Internationally known poet and actor Carlos Andrés Gómez visited the Pierce College campus April 3, captivating audiences with his eloquent slam style.
Gómez tours the world reciting poetry; his previous venues include locations in South Africa, Ireland, Spain, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He was a guest of honor at the Berlin International Literature Festival in Germany.
Gómez co-starred in the 2006 movie, Inside Man, directed by Spike Lee. He worked with an all-star cast including Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster. His book Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood is a personal memoir detailing his account of coming to terms with the cultural ideas of manhood and ethnicity.
As the child of a U.N. diplomat and indigenous rights activist, Gómez developed sensitivity toward cultural differences. Worldwide travel and cultural awareness has helped him adapt the principles of diversity and equality in his career, as evidenced in his poetry and his arrival at the Pierce College campus.
Gómez visited Pierce after speaking at four-year universities in the area, including Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Washington. The event came as a pleasant surprise to many attendees, including its coordinator Arsenio Lopez.
Lopez said it came together at the last minute with a tip from English professor Beth Stevens, an admirer of Gómez’s poetry. Lopez wanted Gómez to be available to the students in a classroom environment. He hoped they would gain more awareness about slam poetry and have the unique interaction provided by the classroom environment. It had its desired effect, as students and teachers were impressed by Gómez’s talent to inspire others.
Gómez made his first appearance in professor Terry Heath’s Introduction to Poetry class. He shared intimate moments with students and captured attention with his sleek rhyme and rhythm.
His poem Gifted inspired many, including student Audrey Cherry, who said she struggled with dyslexia as a child, so the poem spoke to her.
Gifted is a poem about those who struggle with labels due to differences. Gómez, who didn’t learn to read until he was 9 years old, compares what most people call “disabilities” with the greatness that existed in Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein. The poem’s theme is that differences can’t stop greatness.
During his presentation on the Puyallup campus, Gómez told the poem’s origin and talked about his first public performance in Berlin, Germany. He said the first time he recited it, his sister watched in the audience. She didn’t know that the poem existed and that it was about her. When it was over, the crowd threw roses onto the stage. Gómez picked up a rose and handed it to his teary-eyed sister. He said that was one of the most perfect moments of his life.
Student Jeremiah Holt said that Gómez brought him to tears with a powerful performance in the commons at noon. Others who attended felt the same.
“Gómez’s casual telling about serious matters makes me feel like my problems are trivial,” writing tutor Andrew Crook said.
Gómez tackles serious issues like genocide head to educate others about the effects of ignorance. The poem What’s Genocide begins with a discussion about the Rwandan genocide, but then it moves to a comparison with the educational system in the inner cities. Gómez compares ignorance and censorship to genocide.
“I love the historical basis of his work – he talks about things others won’t. The poem What’s Genocide is perfection,” writing tutor Meghan Hesketh said.
Gómez said that “life initiates art.” He’s inspired by ballet and dance. For him, poetry is a process that works itself out in the body. When he revises a poem, he reads it aloud. He said sometimes one word doesn’t quite fit into the rhythm. When he speaks it aloud, the words and the rhythm come together and flow like a dance, becoming fluid and natural. He doesn’t put tongue twisters into his poetry. It must be smooth and fluent.
Gómez’s inspirations include Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Nikki Giovanni. His first inspiration and muse was Martín Espada.
Gómez explained that when he was 15, Espada visited his school to give a poetry reading. At the time, Gómez didn’t want to go, but attendance was mandatory.
The moment of truth hit Gómez when he heard the poetry and he wept. He explained it as a reaction that went against his will, and as a compelling urge he wanted to stop. After trying to repress it, he said that he gave in at that moment and wept for an hour on his own. He knew then that his fate was to be a poet.
Espada gave him a book at the end of the meeting, with an inscription that said, “To Carlos, future poet…”
For years, Gómez had locked his heart away in a fortress of manhood. He said that his culture taught him to man up and take the hit, so growing up he learned to express only anger and aggression. He said that his life consisted of trying to fit an image while it repressed the most beautiful thing he had to offer—poetry.
His poetry impacted others with force and has given students inspiration to see a future of exploring the art and expression of the spoken word.
“He inspired me to be more open about how I feel,” student Hannah Dominguez said.
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