played the piano a lot. My brother, sister and I were always listing to funk, rap and R&B. Rap and go-go were always on the radio and we were always making tapes. We also heard some rock and metal in the neighborhood.
But my musical tastes blew wide open when my brother left for college, and then came back home. I remember going to visit him at UVA when I was in sixth grade. Music in the dorms was loud and crisp! (CDs) I remember being blown away by all the different sounds and styles of music. I was a skater too, so I heard a lot of punk, hardcore and some real grimy sounds at a young age.
What brought you to San Diego and what made you decide to make this place your home?
After I finished school, moved back to mom and dad’s house and had a less than favorable job. I quickly became disillusioned with my new life after college, I was looking at Atlanta (where my sister Donna was living) and San Diego (I had one friend here). I was unsure.
I told my mom that whoever won the Padres versus Atlanta series in the 1998 NLCS was where I was going. Tony hit an RBI late in the game. I decided it was San Diego. True story.
I left on January 3, 1999. Packed as much as I could in my red Civic. My best friend and I made the journey in about a week. Enjoyed every minute of it. It was a necessary adventure for me.
Once I got involved in the poetry scene and making quality, familial friendships and felt a member of a community is when I knew this was the place to call home.
At what point did you start considering yourself a poet and who were your influences?
I knew I was a poet as far back as ninth or tenth grade. I knew I was a creative being before that. When I was little. But early high school years, that’s when I remember writing and teachers making it a point to tell me that they liked what I was writing.
Ms. Taylor, Ms. Little and a history teacher, I can’t recall her name. But I remember writing a rap about whatever we were reading and her smiling big. But it was definitely Ms. Powers, my twelfth grade English teacher, who told my father at a “Back to School Night” that I was a talented writer.
When I went off to college is when I first shared poetry with more than just my closest friends. Also, a lot of rhyming in the dorms. Great acoustics in the bathrooms!
My influences were Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Gwendolyn Brooks, Countee Cullen, Jack Kerouac, ee cummings, Poe, Shakespeare and others.
I remember opening up albums in the basement and reading liner notes a lot. Bob Marley Legend is a strong memory to me. Rap CDs with lyrics printed inside influenced me a lot, too. Jazz music and classical music, too.
Why do you use poetry as your form of personal expression?
My teacher told me to use my words to paint pictures. I held onto that idea, and ask the same of my students. I always liked the challenge of painting something that is there for all of us to see, and verbally describing it for others.
I am long winded. I can talk a lot, once I get going.
You were an integral part of San Diego’s literary performance scene in the 2000’s as a member of Goat Song Conspiracy and Los Able Minded Poets (who won a San Diego Music award in 2004). What was that period like and what did it feel like for Los Able Minded Poets to get recognized in that way?
I met Naz (Nazareth Pratt) at a basketball court one afternoon and then he was a feature at Claire de Lune’s that same night. Call it fate.
Then Sunflower DuBois and I became friends and grew real close. Along with Max Xiantu and Scotch, Chris Vannoy, Christina Contenelli –Rodney Hubbard and I grew close, became roommates– Goatsong Conspiracy.
I got down with them and my first show ever was at 4th & B on a Friday night. That was a crazy vibe.
Then I would go see Herb’N’Root with Nazareth and Jacob Jones. Their shows were high energy and a joy to see.
That whole period was dope. So many “conscious” artists around all the time. Emcees, painters, singers, drummers, dancers, deejays, live musicians- it was a trip to me.
I met my wife at an open mic.
The vibe that I was surrounded by from North Park/South Park to downtown to Southeast to OB to Logan and Sherman Heights, slams in Hillcrest and North County- I was constantly meeting real cool, down to Earth, genuine people who wanted to make a change in the local communities, global communities, etc.. through ART!!
Who and what are the Blacktop Laureates?
Blacktop Laureates are a group of loosely collected poets that you may have heard of before. Naz, Sunflower DuBois Bennie Herron and myself. We are spread out all across the country. Literally– San Diego, Denver, St. Louis and DC. We have all worked together in the past, with mad respect for one another’s styles and motives. We haven’t been together on a stage in a minute, but when it all works out, and it will before too long, watch out!
You stepped away from the literary scene for a while. What have you been doing since then?
I have been raising two beautiful little girls with my lovely, amazing wife Maggie. My big little sidekick will be ten in November. My littlest sidekick will turn three this weekend. I coach youth soccer. I’ve read and been a speaker to college students at City College, Miramar College, SDSU, UCSD, and twice in the past year I’ve worked with high school girls at Our Lady of Peace. I’ve written and recorded some cool mini projects with Rudy Palos. Recorded some stuff on Garage Band.
Your day job is as a teacher at a shelter for immigrant youth. What does your job entail and how does working with kids like these help shape you as a human being, family man and poet?
Man, it’s a trip! I get so much from working with these kids. They keep me grounded and humble. They teach me a lot about perspective on a daily basis. They teach me to be thankful for each day we are blessed with.
I work at a school who serves the needs of unaccompanied minors, or kids who’ve been apprehended coming into the U.S. with out an adult present. While they’re awaiting reunification with their families, they’re attending school. My current position is as a liaison between the school district and the shelters, ensuring the best interests of the students in our classrooms are being met.
What would you say to the younger generation of poets who may be following a similar literary path as yourself?
I’d say keep writing and keep reading and keep working at your craft. Find your style and roll with it. Don’t copy anyone else’s style. Find your voice and connect it to the world around you. I’d tell them to listen to the elders, the elders from all walks of life. Be conscious to what’s going on around and don’t play the role of an expert but that of a student.
You’ll be sharing your work at Poetic Libations II this Thursday evening. What can the audience expect from Ken10?
Honesty. I can guarantee that you’ll be gaining more insight into how I see the world. Hopefully they can expect to enjoy a time of sharing and good vibes. Good beer, too.
Ken10 performs his poetry at Poetic Libations II Thursday, May 21 at 7pm at Border X Brewing (2181 Logan Ave.) in Barrio Logan. Poetic Libations II includes an open mic so bring an original poem to share. This event is free but the beer is not.