Enrique Garcia, a 17-year-old junior at Pueblo Magnet High School, won the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam all-city championship last month. Garcia says his involvement in the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam provided him with enough experience writing and performing his work that he now wants to do it for a living. He also wants to help other students keep "the youth voice going." For more information on the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam, go to their website, or find them on Facebook.
What made you interested in getting involved in poetry slams?
I'd always been a writer. I guess I was going through a rapper kind of phase my sophomore year. I saw a flier on a teacher's bulletin board about (the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam). I took it—I thought she'd have other copies, but apparently, she didn't. She said, "Nobody touches my bulletin board." She was going to send me to detention, but then said if I went to this Youth Poetry Slam presentation, I could get out of it. I went, and that is where I first met Logan (Phillips), who is now my mentor. He kicked a few poems, and from there, I was interested and knew that this is what I wanted to do.
What is it about poetry that you fell in love with?
It was just how (Phillips) used his words to engage everybody. ... He told this story, but he was telling many other stories at the same time. It's a storytelling ability I've always wanted—being able to impress people with the many battle scars I have in life, and (doing so) in an artistic way.
How has the Poetry Slam changed your life?
Well, in August 2011, I became a youth organizer. It has given me the opportunity to learn the professional side of the Youth Poetry Slam, and how to balance professionalism and creativity. And it's helped me observe and help my community and spread word of what Tucson and other youth have. I'm one voice within many voices in the city, and it's helped me improve my listening and my public speaking, and, I guess, discover a talent. I have to find new meanings in everyday routines.
What does your family think about your involvement?
At first, they were kind of skeptical. Poetry has always been portrayed, as almost ... nonmasculine. You don't see a lot of men involved in poetry. But even though they haven't been able to see me perform, they've been able to see my performances on our YouTube channel. They are astounded, especially now that I'm going out and getting paid and going to performances outside of Tucson. Little by little, they are accepting.
Where are you performing, and how are you getting paid?
Well, (Phillips) has this initiative to teach a core group of five of us who are really committed ... tools and techniques to perform outside of Tucson. We go to events, and we get a stipend. It's really cool to be recognized for this art, locally and outside the city.
Why is the youth voice important?
I've learned that the youth voice is really, really powerful. I'm a huge history bookworm, and I've seen it has the power to change the world, especially in Arizona, where we are being oppressed with all these laws that go against education and humanity. Really, it's the youth that are affected by these laws in a way. We showed a generation we have the power to say we don't like this, and we need change. ... In school, kids are zombified to not question things. ... Poetry is a good way to get that message out.
What poem helped you win the championship?
I performed three, but the last one is the one that pushed it. It's called "A Boy," and it's inspired by a poem (Phillips) did a while back. It's basically a character I created who lives on the southside, and he sees this pessimistic society. That's where I am right now. I am out in the community, and I see that fear of success and fear to take that first step. I think we have to encourage and plant that seed, so the youth voice can sprout and make the community grow.
Has this helped you figure out what you want to do with your life?
I guess if I had poetry, I wouldn't mind being a starving artist. At first, I thought this was going to be a hobby, but as I progressed, I think that five years ahead, I'd like to be doing this at a national level. ... I could survive on poetry and coffee.