I remember the first time I came across Levi the Poet. I was bored one day scrolling through Facebook when I saw a video with an image of a heavily-tattooed young man screaming into a microphone as the thumbnail. Initially I thought that I had discovered some new metalcore band and was extremely thrilled, so I immediately clicked the video. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had come across something far more artistic in nature. Levi the Poet’s poem “Oh Captain, My Captain!” was unlike anything I had ever heard before. It was 100% raw emotion and gave me goosebumps. Granted, this was my first exposure to spoken word poetry, but hearing this poem suddenly made me fall in love with the art form. This feature isn’t about my discovery of spoken word poetry, and oddly enough it’s not even really about Levi the Poet, but the man behind the words, Levi Macallister.
A product of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Levi grew up as the son of a pastor. This influenced every aspect of his life. The first poem he ever wrote was inspired by DC Talk’s album “Nu Thang” as it dealt with segregation. However, as a pastor’s son he took a different take on the matter. “I grew up as a pastor’s kid, so I wrote a poem about all races of people meeting Jesus. I’m pretty sure that poem is currently framed and hanging in my mom’s bathroom. She keeps wanting me to perform it. She thinks it’d be cute. The thing is, it was cute for a fifth grader who didn’t understand that, however noble it was to hope that all people groups would find their salvation in Jesus, it’s just not PC to say, “‘Yellow guy with oval eyes… he needs a bible – Jesus provide!’ or ‘Red man, axe in hand, he needs my father, God of the land…'” This poem has served as more of personal joke for Levi. However comical the poem is now, he claims that from the moment he wrote it he fell in love with poetry as it provided him with an emotional outlet of sorts.
Years later Levi would discover Bradley Hathaway, a spoken word poet and folk singer, at a show while on tour with mewithoutYou, The Chariot, and Blindside. This life-changing performance by Bradley Hathaway served as a catalyst for change in Levi as he delved into the art form of spoken word poetry. “That run came through Albuquerque and I bought his CD and have since become friends. Some buddies of mine invited me to recite my poetry at a local show back in 2008, which is when I performed as Levi The Poet for the first time. It was so uncomfortable. I yelled everything. I mean, I know I yell a lot, but everything. No dynamics. No attention to how uncomfortably close I was to people’s faces. It kind of makes me cringe now, but it was sort of my M.O. for a good while: the metal-poet guy who screams without music”. Levi’s initial poems stemmed from journal entries he had written and turned into performance pieces.
Since then Levi’s performance style has changed greatly. “I’m a lot less obnoxious, frankly. Not reserved, but not obliterating any personal bubble I choose to by getting up in everyone’s face anymore. I used to jump into the crowd and shake people and scream at them and it was sort of my shtick. But I hate it when people do that to me. Haha. I mean it makes sense at a show with bands, but perhaps not so much for a poet”. His style has continued to change recently as he has incorporated more multimedia into his performances. “It’s a bit more of a production now, rather than a guy with a mic. Although, don’t get me wrong, I love that there is power in simplicity: just a guy, a mic, and his words. Sometimes, those are still my favorite shows”.
As a result, Levi has unintentionally made a career out of spoken word poetry. “I can’t believe I’ve already been touring for six years! Three years ago, when I released an EP titled Monologues, I did an interview with someone for it, and said that I hoped I would not build up my entire identity as a ‘spoken word artist’ as time went on. Well, I go back and forth between putting too much stock in my own abilities, but my desire remains the same: Jesus, let me love you, and help me remember than if it comes time to move on from this, my foundation is still built on something secure. But, I love writing. I love performing. I hope that I get to do it for a long time to come, and am so thankful for the people who make it so”.
However, making a life as a touring performer can always affect personal relationships. “Positively, I have more relationships. Negatively, I’m terrible about keeping in touch with people. I’ve gotten better, I think, but I’ve also gotten better at just lowering everyone’s expectations as much as possible from the get go”. Fortunately, his wife joins him on tour almost all year. “Road-marriage has been fun, and funny, and hard, and everything under the sun, but we fair well, and have a lot of support from people out on tour, and back home. We’re both really connected with our church in Albuquerque. We serve the high school students there and catch up with them when we can over phone or text or whatever”.
Levi’s connection with his church has remained a constant in his life. “When Tolkien set out to write The Lord Of The Rings, he didn’t set out to write a ‘Christian’ story. He just set out to write an excellent story, believing that if Christ had truly become his identity, then it would be seen naturally, without him having to be loud or obnoxious about it. He believed that the ‘Gospel hallows all art’ – he said. Meaning, the Story of Jesus is the greatest story, and all other stories shouldn’t be condemned if they’re not explicitly about him, but seen for how they all, ultimately, point back to God as the author of the greatest story. I’m kind of needing out about it right now, because that thought was much of the inspiration for this new album I’m working on”. Levi has claimed that if he had not developed such a personal connection to God he would likely be dead by suicide, an act that had already taken his father’s life.
Levi is known for being very open about his struggles as can be noted in his poem “Resentment”. In his words “struggle and silence are a deadly combination”. This has served as a personal motto for him despite the fact that because he grow up in the church he never really experienced a lot of emotional transparency. “Call it a negative product of religious culture, but I never felt like there was a lot of honesty when it came to deep-seeded issues being addressed in the church. On the one hand, that makes sense, because it’s hard to talk about deep-seeded issues, especially if you’re fighting pride, or fear, or bondage or whatever. I’m certainly not the savior of that scene, nor have I perfected transparency, nor is this a church-bashing response because I believe in the church and absolutely love the local church that I’m a part of… but I did go into this LTP thing with a specific desire to be real about what I had gone through”.
While much of his time is spent on his work as LTP, Levi does participate in other leisurely activities on a regular basis. “I started a personal blog for some of my meanderings that aren’t as LTP-specific at www.levimacallister.com. I do work out consistently (for the sake of body and sanity). My wife is a certified level-one Crossfit trainer, and I love learning from her and have been getting into that quite a bit. I love watching movies, I love reading, I love our church, and I love hanging out with my wife and friends at home. A few of us help lead the youth group at our church, and it’s been fun to get to know those kids – go skateboard with them, go out to eat, go swimming, whatever. I also write and speak for XXXChurch, which is a non-profit that seeks to provide awareness, prevention and recovery for those in the pornography industry. It’s been pretty amazing to have been given the chance to take something that completely enslaved me for so many years and watch the Lord redeem that part of my story for good in sharing it with others through that ministry”.
Most recently, Levi has been working on a new album titled Correspondence (A Fiction), which he is funding through Kickstarter. “I’ve never done crowd funding for an album before. Honestly, I never wanted to. I feel like I’ve seen so many Kickstarter campaigns out there that just completely rip off the fans. I didn’t even want to associate with whatever I perceived it to be. But I’ve been challenged more and more recently that a) maybe I’m just arrogant and want to be able to say that I did it without anyone’s help and b) people want to help. So we’re trying it out. The record is a story about a daughter who’s father is a ship captain chasing a great, white whale. She’s in love with a boy who is eagerly awaiting her return from sea, spending his time building a tree house for their home. Think Moonrise Kingdom meets Moby Dick“. You can learn more about the album and kickstarter campaign here.