| ARTS AND CULTURE
By Olga Rosales Salinas
How do the cantons award a poet laureate? It happens when a person asks the right question. For Victoria M. Bañales, the question was, Why Watsonville Doesn’t Have a Poet Laureate? She approached the then mayor Rebecca García, who referred her to the Watsonville Library Board.
Actually Bañales was already a member of the library board. “I wanted create fair opportunities for folxes in our Latinx community that has so much creative talent,” she said. “The first thing I did was approach the director of the board and the library, Alicia Martínez. The entire Board supported (naming a Poet Laureate) unanimously, after which Alicia and I developed an application process and formed a selection committee and the rest is history! »
The next goal?
“Young Poet Laureate,” Bañales said.
After an application process, the committee selected Bob Gómez will be Watsonville’s first Poet Laureate for a two-year term. I interviewed Gómez to discuss his background and future plans for his term.
Gómez marched in Washington DC at the age of 8 with her parents. He hung around the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco in the 1960s and joined the United Farm Workers union and Cesar Chavez for the Delano marches between 1973 and 1974. With this rich history of activism, it’s no wonder that he continually finds ways to serve the Watsonville community. We talked about the influence of his parents, his 26-year teaching career for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, the power of spoken word and stage performance.
At some point during this interview, which took place via Zoom, he picked up his guitar and started singing an original parody based on Mexican folk hero Pablo del Monte. He sang like he was in a room full of people – and to me that sounded like poetry. We discussed his plans for the literary arts as he begins his two-year stint.
Gómez describes himself as a Chicano songwriter, singer, sometimes recording artist, sometimes translator, father of two in his thirties, grandson of immigrants, retired migrant and bilingual resource teacher, satirist, amateur carpenter, daily gardener , mystic, bilingualism advocate, anti-racist, anti-homophobe, Japanophile, JACL and NAACP member, San Franciscan native, SFSU Gator, Harvard MA, volunteer guide at Castro Adobe, and husband of 42 years to his wife Denise.
(Shameless take: Gómez will be performing at a fundraiser for my scholarship program, the Scholarship workshop and poetry reading by the Rosales sisters on March 26 at the Pajaro Valley Arts Gallery.)
The following interview has been slightly edited:
Olga Rosales Salinas: First, let me congratulate you on becoming Watsonville’s first Poet Laureate. Can you start by telling us about your family?
Bob Gomez: My father was a migrant worker in San Bernardino and was not a man of strong opinions. My mother was the one with strong opinions. She was from the Arizona area and was an ex-Mormon. Together they were very liberal and active in several political movements. I was able to shake Robert F. Kennedy’s hand as a child because of my parents’ political views. It was their influence that encouraged me to continue serving.
ORS: Do you think your work as an activist is closely linked to your writing? Do you think poetry is political? Or should it be?
BG: Poetry doesn’t have to be political — I’m also rooted in the Objectivist movement. The poetry of the romantics – William Blake, Dickenson, Thoreau and mystical writers – has always inspired me. Poetry speaks of my apolitical and universalist side. I am a chameleon. There are so many different interests and ways to engage creatively that poetry can be a multifaceted avenue. I also make parodies at parties.
ORS: You have mastered the Spanish language as a career. When did you know it was an important language for you?
BG: I knew I cared about Spanish in the elementary school in San Francisco that I attended. I was in third grade and took Spanish as a second language. I loved it for 45 minutes a day. I watched all the videos and filled out all the notebooks. In the fourth year, the class changed to one hour of French instruction. The parents advised me to continue studying Spanish. I was the only child in the class working in the Spanish notebook. All the way through college, high school, university, and even graduate school at Harvard. This is where I studied (Don Quixote) in the original Spanish.
Also, in 1976, I traveled to Mexico City, for my first year abroad. Upon my return, I was fascinated by the fact of expressing myself in Spanish when I spoke with my paternal grandparents.
ORS: You raised two kids here in Watsonville. Did they write, learn Spanish or have an interest in literature
BG: Yes, I raised my two children, now in their thirties, with the possibility of becoming bilingual children. They were surrounded by neighbors and colleagues who spoke Spanish. They are both interested in literature.
ORS: What was it like teaching in the same place for over 25 years?
BG: I taught at Radcliff and Watsonville High School and supervised the bilingual after-school programs. My wife Denise was also a teacher alongside me. She also taught for 26 years in this community. Watsonville and PVUSD are part of my family. I feel lucky to have raised my children here.
ORS: We briefly chatted over email, where you mentioned liking music, singing, and performing. Has music always been closely linked to prose for you?
BG: Music moves us in a way that no other form can. For me, prose and poetry are part of music — they are closely linked.
