Willie Perdomo Shares His Past Memories through Poetry

“I was tired of being told to shut up. I was tired of being silenced,” said Willie Perdomo about his inspiration for poetry last Friday night in Kemper Auditorium. Perdomo, a prize-winning Puerto Rican poet from New York, visited campus for the second time after a reading on campus in the fall of 2009 to share his poetry with the Andover community. Perdomo’s reading was part of Latin Arts Weekend, a weekend-long event celebrating Latin American culture. Despite a brief blackout in the auditorium that interrupted his reading, Perdomo’s reading was lively and dynamic, incorporating humor, thoughtfulness, music, rhythm and the occasional serious topic. Reading from his two published books, “Smoking Lovely” and “Where a Nickel Costs a Dime,” Perdomo presented both prose and free verse poems in Spanish and English. His childhood memories and personal relationships served as inspiration for many of his poems and are illustrated in many of his poems’ characters and plotlines. Perdomo began the evening by reading “Harlem Love Poem,” a prose poem that tells the story of two lovers in Harlem. He was inspired to write the poem after a girl at a workshop asked him if he had written a love poem before. Perdomo’s recitation of “Postcards of El Barrio” carried a distinct rhythm and beat as Perdomo wove Spanish words into the poem. “Spanish lends itself to a multitude of rhyme… so I had to use Spanish [for some of my poems]. I like to use English because that’s part of the survival mechanism of living in New York… But I don’t try to contrive [language]. It has to come out organically,” said Perdomo. “I felt that at times it was interesting and funny [that Perdomo used Spanish], for even though I had no idea what he was saying, it sounded cool… [but it was also] a bit overwhelming,” said Christine Zhang ’15. Perdomo also read his poem “Clyde,” which is based on a homeless man who lived in the same building as Perdomo during his childhood. In his poem, Perdomo described how Clyde was a silent man who hadn’t spoken out against the kids in his building who teased and disrespected him for 10 years, but that Clyde had something to say and would eventually. “That [part] was kind of messed up,” Perdomo said of his poem. Perdomo also shared poems from his newest book with the audience. Through the poems in his book, Perdomo revisits the memories of his uncle, a percussionist. Tapping his feet and nodding his head to the beat as he read, Perdomo captivated the audience as he seemed to almost rap his poems rather than read them. The final poem of Perdomo’s performance, “Crazy Bunch Barbeque” was about his group of childhood friends called the “Crazy Bunch.” Perdomo’s poem was solemn and reminiscent, but also had various comical elements that caused the crowd to laugh. “I thought it was really interesting that he took a more modern take on poetry because he related really well to the kids, [through his use of] colloquial language,” said Isabel Bolo ’14. Offering a piece of advice to aspiring poets, Perdomo said, “Don’t go in thinking you’re going to write a poem, because you’re setting yourself up for destruction. Go in thinking that you’re going to play around, and then let’s see what comes in from the playground.”