Wednesday night, I went to a spoken word Poetry Slam by Carlos Andrés Gómez. It was rather last minute, but I’m a fan of slam poetry and I figured anything poetry related could be covered for the blog. Why not?
Under the calming blue and purple lights of the LSC Theater, Carlos was friendly and genuine and so very present. He complemented the theater and the audience and told us we were all gorgeous. He described the energy and life of a club in Philly as he salsa danced with a woman in a wheelchair. He told us about failing an astrophysics final, distracted by a first love. While I wasn’t used to such long preambles for poems, it all felt congruent, his spoken words and his dialogue with the crowd and his poems about beauty and nostalgia and how love can turn you into a child again.
And then he said something that sent a jolt through me. “Can someone tell me why it’s #BlackLivesMatter and not #AllLivesMatter? Can someone break that down for me?”
Oh no, I thought. Was he for or against the #BlackLivesMatter movement? Was this going to get heated? What’s going to happen?
And someone stood up and gave such a wonderful answer that perfectly articulated the movement. Carlos agreed, and invited other people in the crowd to share their experiences with racism.
From there, he shared poems that solicited claps and snaps and small, powerful acknowledgements of shared recognition. He shared a poem of a girl who asked him, “Carlos Andrés Gómez? That’s your stage name, right?” He talked about masculinity, and about how boys are taught to “man up” into that “cartoon drawing” caricature that encourages shallow emotions and violence against women. But his last poem, about poverty, education, profanity, self-harm, and discrimination, addressed a heartbreaking question from one of his former students: “What’s genocide?” (see him read this poem on Def Jam Poetry).
In one of my classes, we’re reading a book called Amazing Grace that discusses destitute poverty and the AIDS epidemic in the Bronx during the nineties. There’s an interview with a Puerto Rican poet who translated Milton’s Paradise Lost into Spanish. He talks about how there are no other translations that capture the richness of the story. What part does an epic poem play in a modern world ravaged by poverty and violence and disease?
Carlos’ poetry made me aware and uncomfortable and upset about my own privilege and ignorance, and at the same time fostered a shared space encompassing both acceptance and intense cultural criticism.
Poetry and spoken word and literature provide a space so sorely needed for discussion, but it’s more than that. It provides a space where discussion can be lyrical and heartfelt and thought provoking and civil all at the same time.
The world feels like such a dark, terrible place at the moment, with all of its tragedies. Coming home from Carlos’ slam poetry, I talked, thought, and tried to address the tension his poetry created in my mind. Authors and performers like Carlos Andrés Gómez create hope that artistic, sensitive people can address these problems in a way that transcends, in a way that uses the power of poetry to create important discussions between us all.