Friday, October 14, 2011

Carlos Robson

Yesterday I had the chance to attend a poetry performance by Carlos Robson.

I almost didn’t go. I could just imagine what it would be like: an hour of whining, if I was lucky. If I wasn’t lucky, he’d be the kind of ‘poet’ who puts together disjointed images of gore and perversion, just to shock the audience.

I did go, of course. I’m a writer, after all, and a poetry performance is, at least marginally, an event in my field. It was free, and it was very close to where I was staying at my brother’s place in New Haven, Connecticut. I went because I couldn’t come up with a decent excuse not to.

I loved it. Instead of whining, I heard inspiration; instead of shock, respect. And it was the kind of inspiration and respect you can believe in, because it was anchored not in lofty ideals but in practical reality. The audience was mostly young and urban, and Carlos spoke their language.

The poem that affected me most was about his uncle, who was a fan of “The Wizard of Oz” and who lost his mind in the Vietnam War. Let me back up and fill in some context.

I recently finished writing a novel about terrorism. To write it, I immersed myself in the twisted mind of the mass murderer and put myself in the shoes of the victims. And I wrote it too fast, didn’t give myself the time to take the insanity in pieces.

After that, to help myself heal, I’ve been working with my daughter on something just for fun: a fan fiction teleplay. To get to know my characters and make them ‘real,’ I always make them my imaginary friends. Sure, I get caught talking to myself, and it probably means I’m diagnosably crazy, but the technique works. Lately, I’ve had a Cardassian Gul from Star Trek following me around whether I ask him to or not. And it just so happens that his planet was recently reduced to a ball of rubble in a particularly horrible war.

So with all that in mind, I sat in a Connecticut classroom last Friday and watched Carlos Robson take on the persona of his uncle. “Follow orders!” he yelled at the tornado. “Follow orders!” Then sadly, “Follow the yellow brick road. The road is paved with the faces of the dead.”

The poems weren’t all so heartbreaking. In fact, even the tragic ones contributed to the overall message: “Don’t let anybody stop you from doing what you need to do to get where you’re going.”


  1. I have to say, I expected a lot of whining too, although I'm more likely to enjoy that kind of thing than you are, since I like poetry so much and am not very often turned off of a poet or poem because of whining. (Which is not necessarily a good thing...)
    I am very glad that I went with you! I love his rhythm and style, and how he can tailor his speech pattern to his audience. However, I think above all I admire his talent in storytelling, how he can wear the persona of the person he is quoting and replicate it, so that, in one poem called "Sunshine" about an addicted woman, I no longer was listening to Carlos. I was listening to the woman, speaking to Carlos. His talent as a word-smith is also amazing. He can spin an image so real, you can see it in your minds eye easily. His vibrant language and the passion with which he speaks of hope and happiness are rare treasures in poets these days. However, in novel writing, it is harder to find a better author than Jae! ;)

  2. Aww...but I guess you had to say that last part.

    I know one other person who has that amazing acting talent. She just hasn't developed it yet. And I'm glad she went to see Carlos Robson with me.