(Note: At this point in the interview, Gomez pulled out his guitar and began his performance. The lyrics of the song, Pablo deMonte, follow the questions and answers, both for the original song and the Gómez parody.)
ORS: Thank you so much for singing!
BG: Anytime. I’m going to play Rosales Sisters Scholarship Workshop and Poetry Reading March 26 at the Pajaro Valley Arts Gallery. Join us there!
ORS: Are you going to play this exact parody? Because it was amazing!
BG: ¡Claro que si!
ORS: In my mind, page poetry does a very different thing from spoken or stage poetry. Do you feel this too?
BG: The rise of scenic poetry aligns with the rise of hip hop, and so the definition of poetry has expanded. Poetry connects to all other art forms. In Mexico City, at the Pablo Picasso Museum, there is an art installation of a French poem with Picasso’s art surrounding it. Painting and poetry at the same time. I always thought that linking all art forms together was a fantastic feat. I’m also a big opera fan. It sums it all up. It’s big. Theatre, poetry, singing. It reaches all forms; for me, it is eternal. This love of opera extends particularly to the libretto, mainly because I am a great lover of expressive and dramatic reading.
This form of reading and expression has a long tradition in Mexico and Spain. For me, these are two tones in the voice of (the practice of) spoken literature or public readings. Without overemotion – I want to have this power. When I read or recite, I want my words to come alive. (Native American author) Stan Rushworth once said, “Poets should whisper when they need to whisper and shout when they need to shout.”
Dylan Thomas had perfect control of his voice. He arrived intellectually at this way of reading poetry – what a genius. The full dramatic potential of poetry is expressed in Dylan Thomas. I wish I could teach this power somehow.
ORS: Tell us about the writers community of color, Santa Cruz, and how you heard about the new Poet Laureate position.
BG: Vivian Vargas invited me to join Writers of Color in March 2021. She also sent the link to the Watsonville Poet Laureate app on the Watsonville Library website. Victoria Bañales chairs the Watsonville Library Board of Trustees and she also chaired the Poet Laureate Selection Committee. Victoria is the one who announced my appointment to the position at our November Writers of Color meeting, and I was confirmed at the Watsonville City Council meeting on January 11, 2022, for a two-year term. Everyone already knew that I had won. It was quite a while.
ORS: Over the next two years, you will lead the community in poetry and prose. Do you teach? What are some of the goals you have planned?
BG: I will continue to work with Writers of Colors and of course add more colors to this community. We want to add Filipino and Mixtec languages to the scene and page. We need to hear all these languages. Another of my goals is to get involved with the young poet laureate. The county office has a poetry out loud program involving state, local and secondary programs. I would like to help with that. I would love to coach children on performance art and verse in general. I would like to teach them to recite.
ORS: Thank you very much for your time today, Bob! We look forward to seeing your performance of music, poetry and parody at the purse, the workshop and the poetry of the Rosales sisters.
Pablo de Monte
Humberto “Fito” Galindo, Mexico, 1942-2021
Esto es el corrido de Pablo el que siembra
From Pablo el que sueña, from Pablo del monte
Esto es el corrido de Pablo el que sufre
Porque apenas con cruces write on number
Sus padres murieron peleando en la raya
Between the metralla de los federales
Querían que sus hijos tuvieran because
Un pedazo de tierra pa’ hacer sus jacales
Los años pasaron and Pablo del monte
Aún no tiene donde vivir ni sembrar
Son aún del amo la yunta y la siembra
El agua y la tierra y también el jacal
Vuela pensamiento a Parral, Chihuahua
Allí está buried the Revolution
Dile a Pancho Villa that Pablo del rides
Aún sigue descalzo al pie de un patrón
Dile a Pancho Villa that Pablo del rides
Aún sigue descalzo al pie de un patrón
Dile a Pancho Villa that vuelva ends there
Que vulva ends y su Revolución
Basado in “Pablo del monte” by Humberto “Fito” Galindo
Esto es el corrido by Bob el artista
From Bob guitarist, from Bob de los Gómez
Esto es es corrido by Bob jardinero
From Bob carintero, Latinx senores
Ya viejo el chicano, el sanfranciscano,
Por cuarenta años casado y con hijos
Aplicó sus afanes por bilingual rimas
In which stands out este burguesito
Recien fue laudado el Bob laureado
By su pueblo amado ahí by Santa Cruz
Gracias a cafeina, cerveza and tortillas
Sembrando semillas salió en el news
famous watsonville by sus ricas fresas
From Bob el poeta lugar predilecto
Tierra y sol de las naciones Aptos y Ohlones
Of conquistadores, surfers and obreros
Sus cantos pa´ niños con humor y cariño
His reconocidos en casa y salón
Esto fue el corrido by Bob de los Gómez
Love poet and revolution
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