So last week I was all geared up to go to the cinema with my friend and fellow Mouthy Poet Honey, when I receive an intriguing phone call asking if I want to review a Def Jam performance poet. I knew nothing of the poet, I’ve heard quiet a lot about the film I was planning to watch, throwing caution to the wind and embracing my spontaneous streak I choose the poet.
The Mouthy Poets are a Nottingham based poetry collective that embraces all types of odd balls who love writing, performing, singing blogging and words! We have our next live event ‘Say Sum Thin 4’ coming up in February so thought it would be a great way to spread the word and also get some performance tips from a globally celebrated poet.
Mark Gonzales is a Mexican/American poet from Alaska, celebrated for performing for Def Jam, sharing the stage with Hip hop icons, and described as “Khalil Gibran meets Pablo Neruda”. His performances focus on human rights and social justice issues which is a tricky area for poetry as you don’t want to sound like you’re preaching.
The Square Centre greeted attendees with vibrant tapestries, sense harassing cakes, a variety of snow melting teas, and smiling faces from across the globe. The evening began with two monologues, the first from a Zimbabwean-born poet called Alan and the second from Jasim, a visual artist from Iraq, both highlighting their experiences as refugees living in Nottingham and challenges they faced integrating with the wider community. These were extremely touching and important stories to hear as too often Asylum seekers and refugees are discussed in economic terms as the proverbial ‘drain’ on the system. This event was an opportunity to put a human face to the statistics and remember that these people are people, all playing a vital role in culturally enriching the city - given the chance and support. The monologues were a perfect opening to the main act.
Gonzales’ poems were thoroughly engaging and crammed with high energy protests against Western superiority. He tackled other current affairs such as the present situation in Palestine, global terrorism, other punch-in–the gut issues such as suicide, colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, oppression of minority ethnic groups, and the way patriarchal media is perceived to objectify women. I was surprised to discover from him that the Twin Towers were built on an African burial site. So I certainly learned more than I would have at the cinema.
Gonzales put through convincing arguments against injustices across the globe and in celebrating the resilience of minorities who stand up against global super powers. It was easy to go along with his journey although at times I felt some of his poems over-generalized. This felt as if he was pandering to the crowd slightly, particularly as he was performing in a centre that caters for refugees who have encountered many inhumane crimes.
Mark Gonzales performed at The Square Centre
As an emerging performance poet I relished the opportunity to study his performance technique. It was so easy to get swept away with the rhythm, rhymes and the captivating tone of Gonzales' voice, and to be hypnotized by the way he drew shapes in the air to accompany his metaphors - he was like a magician casting a spell. His delivery was seamless but at times it was hard to digest everything he was saying due to his rapid delivery. This could have been an issue for certain members of the audience for whom English is not their first language, but it wasn’t necessary to hear every word to understand the context, particularly as he is very good at helping an audience ‘feel’ a poem through his body language.
I appreciated that he’d allowed time to debate some of the topics raised in his poetry and a lively discussion arose but was quickly extinguished by time constraints. We were then treated to Lebanese tea and music from Baran music group - a wonderful selection of traditional and folk Iranian music with a blend of Kurdish and Spanish fusion with a bamboo flute thrown in for good measure.