Bobby Gonzalez blogs about his P&W-supported writing workshops at the Betances Community Center. Gonzalez is a nationally known performance poet, storyteller, and multicultural motivational speaker. Born and raised in the South Bronx, New York City, he grew up in a bicultural environment. Bobby draws on his Native American (Taino) and Latino (Puerto Rican) roots to offer a unique repertoire of discourses, readings, and performances that celebrate his indigenous heritage.
In July and August, Gonzalez, author of The Last Puerto Rican Indian: A Collection of Dangerous Poetry, facilitated a series of workshops titled “Spoken Word 101” at the Betances Community Center in the Bronx. Attending the half-dozen sessions were neighborhood residents, teenagers, and middle-aged poetry enthusiasts. Typically, the stereotype of a writer’s creative process evokes a solitary figure holding a pen in a dimly lit room, slowly and painfully scrawling words onto a blank piece of paper. In contrast, in “Spoken Word 101,” the participants gather together in a small room to read, discuss, and even argue about verses from poets such as Langston Hughes, Joy Harjo, and Woody Guthrie. (Despite the lively atmosphere, the group was stunned into silence by Guthrie’s description of the horrific 1935 great dust storm that swept across Oklahoma.)
After the readings and discussions came the real work: writing. Each workshop challenged the students with a writing prompt, and they were told to compose an original piece within ten minutes. The first prompt was "I wish I had told my mother… .” The students dug deep into the recesses of their memories and inner emotions. When the students read their writings to the class, each paused at least once to sigh or wipe away a tear.
An objective of the “Spoken Word 101” workshop is to teach students the basics of reading and performing at Open Mics. This means developing skills that create rhythm, pacing, pauses, and silence to enhance spoken-word presentations. The class also studied ways to utilize body movement, eye contact, and other techniques to better communicate the intended message though physical gestures and facial expressions.
The workshop series ended with an Open Mic event, in which the students performed for friends and family members. The younger poets bravely recited their personal and sometimes heartbreaking lines to an audience that beamed with interest and pride. “Spoken Word 101” transcended the original goal of teaching students to read, write, and perform poetry. The workshop empowered the students to understand their life experiences and artistic talents are special gifts that should be shared with the outside world. So thank you, Poets & Writers!
Photo: Bobby Gonzalez and Betances' Writers. Photo Credit: Maria Aponte
Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.