For Harlym 1Two5 (Jamele Adams), Poetry Unifies His Varied Life
by Jacquelyn Malone
Harlym 1Two5, also known as Jamele Adams, is described in the online program for the 2015 Massachusetts Poetry Festival this way: “Poetry climbs the limbs of wind soaked dream tops And sherlocked gumdrops missing teeth. Shoot the city And suffocate the criminal. Strangle the miscarriage of peace Give people a reason to love themselves. This is my bio."
The energy of these phrases and the words “give people a reason to love themselves” certainly represents an authentic part of 1Two5’s life. He brings to the Boston area the vigor that brought him fame in the poetry scene in New York City. But add to that, this poet and teacher extraordinaire is Dean of Students at Brandeis University. Can you think of any other poet who has that kind of dual distinction?
For Mass Poetry, Harlym 1Two5 has also brought that powerful vigor to the student programs sponsored by Mass Poetry.
When I ask him what is the first things he wants to establish when he enters a classroom he says, “I say a poem before I say my name. I want to show them (the students) that poetry is more powerful than they ever imagined. I want to see how they stay with the poem as it moves. I want them to see that poetry is awesome.”
You see for Harlym 1Two5 poetry represents more than the right words in the right order; it represents an individual’s expression of life. For a young person the poem can be personal, immediate, tangible and spiritual.
And young people are responding to poetry’s ability to give them a freedom of expression they’ve never had before. “Youth have so much to say,” he says, “and now with YouTube and open mics anyone can express themselves. As long as they can tell their story in under three minutes, there are any number of open mics they can participate in. And on YouTube some students are getting thousands of views. If they are saying something the audience wants to hear, people will find them. Students like the freedom of expression they feel in poetry, and nothing is quite like an immediate reaction from an audience.”
He describes his own initiation into poetry. “Poetry came to me when I was a teenager. I grew up with hip hop in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I was amazed by it and so were all my friends. We were all trying to imitate hip hop. But that wasn’t like the poetry I learned about in school. That wasn’t like Robert Frost.
“The first time I wanted to imitate Frost or Langston Hughes or Nora Neale Hurston was when my aunt was a survivor of domestic abuse. I wanted to express my love for her.” But it wasn’t long until poems became his favorite form of expression. “I didn’t have to worry about my poems being graded, and they were so personal. I loved that. It’s why I fell in love. It was all so personal and creative.”
Though Harlym 1Two5 had been well known in New York, it was a teacher at Lawrence High School who gave him the first opportunity in Boston area to work with students. “The super Lou Benieri invited me to teach a workshop with him about seven years ago.” Now as he has become well-known in the area poetry scene, he has also led many student workshop dealing not only with poetry, but with issues of diversity. Several times he has been called to local high schools, colleges and communities to help bring calm and constructive unity after racial incidents have happened. He often prepares special presentations in response to very specific incidents or conditions. He has been asked to be a panelist on a broad range of topics regarding diversity and pluralism, making him what some have called, “the human highlight of poetry and edu-activism.”
He loves working with students. “I want them to know poetry is awesome, and they can be awesome, too. I want them to know they can be better than their presenters are. It is all possible.”
For the poet himself, it is poems that keep him grounded. “For me, life and the poem are one. The conversation between the two parts of my life become one. I don’t want to be two different people. I don’t want to wear a mask.”
Harlym 1Two5 remains very well known in the New York City area in slam poetry circles. Known as Harlym 125, he was a frequent and highly regarded figure in competitions in New York and beyond. 125 has become a part of the Boston area poetry scene and joined a team of poets who have won numerous competitions regionally and nationally. 125 has also become well known in the Boston area for his work leading workshops dealing with issues of diversity. Several times in the last couple of years, Harlym has been called to local high schools, colleges and communities to help bring a calm and constructive unity after racial incidents have happened. Known for his work, Harlym 1Two5 is often asked to be a panelist or to give presentations on a broad range of topics regarding diversity and pluralism, and also is asked to prepare presentations in response to very specific incidents or conditions. Appearing at dozens of college campuses every year. He is the “HUMAN HIGHLIGHT OF POETRY AND EDU-ACTIVISM.”