The Spoken Word Club of Laguna Woods is a place for writers, poets, playwrights, monologuists, and storytellers to read their work and develop new material. In our monthly meetings, members have an opportunity to read and hear others. There is a featured reader every month. Guests are welcomed to listen or read ($2 charge for guests per meeting). Light refreshments at the Redwoods Room in the Community Center on El Toro on the 4th Tuesday of the month at 1pm-3pm.
J. Sarah Gonzales is CEO of the national social justice consulting company, TruthSarita, LLC, which supports building collective power to dismantle inequity. She also serves as codirector of Spoken Futures, Inc., developing programs to create space for youth to address issues such as the school-to-prison pipeline, LGBTQ rights, and migrant justice through spoken word poetry. Gonzales is a published poet and currently works with the Cultural Centers at the University of Arizona.
Spoken Futures, a youth organization based in Tucson, Arizona, hosted the season kickoff of the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam (TYPS) on August 19, 2017, which featured P&W–supported poet Bobby Wilson. Wilson’s work is heavily influenced by his Dakota heritage, and his spunky spirit and deep cultural roots resonated with the high school-aged youth. He led a writing workshop with about ten youths, moving them through the anxiety of writing and performing. By the end, all overcame their fears and signed up to compete in the poetry slam.
Held monthly at Bentley’s House of Coffee & Tea, youths from all over Southern Arizona come to listen, support, write, and perform in this incredibly welcoming environment. The slam is organized and hosted by TYPS coordinator Eva Sierra, a former youth participant who has joined the Spoken Futures staff.
There were about sixty people in attendance and judges were picked from the audience at random. Over the course of two hours, each young person got up to the mic and read poems about issues present in their everyday lives. Nathan spoke about growing up in foster care and group homes. Yasmin shared: “My childhood home now a construction site for stores, but what they don’t know, is that it was the house that built me.”
Wilson, a new transplant to Tucson, but a friend of many years to local organizers, also performed a set halfway through the slam. He roped in the audience with poems about his indigenous heritage, trauma from colonization, and dreaming our dreams. In his opening piece, he spoke about the national anthem: “I will not stand, I will not kneel. There are needles in our knees given to our grandparents by good God-fearing men and the women they own.” Wilson is raw, honest, and a kind person. He stayed late to talk to youth, and supported our work with his time and energy.
As youths learn to write about the inequities shaping their futures, we become more firmly dedicated to finding ways to keep this space funded and running. The TYPS kickoff was a huge success thanks to all our supporters! We are extremely excited for all the youth poets and featured poets we have lined up for the 2017-2018 season. Thank you to Poets & Writers, Bentley’s, and all our loving families and community who come together to support youth voice in southern Arizona. Read more about Spoken Futures, Inc. and the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam at spokenfutures.org.
Support for Readings & Workshops in Tucson is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.Photos: (top) J. Sarah Gonzales (Credit: Diana Toj). (bottom) Bobby Wilson (Credit: Hannah Manuelito).
Bobby González is a nationally known multicultural motivational speaker, storyteller, and poet. Born and raised in South Bronx, New York, he grew up in a bicultural environment. González draws on his Native American (Taino) and Latino (Puerto Rican) roots to offer a unique repertoire of discourses, readings, and performances that celebrates his indigenous heritage.
At the beginning of the first in a series of six “Spoken Word 101” workshops at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, I made it clear that I wasn’t going to teach anyone to be a better poet or spoken word artist. We were gathered to support each other as we explored the world of spoken and written word. For inspiration we read and discussed some of the verses of Aja Monet, Charles Bukowski, Nanao Sakaki, Sonia Sanchez, and other authors. Also, every session included the viewing of a YouTube video of these poets reciting their works.
This was the fifth year of the summer workshops at the Bronx Museum, and the participants quickly realized that we were creating in a safe zone. They wrote and shared poetry that disclosed family secrets, personal tragedies, racial angst, and heroic triumphs. The writing and the sharing was an integral part of their ongoing healing process. Tears were shed, voices were raised in anger, and a couple of emotional recitals were reciprocated with huge hugs.
Each session of “Spoken Word 101” resulted in the formation of a family that transcended reading, writing, and performing. Like all families, losses were experienced. Within the last few months, two members of our family passed away. Steve “Latin Gorilla” Lewis and Robert Waddell both died suddenly. We paid tribute to them in open mic readings and reminded ourselves that their thoughts and spirits will live forever in our hearts and in the poetry they left behind.
Through “Spoken Word 101” we all relearned language, dramatic articulation, and the wonder of allowing ourselves to bare our vulnerabilities with friends we barely met but already knew we could trust. That’s the power of poetry. The Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program provides vital financial support for a literary series in an underserved community that is greatly appreciative of this empowering experience.
Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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 Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.Photo: (left to right) Makeba Higgins, Dara Kalima, Damien Tillman, Bobby González, and Rosa Velez (Credit: Maria Aponte).