August 27, 2016
Poesía: Healing, Resisting, and Building Bridges
By Ana Portnoy Brimmer
“I am the memory of…” the room filled with the barely audible sound of pen on paper, the poets sitting around the table reacting, manifesting, to the writing prompt. Smiles, lip biting, furrowed brows, and deep sighs went around the table.
Mariposa read the next writing prompt. “I feel most alive when...”
My pen came to a standstill. I subtly lifted my eyes from my sheet of paper and looked at the other poets sitting around me. They were all concentrated, deep in thought, engaging in internal monologues. I feel most alive when…? I looked at my hands, ink stained and vibrating with unreleased energy. I scribbled on my sheet. I feel most alive when I write.
On the evening of Thursday, June 23, the poetry scene of the west side of the Island witnessed the gathering of politically active, socially aware, and culturally innovative poets.
Dr. Mary Sefranek, a professor of the Department of English of the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez (UPRM), received news that a two-decade long friend, Mariposa Fernández, was coming to Puerto Rico. A Puerto Rican born in New York City’s Bronx Borough, Mariposa identifies as a community organizer, social activist, and Nuyorican poet. Well known for her work both on the Island and the mainland, Mariposa asked Dr. Sefranek if she could organize a poetry event during her visit, an event to exchange thoughts, to talk about the times, to reinforce solidarity, to heal collectively. And so it happened.
Early that evening, a group of 11 poets, including Mariposa, Dr. Sefranek and myself, came together for a collective poetry writing activity. Sitting around a table in a classroom at UPRM, sage cleansing and setting the atmosphere in the room, we listened to Mariposa’s journey as a poet and activist, to her struggles and accomplishments as an artist and human being. Together, we engaged in writing exercises, responding to writing prompts and openly sharing our streams-of-consciousness and uncensored thoughts. Reflections on current and impending situations, such as Puerto Rico’s stifling debt crisis, the struggles of the community against unceasing political impositions, and the lived experiences of Puerto Ricans both on the archipelago and on mainland USA, were voiced out loud and on paper. Finally, poems were written for Oscar Lopez Rivera, the remaining Puerto Rican political prisoner.
After two hours of transformative writing and conversations, it was time for the second and last part of the event: the open mic.
La Galería Betances, in the Calle Post in el pueblo de Mayagüez, was dimly lit, candles and soft lamp lights illuminating the room. An exposition of vibrant portraits and mosaic art hung on the walls.
After the collective poetry writing activity ended, we left UPRM and moved to a local art gallery, where the open mic was to take place. People gradually arrived, poets and artists embracing each other, spectators looking forward to the upcoming performances.
After an introduction by Dr. Sefranek, Mariposa walked up to the microphone in the middle of the room. The rest of us gathered around her in a semi-circle, sitting on the floor, drinks in hand. Her eyes glistened with tears over finding herself in the Island after many years, over being gathered with people committed to poetry, culture, and society, over the connections being established, not mattering islander or mainlander statuses.
“Mira a mi cara Puertorriqueña…” Mariposa lifted her hands, palms facing away from her, as if caressing the very air, and recited her poem “Ode to the Diasporican.”
The crowd fell silent, Mariposa’s words bouncing off the walls, transforming and conscientizing all who were present. She entered a state of poetic bliss, her verses, lived experiences, and story transcending time, transporting us into her reality, revealing to us her truth.
Finally, Mariposa looked up from the microphone, head held high, arms stretched outwards, eyes brimming with pride, and those in the crowd who knew her famous lines chimed in with her:
No nací en Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico nació en mi.”