So here goes… On Facebook, I am part of a pretty big writing/networking group. For the most part, everyone knows how FB works. So I often get blast invites to poetry or the arts events and sometimes I’m able to go, sometimes not. I’ve been able to meet some poets that I admire from following them on FB and it’s opened up some great experiences as well as doors for my writing career. That’s how I came to know Papo Swiggity Santiago. He’s a FB pal and a great man of Poetry who does a lot of work with young people and poets alike. The event he sponsored was a book release for an”old-time” Poet name Jesus Papopleto Melendez. He is an “OG” Poet. He speaks about life from his fire escape back during our parent and grandparents day. It was incredibly inspiring to listen to him speak. I was able to meet him first hand, and he’s a totally cool cat. Like a regular guy with such humorous wisdom and humbleness. His video is attached so you can see a little more what he’s about.
Now to back up just a bit here… As soon as I walked into the Café, I walked straight into Papo Swiggity Santiago. He did a double take when he saw me, because of course I had stopped immediately. Papo has been another inspiration to me as I’ve read and followed his work as well. Then, he stops as he recognized me, though he didn’t know from where…. I quickly told him my name and mentioned FB and it was as if he had bumped into an old friend! He was very welcoming. For someone like me who was hardly exposed to this kind of artistic life from young, I was in complete awe. As Jesus- Papopleto- spoke, a panel of other poets, friends, and colleagues came up to read from his book and to celebrate with him. I sat there wondering where had I been holed up my entire life? How come I didn’t know any of this people, at least by name or works? It was touching to me to see the reverence that was bestowed upon him and I was just very happy to take part in it. Being a writer/poet of this time means very little if you don’t know what has come before you, and I think it’s like that in everything any of us do. No matter the profession or interests we may have. We all need to know our history, and right before my eyes, was an entire stage of history I had not been educated on in all my 30 years of life, was resonating.
So as the evening wound down, another man was introduced to me unexpectedly. The man is Miguel Algarín. The very man that opened up NuYorican Poet’s Café. Though I have seen him in the past in NuYo, I had never had the honor of meeting him personally. You can imagine the cloud I was already floating on… I was ridiculously giddy. Miguel was humble and soft-spoken as can be. He asked me where I was from and I proudly told him “The Bronx“! He smiled and said to me, “I just came from the Bronx”. Of course I asked from why and where he had been, and he shared with me with that he had gone to the Bronx Museum of Arts to receive an award. He didn’t mention what award though. It was Papo who informed me, right before he introduced me, that he had just received the Lifetime Achievement Award. What a truly humbling and honoring experience it was to speak with him on such a special night. I shared with Miguel that the first time I had ever noticed him was several years ago at my very first public poetry reading ever. I was nervous as could be, with the spot light right in my eyes. I was shaking and stuttering all over the place. I remember the poem also. I was called “My City”. It was about living in the Bronx, and the things that were part of my every day life. What stood out about Miguel was that as I was reading, I lost my place because of all those crashing nerves in me. What seemed like an eternity (probably just under a minute or so), I found my place and continued on, and it was at that point he shouted something. A word. And I couldn’t remember what it was, but when I looked up, I saw him in the back, by the bar, looking straight at me and it somehow gave me courage to try and finish strong.
I couldn’t remember what it was that he had called out to me, for eight full years, I have not been able to resurface it. I could only hear the echo in my mind and looking up through the glare of lights. It wasn’t until I started reading the material that Professor Kappes had given us on these “Lost and Found Archives” that that word came back to light. It was “Vaya!”…”its an expletive, it means Right ON! Get it! Real! Vaya! That’s what it means.” (Miguel Algarín: Talking Poets, Volume and Value, 339). You can’t imagine the thrill that went thru me when I read that and it clicked. It was like the spotlight came right back on me and I was in the middle of that stage, my legs shaking all over again. Thanks Gaby! Sharing that on FB with Raul -the Manger of NuYo- and Papo was fun. This whole night gave me an identity that even though I knew within myself, I could finally relate with somebody else on the outside. Somebody who finally get how I felt. It was an amazing feeling that I still haven’t found the exact words to describe them in.
To top off the night, as I was finally getting ready to leave and saying all my goodbyes to everyone, Papo says to me…” So I’ll see you at the next Capicu right?” Capicu being the event that he throws over in Brooklyn. I just looked at him and yelled… inside my head- “Is He Kidding Me? Hell Yeaaah!!!” Thankfully what came out was a semi calm…”wow! Of course. Sure. I’ll be there!” What was greater than that invite was his encouragement to get on the mic. It’s an Open Mic type of event… I was like wow… Definitely I said. No problem!
The next day, as I was in a frenzy about the evening before all over Facebook, Jani Rose- a fellow NuYo and Capicu poet- shared some incredible words about having noticed my amazement in taking part of the crowd at this magical night in NuYo. I’ve been welcomed in. What a blessing and what a joy that was for me to read. I’m just beginning to really get a grip on this Poetry Life outside of my own little world and it’s been incredible already! Thanks for letting me share!!!