Award-winning Spoken-word Poet Comes to Edinboro

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016 at 9:10 PM
Award-winning Spoken-word Poet Comes to Edinboro by Emma Giering

Poet Carlos Andrés Gómez came to Edinboro University on Feb. 23, as one of the University Programming Board’s special guest speakers. Gómez, a Brooklyn native, presented the audience with six spoken word pieces, with topics ranging from accepting learning disabilities to talking about genocide in public schools. Following the performance, Gómez had time to answer questions.

Getting Started
“Poetry was something that really resonated with me, it was like electricity through my body. I was like, I need this in my life. So, that was probably the beginning, when I was 17,” Gómez said.

Gomez considers himself to be a “global citizen,” having moved 12 times before graduating high school, including living in four different countries.

“I kind of just bounce all over the place,” he said.

“I feel both at home and a little bit of an outsider in every community that I’m in because I’ve traveled so much and lived in so many different places and have been in so many cultural contexts. And I think that comes through in my work — being both the observer while grappling with all the intersecting, colliding issues of trying to find a place to call home while living in a world where there really is not a home.”

Bringing desperately needed diversity and intersectionality to campuses nationwide
“People always say ‘what’s your favorite thing about your job.’ I like a lot about being on stage, but I think my favorite thing ever about my job is having the opportunity to be in a room full of strangers that I may very well never see again, but I can have this deeply profound, intimate connection with these people for one hour,” said Gómez. “I think we connect in this very profound and vulnerable way. Even tonight it happened. People were talking about coming out to their parents and dealing with depression — all these ideas that people could be in a class for a whole semester, or best friends for years and not hear. So I think it says something about the environment. I’m always hoping to create that environment of safety and intimacy. When I do that, I fall in love with the room. My life is better because of the exchange that took place, and hopefully that translates for the audience, as well,” Gómez continued.

“When I do a show, I’m hoping to share the specificity of who I am and how I’m situated in the world, but also connect to those universal points of resonance. I’ve done thousands of shows at this point, so I think I have a sense of where I can make points of connection. It’s so satisfying to watch those tears of laughter and people letting their guard down for once.”

The magic behind committing poems to memory
“I have a lot of mechanisms. I’m an actor and performer as much as I am a writer, so I’ve been constantly practicing how to memorize a lot of different things. I’ll use all types of things, like fragmenting, where I break the poem up into pieces. I use pneumonic devices. One of the more effective things I’ve done is not memorizing the script, but memorizing the movement of action. I had an acting coach that once told me to watch myself moving through the different actions of the poems’ scenarios while not worrying about the words,” he said.

“So, when I’m on stage I think about vibrant colors and imagery in all the different pieces of my poems, and I’ll use physical activation where I allow my body to move organically with however I feel the poem. I don’t plan for certain things to happen; I’ll let my body move how it must and a lot of times that just so happens to allow me to remember different parts of poems. Sometimes I ad lib things on the spot or modify things for a room, or stop mid-poem and talk to the audience. I like to be very spontaneous and present [and] to live the poems and not recite them.”

When things get too real
“I’m one of those people who shares all or most of my life. It’s the agreement you need to take as an artist, to take that leap of vulnerability — to share parts of yourself that maybe bring things out of the silence that other people would typically not share ...I want the audience to be inspired, yes, but also whispering ‘oh my gosh,’ or experiencing the emotional equivalent of wondering if the car’s going off the cliff. Those are the shows people need to see,” he said.

Prudes, naysayers and conservatives
“I’m skilled enough now, I’ve done 650 college shows in my life, to know how to find ways to break through even in the most conservative, narrow-minded rooms (which is actually a lot of the rooms that I’m in.) I find a way to be subversive, to bring in all types of revolutionary ideas in a way that no one can argue with them, in a way that people might even feel a little unsettled or disoriented,” continued Gómez. “

When I was younger, my performances were deliberately challenging rooms in a much more antagonistic way. Now I would say I’m more confrontational in a fun way. But, there’s no denying people have had negative reactions to what I say. I talk about supporting same-sex marriage or being in support of the black lives matter movement, or supportive of learning differences, or de-stigmatizing depression and people have strong opinions on those things. To perform effectively you have to be a bit of an anthropologist and a psychologist, you have to do a profile of the room you walk into. You sense those demographic energies, and it really affects the dynamic of the show. Poetry is all about shedding light on things that are not in the light, or giving voices to the silence. My job is to push things out into the open that are not being discussed.”

Changing the way we see things through politics
“The current political climate is toxic, it’s really frightening that people can say such horrific things about women, that people can say such horrifically xenophobic, dehumanizing things about Muslims, black lives, etc. The degree of momentum, the degree of resonance that this has across the country, it shows more than ever how polarized and fragmented our country is,” said Gómez."

Anybody who thought there was so much progress being made is now having a reality check. It’s troubling, especially being a father to a six-month-old black and Latina daughter. To see the ways that media mutes the hatred by realizing they can get clicks by sensationalizing the circus surrounding these candidates is horrible. Media is not providing its subscribers with a framework of critical literacy and the implications are incredibly dire, for not just the U.S., but the entire world. I hope people educate themselves, and think beyond their bigoted impulses. I hope they think with their most deeply courageous, humanity when they vote.”

Gómez was named Artist of the Year in 2009 at the Promoting Outstanding Writers Awards and was awarded the 2015 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize. He is a former social worker and public school teacher who has headlined festivals all over the world, lectured and performed at over 400 colleges and universities, facilitated countless workshops and delivered numerous keynotes and commencement addresses.

Emma Giering is the Voices Editor for The Spectator and she can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

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