Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Poet Tongo Eisen-Martin was born into a revolutionary home.
Tongo's parents met in Chicago but moved to San Francisco soon after. He was born and raised in an apartment at 25th and Valencia, part of a communal environment that taught him to question and analyze institutions from a young age.
He got started with poetry in elementary school doing a rap for Jesse Jackson when Jackson ran for president in 1988 (Tongo was 8 at the time).
Tongo started seeing poetry all around The City and the Bay Area before heading to New York City for college, where he soon discovered Nuyorican Poets Cafe. He ended up working in arts-based education with imprisoned youth at Rikers Island before returning to San Francisco to teach chronically truant kids through a YMCA program.
In Part 2, Tongo describes the changes he saw in his hometown of San Francisco after spending a few years in New York. It was obvious that money had done its part to stifle, displace, and erase art and the working class.
He started teaching with SF YMCA's CARE program, which works with imprisoned youth in The City, but some shady goings on in the program spurred him to leave. He went to Jackson, Mississippi, to do some movement work for a couple years before returning once again to San Francisco in 2015. He began writing poetry while in Mississippi, and when he got back to the Bay Area, it took off after Chinaka Hodge asked him to read before her at City Lights.
To end Part 2, we asked Tongo to read one of his poems for us. Here's what he recited (not read):
The Course of Meal
We recorded this podcast in San Francisco during quarantine on Zoom in July 2020.