Most people refer to me as Ten Thousand. My real name is Marquis Burton. I grew up on the East Side of Buffalo. My childhood house was 97 Dodge Street, which is basically where the new medical corridor is. Growing up there was an awesome experience. I grew up in a village, with a lot of hood problems. I’ve also thought of how growing up in rough area bonds people. I come from a large family. I’m the second oldest out of five. My parents have been together for 32 years. They had us while they were young so we saw them struggle. Both my father and mother worked and attend school full-time. My grandmother took care of us a lot. She was our rock. That was my mom’s mom. Her name was Melissa Jones. She lived an apartment in the Towne Gardens complex which is located in William and Clinton area. When my parents were working and attending class, we were there. She was like a second mother. She cooked meals from scratch. She could make baked chicken and Ramen noodles taste like a five-star meal. She was grandma. I think it’s the love she put into the meal.
All I cared about when I was a kid was sports mainly basketball. All I wanted to be was the next Jordan. I played basketball endlessly. That was my passion. In 1999 my grandmother passed away. I took that very hard. The next year we moved out of the hood, to the suburbs (Amherst,NY). The emotional and cultural change created a void that basketball couldn’t fill. It never helped that lacking. So, I started writing poetry. The first poem I wrote was “Outcast”. I was sitting in the cafetorium at Sweet Home Middle during the lunchtime during the beginning of the 8th grade and wrote it because that’s how I felt. Since then, I wrote poetry every day from age 14 to 17. My 11th grade English teacher Mrs. LaBrake told me that everything that I write is like a poem and showed me a poster that was hanging in the back of the classroom about a poetry slam at University at Buffalo. So, I went to it. That was April of 2004. I freestyled three different poems by combining previous poems to make new ones. I ended up getting a perfect 30 in the first round and taking second place in the teen slam. Also, I compete in the adult slam later that evening and got whooped. From there, I just kept on creating poetry. It was my motivator, my passion, the thing that kept on pushing me. It woke me up every day. Then, I started practicing my freestyle. For a while, I would just ask people to give me five words, or just a word and just would create poems from them. The first job I ever had was at Uno’s Pizzeria. When I did dishes there, I use to write poems into the dirty pans. I just kept going and growing with it. It was the coping mechanism and stress reliever that I fell in love with. It was a lot of things for me.
From age 17 to 21, I would perform anywhere I could. Bars I wasn’t allowed to be in, anywhere.
Performing Live Poetry
It’s one thing to write something down. There’s something about speaking it that gives you that feeling of release by speaking something into existence, it takes it to another level. I think it makes it easier to do when you care more deeply about what you’re talking about. When to feel passionate about it, you can let it out.
You mentioned sitting there in the cafetorium writing your first poem, but what made you start writing poems?
I didn’t know I was writing a poem. I just wrote about how I felt. I just kept writing more and more as I was learning more about what poetry was. I always believed that birthdays were a way to restart your life or restart your year. The night before my 16th birthday, I stayed up and wrote 8 poems. I stayed up all night and went to school the next day. I wrote them on a packet of graphing paper. I would write them anywhere I could. I would even write them on tests at school. Whenever it triggers you, you put it down.
Is poetry still an outlet and stress reliever for you?
Yes, it is still an outlet especially when I am working with the youth. Adults seem to make things more complicated. They make things bigger than they are.
I got involved with youth because after I graduated from high school, my old English teacher Mrs. LaBrake would have me come back and speak to her kids about poetry and life after high school. Through her, I had the opportunity to work with Shea’s Performing Arts and teaching students poetry through their Master Class program. That program would select a play from their schedule each year to introduce students to theater and different art forms as a way of self-express. The play that was selected that was called “In The Heights” which had a lot of hip-hop & poetry. I met a retired English teacher from Lake Shore High School while working with Shea’s. She helped me put together my poetry resume and help me get grants and make a real business out of it. From that, I did a four-week workshop at Lake Shore High School in partnership with their English department. I was blessed to work with Shea’s on multiple occasions. One thing that I’m able to do that some teachers are not is that I can instantly grab their students’ attention by doing a freestyle poem. I pull them in and speak passionately about what I know. I’m not talking about facts and state requirements. I’m talking about “is college meant for you?”. Find what makes you happy and figure out how to make a living off it. College might not be right for you. Don’t get me wrong, you might make a connection or bond with someone there, but you can also do a trade, or something else. I talk to them about finding your excitement and happiness in life and living for you. Not living for parents. Not living for society. Not living for whatever else. Living for you.
I did a poem about the importance of Education at the Buffalo Science Museum, and one of the kids there was in a gang. After that poem, he left the gang and went back to school. At the core is that kids just want to know that they matter and someone cares about them. I saw that’s how I felt when I was a kid. I wanted someone to care about me. Not about what I was going to become, or what they need me to do to reach their goal. Care for me. Working with kids I hope I am able to give that to them. I’ve seen destruction. I’ve seen the road where you feel like no one cares. When you reach the point where you feel like no one cares, you start to feel like “I don’t care”.
