Saturday, September 23, 2017

Manuel Gonzalez - Poesia es Medicina

This week, Blogistas, I have the honor of interviewing the current Poet Laureate of Albuquerque, Manuel González. This is a writer passionate and generous in word and deed. His efforts to deepen and broaden who hears and makes poetry makes him one of my favorite poet/organizers. 

What is also worthy of note is his commitment to educate communities about poetry's capacity to transform and heal. I have personally experienced the kind of heart salve his writing and performing offers.

You can reach Manuel via his email - 

Manuel González is the Current Poet Laureate of Albuquerque, NM. A performance poet who began his career in the poetry slam, Manuel has represented Albuquerque four times as a member of the ABQ Slams team at the National Poetry Slam. Manuel has appeared on the PBS show, Colores: My word is my power, and is one of the founding members of the poetry troupe The Angry Brown Poets and People of the Sun-Performance Art Collective. Manuel teaches workshops on self-expression, through poetry, in high schools and youth detention centers. He has also facilitated art therapy programs, to help at risk and incarcerated youth find an outlet through art.

Manuel has coached and mentored multiple youth slam teams throughout northern New Mexico. Manuel’s connection to his poetry and culture helps him connect with students. By teaching poetry, his students are given the opportunity to explore their own culture. Building up self esteem, finding something to say, figuring out how to say it eloquently, and letting their voice be heard. These are just some of the benchmarks in Manuel’s workshops.

Manuel was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His mother’s family is from the historic Barelas neighborhood in Albuquerque and his father’s family is from the small Northern New Mexico town Anton Chico. Manuel’s father (Manny González) was the founder of the band Manny and the Casanovas, pioneers of traditional New Mexico music. Manuel’s Chicano roots, history, culture, and spirituality are among his inspirations for his work and poetry.

"I'm proud to be from New Mexico!” says Manuel. “And to me, it's more than just green chile and desert. It's seeing the value of our familas, our community, our traditions, and our culture. It's the Rio Grande valley and Santuario de Chimayo. It is feasts, dance, poetry and prayer."

Talk about your journey as poet. You have an upbringing with strong roots in music, particularly, New Mexican music. Talk about that influence on you personally and in your work.  Do you feel there is a musicality to your poetry? 

My father was leader of the band “Manny and the Casanovas” which was one of the originators of New Mexico Music. I never really got to know my father, because he passed away when I was 18 months old, but I feel the music of his blood that pumps through my heart. Music has helped me figure out who I am and has helped me learn how to feel. I have and do use music to get me through some of the hardest and joyous times of my life. It makes the pain, heartache and struggle that we go through on a daily basis bearable and the beauty, magic and joy we share unforgettable.

I am not a trained musician like my father and his family are, but I did find my light in spoken word poetry and performance art. I know the power of self-expression and how much emotion can be used to move and change people in deep personal ways. Poetry and music  help you connect with people to raise vibrations!   

You are the current Poet Laureate of Albuquerque. What do you see as your central responsibilities? What would you say are your accomplishments, and what impact would you like to make? 

Being Poet Laureate of Albuquerque is more about our beautiful city’s accomplishments than my own. I want to be the “ambassador” for an artform that most people overlook or have never been exposed to. I try to do more writing workshops than strictly performances because in those workshops we write together, cry together, and see each other as beautifully imperfect human beings.  Albuquerque is a unique and magical place where culture and history are at every corner in this city. Poetry is a means for us as a community to tell our stories, heal our wounds, and show Albuquerque for the magical place that it is.  With the three volcanic sisters to the west and that majestic mountain to protect us on our East and this river carries our dreams to the sea.  Poetry abounds here in Albuquerque we just have to look and nurture the future generations of this legacy.

Who do you like to read/hear and why?

I guess the beginnings of metaphor that I heard growing up were the “dichos” or mexican sayings I would hear.  People would always say things like “El que con perros se acuesta con garrapatas se levanta.” (He who lies down with dogs wakes up with fleas.) Or, “El que con lobos anda aullar se enseña.” (He who goes around with wolves learns how to howl. These sayings taught me to see the world in a different way.  When I reached adolescence I got into hip hop.  That’s where I first found my love for words and rhyme. 

