“What is life if it’s not an adventure and an exploration internally and externally. So I choose to do that from my poetry,” said In-Q, the spoken word artist whose first collection of poetry “Inquire Within” was recently published by HarperOne. “Inquire Within” gathers In-Q’s rhythmic written word explorations of our humanity couched in a search for self, growth and consciousness.
“…See everywhere you are is where you are supposed to be
So hopefully, you’re hopelessly lost as me
Because if you’re not you oughta be.” From the poem “Say Yes.” (Italics mine)
In-Q, born Adam Schmalholz, grew up in Santa Monica. He was raised by his mother, a school teacher. His father was not around in his life, and he didn’t meet him until he was 15. Growing up without a father made him feel, he said recently, “like I didn’t belong. I was always on the outside looking in about what a man was supposed to be, and how I fit in to the world. And I think that ultimately all of that came pouring out into my poetry.”
“Life is all about you, and not at all about you
Now that’s two opposing thoughts and yet both of them are true.” From the poem “Higher View” (Itals mine)
As a teenager, he was heavily into hip-hop. “That’s the foundation of the spoken word that I do, even to this day,” he said recently. However, at 15 or 16, he attended a program called the UCLA Young Writer’s Retreat held at UCLA’s Lake Arrowhead facility where a poet taught a session on writing poetry. “I don’t remember the session. I don’t remember what I wrote. And there’s nothing particularly that even stood out to me other than the fact that I recognized first time ever that you could be a poet for a living. It had never even occurred to me. And so, that stayed with me.”
“I am the map, so my rhymes are like road signs
I have everything I want, ‘cause my imagination’s mine.” From the poem “Higher View” (Italics mine)
In the early days of hi-hop, spitting lyrics was a competitive sport played out in the hallways of high schools, people’s living rooms, sandwich shops, bars, clubs and theaters. In-Q recalls that “will.i.am came down to my high school at one point gave me a flyer. There was a really amazing underground in Los Angeles, a hip hop wave.”
Dante Basco, an actor/poet (known for playing Rufio, the leader of the Lost Boys in Steven Spielberg’s Hook, and for voicing Zuko on The Last Airbender), launched Da Poetry Lounge as a place for poetry slams. The Tuesday night evenings of performative poetry grew from his living room to various locations before settling in to the Greenway Court Theater on Fairfax Avenue.
“Have you ever been excited for Now?
Or even Now?” From the poem “Now”
The first Tuesday that In-Q showed up at Dante’s, he recalls, “I just signed up on the list, man. And I got up and I started doing my rapping acapella and I pretty much never left.” In-Q had found his community.
“It was church without religion and it was the first place that I saw people being celebrated for their vulnerability and for their own personal stories,” he recalled.
From there, many of performers from Da Poetry Lounge ended up competing on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam – In 2004, In-Q’s team ended up winning the national slam championship.
Looking back, In-Q now says, “One day I woke up and realized I was more of a poet than an emcee. And that was the beginning of the journey.”
“Falling in love is like finding a home
In the heart of a person you’ve never known” from the poem “When it’s Right” (Italics mine)
In-Q’s pieces are not freestyled. He works hard at finding just the right word, just the right rhythm for his words. Translating that to the printed page was a matter of trial and error, he said. “I’m really proud of what we created…. there was something really gratifying for me about seeing the book in the world….”
In-Q’s mastery of the right word has led to songwriting, contributing to hits by Aloe Blanc, Miley Cyrus, Mike Posner, Foster the People as well as Selena Gomez’s multi-platinum hit “Love You Like A Love Song.” He has given speeches, keynotes, as well as led storytelling workshops to inspire and motivate teams at companies such as Google, Spotify, Nike, Lululemon, LiveNation, among others.
Having seen him perform on several occasions, I can say There is a quality to In-Q’s performances as well as his poems that is simple, basic, human, yet that still cleverly makes us question our assumptions. There is always in his work an underlying yearning for personal growth.
“You’re not going through it, it’s going through you
And once it’s all gone, you’ll become the new you….” From the poem “The New You” (Italics mine)
When we spoke by phone recently, In-Q drew my attention to the book’s cover. It appears at first glance to be an illustration of a tree whose roots below are a complete reflection of the tree above. If you turn the cover upside down, he points out that “The roots become the branches and the branches the roots.” The cover can be seen as The Tree of Knowledge with as much to learn from what is visible than from what is underground.
The book contains an index by theme. Listed are: Love, Family, Inspiration & Lessons, Social Issues, Spirituality and Stories, which is a good indication of the content of his poems in “Inquire Within.”
In-Q then pointed out that: ”If you turn the book sideways the tree and its branches are a lung. And that’s why the two halves of the book are ‘inhale’ and ‘exhale’. It’s the only thing that you do from the beginning of your life to the end of your life. You breathe. And so inhale is the personal poems. It’s almost my poetic hero’s journey, if you will. And [Exhale is] the social and political.”
In Exhale, In-Q has poems such as “Dear White Americans” that addresses race relations by asking us to “Imagine if the roles were reversed / And white people were enslaved by black people first,” as well as these verses from a poem about policing that is all the more relevant in the current moment:
“..Don’t put yourself in jeopardy for arguing while black
If you’ve done nothing wrong it can escalate fast…
…You don’t want to be famous for dying while black…
“And the refrain that bookends the poem:
“I don’t know what it takes to put on a uniform
To risk your life for a stranger
To wake up every day and shield us from the danger
And Serve.” From the poem “Protect and Serve” (Italics mine)
In-Q’s words are themselves on a search for truth. His restless spirit of inquiry is always challenging himself and his audience to reach deeper, question more, and grow. As In-Q told me “…. all of that is about self-exploration and I hope that I never stop doing that because that’s what makes me feel alive.”
Inquiring Within is not just In-Q’s personal quest, it is one he hopes society at large adopts. “I just think that we’re too externally focused in our society.”
Which is why we need [to] “Inquire Within.”