Tell us about your Discovering Your Voice Through Your Story
I just finished a 10-week poetry program last June at Math Sciences and Technology Preparatory School over on E. Delavan. The old Seneca High School. A friend of mine works for Say Yes Buffalo and works out of M.S.T asked me to come teach poetry to students after school because she wanted to start a poetry club there. This idea was born after she came out to my 30th birthday party, where 30 people spoke about how I influenced their lives in some way but it mostly was based around poetry. It ended with them producing and running their own showcase. They did the lighting, the music. They performed and worked as stagehands. They took care of everything. When this opportunity started I was finishing another 10-week poetry workshop which myself and fellow poet Ben Brindise in partnership with Gloria J. Parks and Just Buffalo. Taught children from ages 10 to 18 how to write, memorize and perform their original poetry as apart of Gloria J. Parks after-school programming. It ended with a showcase at Bennett High School on April 21, 2017, where each student performed one or two of their poems that was created during the workshop.
Stories That Stand Out
There is one story that was beautiful in the moment, but the ending wasn’t. I went to my old English teacher’s classroom. There was this kid sitting in the back, his hoodie on. He looked like he came from a rough home environment. He had his head down. As soon as I started my poems, he picked his head up. He asked questions. She said that was the first time he had done that in her class all year long. The next school year, he ended up taking his life. The biggest thing that I took from that is that there was a glimmer of hope, and how important it is to use that to catapult it to something else.
What can people do to support you?
The biggest thing support wise is I need people to volunteer time. A constant face. It’s all about giving back and not just being a vocal person, but also a person who is physically there. It goes a long way when you are present. Not just physically present, but mentally present too. I think that’s the best way you can help. With this poetry workshop, my goal is to engage kids from both urban and suburban areas, bringing them together while teaching them to express themselves through poetry. It’s a daunting task, and I need some help. You don’t only have part of the workshop to provide support. You can help some existing organization, or you can team up with friends and family who have resources. A lot of us know people that we spend time and have fun with that have resources that they can give beyond just themselves. You can group together and do something. Whatever it is. Something beyond just you and your family.
I need help with the workshop. Kids won’t just learn about poetry. They will learn how to make their own books. We will also build a website where kids can have access and put their thoughts and poetry out there. The goal is to give kids a level of accessibility. We aren’t just giving them a generic creative writing workshop. We want to give them tangible things that they can look back on when they’re going through rough times and can reflect on what they were able to accomplish. This workshop will allow them to look back and see that they were part of something that engaged them, was fun, but was also help show them a different way to express the things that they’re dealing with in a positive way.
Want to help?
The one blessing I had growing up was that my mom went through the process of getting a job and getting these materialistic things that defined your level of success. She was always telling us that, ok, you don’t want to go to school, find something that makes you happy and figure out how to make money off it. That will be your level of success. Live your truths. That’s what she always instilled in us. I think that biggest thing is just to expose yourself to more humans. I was talking to a friend about race and mentioned how people are in their boxes. People have their filters based on where they live, work, go to church. Go to different things. Expose yourself. Push yourself outside the norm of what you do. The most important thing that we forget from childhood is our imagination, our curiosity and how to use them. We just get bogged down with life. Life hits you and you transition to having responsibilities and trying to stay afloat. How am I going to get to tomorrow? How am I going to pay these bills? If you don’t have those skills to challenge yourself or the luxury of time to challenge yourself – we have this illusion that we don’t have time. We always say, “I don’t have time”. But then you need to realize how much time we waste. It’s about the nuggets of time. It’s what you do in those small increments of time matter. When you get down, frustrated and down, you’re either going to stay down or look for a way out. You have to challenge yourself and face it that you aren’t happy. We are taught as we get older to be less selfish. But, as we get older, we need moments of selfishness and self-care, self-questioning. In those moments we ask ourselves what we want to do with our spare time. You can live for others, but you still must live enough for you. Or you can’t be there for others. I call it life-guilt. At a certain point, you start feeling guilty about doing things for yourself. You need a mixture of both. But if you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of anyone else. You need to turn off the noise, and the noise in your mind.
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
You are worth it. You are worth pushing through. I dealt with a lot with my self-worth. It’s why I am so passionate about my poetry. Even with poetry and accolades, there are always moments where I felt like I wasn’t worthy, or worth it. I didn’t push myself because I didn’t feel like I was worth it. Go do it. People will help you. Push and chase your dream. Push as far as you can, until the wheels fall off. I feel like self-worth is something that a lot of people battle. You are worth it.