But hip hop was like cotton candy.  It tasted good, It just didn't have any the nutrients I needed in it.  It wasn’t until I went to my first “Poetry Slam”  did I get my first real experience with poetry.  So when I started to get serious with this artform I was obsessed with spoken word poets who are still alive.  

I’d say my first influences were the poets from Albuquerque who changed the way I looked at what was possible with words and emotion.  Poets like Kenn Rodriguez, Maria Leiba, Danny Solis, Matthew John Connely, and Sarah Mckinstry Brown.  These poets danced, sang, and bled on the stage with their words.  They shared and connected with the audience in deep and personal ways.  I was hooked.  Then i got to go to my first National poetry slam ane I met some of the most incredible spoken word artists in the world.  Poets like Shane Koyzcan and Saul Williams,  or Amalia Ortiz and Joaquin Zihuatanejo.  Some performance poets who have influenced me are Guillermo Gomez Pena, Gil Scott Heron, The Last Poets, The Taco Shop Poets, and Culture Clash.   These poets helped shape my performance style and the energy I bring on stage.  

As far as “written” and “classic” poetry goes  my all time favorite poet is Pablo Neruda.  I also love poets like Federico Garcia Lorca,  Audrey Lorde, Naomi Shihab Nye, mary oliver and especially Rumi.

I guess I look for art that touches me deep in my soul.  It has to be more than beautiful, more than tragic, more than flowery language.  It has to move me and leave a lasting mark on my heart.

There is a lot of discussion about slam/performance poetry vs. poetry for the page. How do you see those distinctions? Do you feel there is a bias at work against performance poetry, and if so, how would you characterize it?  What you feel is the relationship between performance poetry and community? How do you see development as a poet/writer in this context?

My first introduction to poetry came from hip hop and spoken word.  I approach this artform from the perspective of someone who was not brought in through academia, or the written word.  My experience comes from the way I’ve felt sitting in a huge audience and feeling like the poet was speaking directly to me.  I’ve shed tears and found forever stains on my soul from poetry.  I’ve also been the poet on the stage and saw time stop and words hang in the air similar to the feeling of “duende” that flamenco dancers attest to.  I think we lose out on experiences like this with the written word.  When we add the energy of our voice, the movements of our bodies, and the expressions on our faces poetry comes alive.  In those instances it can ignite fires and change lives.  We come together to share our innermost thoughts, emotions, ponderings, and tragedies.  We support each other and cry together.  I think that’s why our community here in Albuquerque is so tight. 

Through my journeys I found the “authentic” people.  “Genuine” artists and people who actually love and appreciate culture and art in this way.  Poets like Levi Romero who gave me words of encouragement when I really needed it at the beginning of my career.  
Danny Solis who mentored me and introduced me to spoken word poetry.  People who understand that art is the best way for marginalized people to express themselves and find their voices.  People of Color, LGBTQ, people with emotional scars, socially awkward, and people who feel outcasted find open minded acceptance in our poetry community here in Albuquerque.  

It wasn’t always that way though.  Poetry used to be the sole property of ivory tower academics who had rigid definitions of and elitist interpretations of this artform.  The “old guard” loved their Frost, and Shakespeare, but poets of color, poets who are still alive, and poets from those marginalized groups were mostly overlooked.  I think that is what stifles the growth of a living breathing artform that needs our blood and tears to survive.  

There is definitely a rift between “academic” poets and “performance” poets.  

I’ve been in audiences where there was a famous academic poet on the stage, and i was thinking. Wow, I really enjoyed this poet’s books! Too bad they can’t recite their own work. And i’ve seen poets on the stage who are just telling a story or making a speech.  
Calling it “poetry” doesn’t always make it so.  

Your practice is rooted in bring groups and people together. How would you describe your experience community building with what I would characterize as the the Anglo/Old guard? 

