.Watsonville Poet Laureate Has a Rich History

Making connections

Robert (Bob) Gómez began his career as a teacher in the Pajaro Valley Schools in 1984, working as a migrant and bilingual resource teacher until his retirement in 2010. He currently volunteers with his wife Denise at the Castro Adobe State Historic Park in Watsonville and has served as a chaperone for seventh- and eighth-graders to Watsonville’s Sister City Kawakami-mura in Nagano, Japan. Since 2015 Gómez has directed the music program for the Kokoro no Gakko Cultural Summer Program at the Watsonville Buddhist Temple.

The son of an American mother and a Mexican-American father, his work as a troubadour, he says, is to entertain and bring the community together to pursue peace and justice. He began his term as Watsonville Poet Laureate in January 2022 and will hold this post until the end of this year.

Bob’s accomplishments as Poet Laureate so far include his appearance at well over a dozen events in 2022-2023.

Some highlights include: a collaboration with former Santa Cruz County Poet Laureate David Sullivan on the Agents of Change exhibit at the Santa Cruz Public Library from June to August of 2022; participation in a Catamaran/phren-Z virtual reading with local poet Claudia Ramírez, with their music and poetry becoming “a poetic dialogue between artists and poems.

He also did a reading at Mesa Village Park in Watsonville for the Poetry in the Parks series;seeing his work published in Cabrillo College’s Journal Xinachtli;readings at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History featuring Writers of Color Santa Cruz; and Ourselves We Sing: Hispanic American Voices at Pacific Grove Library, where he presented poems, songs, and recitations on race and manifest destiny as a critical response to Walt Whitman, alternating between free and rhymed verse in Spanish and English with original songs.

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He is thrilled to be a participant in a California Impact Grant which will bring the Grammy-winning Mariachi Divas to Watsonville High School´s Mello Center on May 10; and has initiated a partnership with Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House in Carmel to bring young poets into that historic space.

Bob admits that one of the greatest joys in his new post is meeting and connecting with other local poets, young and old, emerging and established. In 2021 he joined Writers of Color Santa Cruz which includes poets Shirley Flores-Muñoz, Shirley Ancheta, Victoria Bañales, Vivian Vargas, Nikia Chaney, Joseph Jason Santiago LaCour, Ekua Omosupe, Adela Najarro, Maddie Aliah, Elbina Rafizadeh, Delia Lee and many others.

Bob now serves as a Poet-Teacher with the California Poets in the Schools program (www.californiapoets.org). As Area Coordinator, he seeks to mentor local poets who want to teach poetry in county schools. 

Bob was the featured reader for the Poets’ Circle Poetry Reading Series in February 2022—a long-running event that takes place at the Watsonville Public Library and honors distinguished poets and emerging voices, supported by the Friends of the Watsonville Public Library and produced and hosted by this writer.

In 2023, Bob conceived and inaugurated the Watsonville Youth Poet Laureate program. His enthusiasm for poetry definitely includes a vision for nurturing youth voices. His goal with the Youth Poet Laureate position is to get students writing, reading and publishing their works, thus serving as role models for other young poets.

The first term Watsonville Youth Poet Laureates were chosen by a committee made up of local poets, instructors and Watsonville Library board members. The two Youth Laureates are Eva Sophia Martínez Rodríguez and Rachel Huerta. They will be appearing with Bob at Poets’ Circle on Feb. 8, along with student poets from Watsonville High School.

Youth Poet Laureate Rachel Huerta (Home-School/Cabrillo College) is a 17-year-old songwriter and poet who is currently working on a young adult novel and a collection of freestyle poetry. She plans to pursue a BA in creative writing.

 “I can’t imagine a world in which I am not writing; beautiful words are my oxygen and poetry is the kindling for positive change,” she says, with a fire and warmth that she is “honored” to bring to her community. Rachel has an extensive history of community service — including being a worship leader in Santa Cruz, working with children, and volunteering years to online literary forums such as LibriVox Audiobooks and The Young Writer’s Workshop.

Born in Mexico, Youth Poet Laureate Eva Sophia Martínez Rodríguez (Aptos High School) moved to the United States when she was 7. This experience, she says, “Brought me a new perspective of the world…Giving me the opportunity to say twice as many words…” She says she hopes “to empower those who have a passion for poetry… to bring light and diversity into the poetry world in such a small community…”

Gómez says he has three goals when he gives a reading: To include some music (when reading publicly he has his guitar at the ready), employ multilingualism (reading in both Spanish and English), and most recently memorization and recitation, which he says “are very powerful for the poet and the audience…these [methods] can transform the work…bring it to life…there is no page.”

His greater goal is to use poetry “to make a connection that is beyond poet and audience, envisioning a much larger universe that we can connect to through the best poems…a deep connection that is about the values we share and the world we want to see.” These “communal moments” he explains, are ever more important today.

Of the youth writing and reading their poetry, Bob says, “Young poets need to see themselves as equals with other speakers in the public sphere. Adults need to listen to those young people’s voices to know what future they seek to create in their lives.”

Monarcas

A song for Consuelo Alba-Speyer

Monarch in the summer/Monarch in the fall

Migrating together/Half a million strong

California winters/Keep us safe and warm

Or in Mexican mountains/Happily we swarm

Our beautiful colors/Glorious for everyone to see

Across generations/Flying we are free

Monarca del aire/Y migrante soy

Montañas y millas/Cruzando me voy

Ya en la primavera/Siento el calor

Renovando el ciclo/Que es nuestro labor

Llegando el invierno/Entre mis compadres descansar

La sombra de un árbol/Es mi libertad

We are not illegal/Borders we shall cross

No sólo migrantes/Somos mucho más

Cambiando el clima/Nosotros también

Will humanity save us/Show us how and when

Our beautiful colors/Glorious for everyone to see

Yo soy mariposa/Y tu porvenir

–Bob Gomez

Bob Gómez will read with Watsonville Youth Poet Laureates and Watsonville High School Students at the Poets’ Circle Poetry Reading Series 2024 kick-off event, Thursday, Feb. 8 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Watsonville Public Library.

Magdalena Montagne is a poet and teacher who facilitates drop-in writing workshops, Community Poetry Circles, at libraries in Santa Cruz County. She produces and hosts Poets’ Circle. www.poetrycirclewithmagdalena.com

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