If you are on your way to work or running errands around town, you might get some food for thought while riding the subway if Divine Giray gets on your car. The 28-year-old has made a living and name for himself reciting poetry on the underground rails.
Calling himself a “guerrilla poet,” his poems discuss humanity and consciousness. However, a recent confrontation with police brutality, he says, won’t stop him from doing what he loves.
“I see beauty in everything,” he said. “I like to choreograph my words, and I want to touch everybody with all of my words.”
Born to a Black mother and a Filipino-American father, Giray was born in Oakland, Calif. Growing up biracial, he said, it was difficult, but his mother told him never to be ashamed of heritage.
“It never really bothered me,” he said. “My mother said to be proud of where you come from. It didn’t matter if I was mixed, I was proud to be Black.”
Giray’s mother serves as chair of the Dance and Theater Department at California State University-Sacramento and holds a Ph.D in English, so he was flooded with books from various authors. Readings from authors including Alice Walker inspired him to embark on his own journey to become a poet.
He said, “Books were always around me. Words were always powerful to me.”
While in college, Giray started writing poetry, and after coming to New York City during his freshman year and after making several trips, he moved to the Big Apple permanently in 2004. He linked up with poet Marissa Alston and together they formed duo SelketDivine. He performs his poetry daily on the subway and to date he has written over 500 poems.
“I’m trying to open people’s minds up to something different,” he said. “I’d like to keep this up. No matter how much fame I get, I want to be able to come back to the people. That’s what motivates me, the people.”
Giray’s work was recently met with opposition when NYPD officers arrested and beat him for allegedly passing through train cars. Giray alleges that while in a Brooklyn subway station, a group of NYPD officers sprayed mace in his face while he was in handcuffs.
When officers brought him above ground, he alleges that they forced him to pull down his pants in public to search him. He was then put in a police car, taken to a precinct and spent 27 hours in jail.
Since the incident, he’s been in and out of court and has taken the case to the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Giray maintains that he is innocent and didn’t do anything wrong.
“This is what Jesus went through,” Giray said. “I kept asking, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’”
The incident didn’t break Giray’s spirit, but rather fueled his creative flow as he expresses to the world the horror of what he went through by writing poems about his experience.
As for the future, Giray said he wants to write a book and be a part of open mic poetry events in the city.
He said, “I believe I represent my generation very well, and I want to be a good community figure.”