Being Chicano I found myself  the “token” in many poetry events.  I’ve had to do the “dog and pony show” for rich Anglo donors in mansions in Santa Fe, with my culture all over the walls and a huge Buddhist fountain in the back.  I’ve sat in the audience when Anglo poets get up and recite poetry riddled with my slang.  Codewords we used to identify “real gente.”  It’s always disconcerting to hear someone talk like your uncle in jail, or using the words we only hear when the men drink by themselves.  They are not meant to give you more street cred, or show how down you really are.  You have to be where we’re from and do what we do to use the words that are ours. “¿Que no?”

But our poetry community here in Albuquerque is “All inclusive”  The only prerequisite we have is that you are honest, sincere, and respectful.  I think the two APLs before me and I have done a lot of work to cross pollinate the different poetry scenes and communities we have here in albuquerque.  I’ve gone to events for the transgender community, the New Mexico Poetry Society, the United Way, UNM Chicano Studies, and I try to bring poetry into our communities and invite the people to begin creating, writing and speaking their truth.  That’s how we build community, fight racism, homophobia, and misogyny.  This is how we push the gospel of poetry throughout the barrios and pueblos of New Mexico.

Not  a lot  of people know that an indigenous Mejicana healer, Maria Sabina, profoundly influenced the Beats - Kerouac, Ginsberg, Waldman.  Her "poetry" was, in fact, her sacred prayer chanting. How do you see poetry as a tool for healing?  For empowerment?

Poetry heals.  When we express ourselves with genuine sincerity, the metaphors we use can become like prayers, or better yet incantations.  

We can speak these worlds into existence.  When we look within ourselves and confront our inner demons and convert the pain we carry into art we heal the wounds and bruises we all have on our hearts.  I’ve seen performance poets whose movements and gestures become dance and the metaphors make the room vibrate with magical intentions.  Some poets conjure when they’re on the stage. Creating moments that leave marks on us.  

They wrestle themselves with words and win. They publicly heal themselves and giving us permission and example to heal ourselves. Once we go through the journey of mending our scars we can then begin to work on society.  We use our words to expose injustice when we see it.  Give greed, racism, and misogyny an emotional face.  Holding up mirrors to the powers that be hoping to change the way they think by forcing them to feel.  This is how we heal our world.  The artists, shamans, poets, dancers, and creators must become louder than the constant drone of negativity that bombards us from every direction.  That’s why my favorite places to run my workshops are the jails, foster care centers, detention centers, homeless shelters, and places where people really need healing.  I give them a paper a pen an ear and a heart. 

Describe the creative life in your own family, particularly as the parent of a young poet. What words of advice do you have for her?

Sarita grew up in the poetry community.  She was at poetry slams before she could talk.  I remember her first attempt at spoken word poetry when she was five years old.  It was a long and meandering freestyle about her adventures with her best friend Sam.  

I tried to be sure not to push poetry onto her.  I wanted her to find her own path, but the poetry came out of her naturally.  She titled her first chapbook “Solita”  because she wanted everyone to know that she wrote all her poems by herself.  She’s growing up to be a radical Xicana feminista poeta and I couldn’t be more proud of her.  Her politics came from listening to all of Burque’s best poets and a few nationally renowned poets have taken the time to mentor her. They’ve coached her on her writing and her performance so now she’s an unstoppable poetic force to be reckoned with.

Where do you see yourself creatively ten years from now?

I’m very interested in incorporating spirituality into my poetry and performance.  I’ve witnessed poets and performance artists who almost conjure on stage.  They take their art to the level of ceremony and ritual.  I’ve only experienced this  a few times in my life. Times when I’m in an audience and it feels like the poet is speaking directly to me and saying exactly what I need to hear.  
And I’ve been on stage when it feels like time stops and the audience goes on a journey with me.  Flamenco dancers call it “duende.” That moment when we connect with our ancestors and orishas and the spirits that whisper to us when we quiet our thoughts.  I want to figure out what it is and how to make it happen.  I’m sure that it begins with authentic and genuine expression.  After that I’m still trying to understand.  I’ve also seen the healing powers of poetry.  When we write something real and sincere about the pain we carry it helps to heal those bruises on our hearts.  When we stand up and share that poetry with others that healing can become contagious.  I want to spread the healing powers of poetry and create magic when I perform.  


What's something not in the official bio?

Something you don't know about me: I graduated high school from New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, NM. I went all 4 years of high school. No comment, lol!

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