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The Vermont Cynic

Latino poet speaks at the Fleming

Sarah Robinson

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It wasn’t the honks and shouts of the busy New York City streets that inspired the accomplished poet, it was the silence in between them.

Poet Willie Perdomo read to a group of students, faculty and enthused admirers at UVM’s Fleming Museum from his collection of acclaimed poems Sept. 21 as an installation of the Fleming’s Painted Word Poetry Series.

Perdomo is the winner of the International Latino Book award with his work appearing in the New York Times Magazine and the Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. He currently resides in New Hampshire and is an Instructor of English at Phillips Exeter Academy.

Inspired by prominent poet and social activist Langston Hughes in ninth grade, it was anger that drove me to being a poet, Podermo said.

“You ain’t about nothin’. To get out, you had to be about something,” was a piece of advice Perdomo lived by in his adolescence, inspiring him to better his writing skills, he said.

Poet and UVM professor Major Jackson spoke highly of the importance of the arts in his introduction of Perdomo.

“I’m a firm believer in the arts and being an english major,” Jackson said,

He spoke highly of the students who decided to pursue an English major, one of the smallest demographic of majors, according to a UVM undergraduate census.

“Poetry is not for sleepwalkers. Poetry is for readers and writers who pay attention,” Jackson said.

In his introduction for Perdomo, Jackson said, “[Perdomo] is a poet in that he carries a consciousness that is plural.” He concluded with simply, “Folks, it’s time to get woke.”

Perdomo’s reading primarily consisted of works from his 2014 book, “The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon,” a story through prose about his uncle, a musician.

In a marble room with high ceilings, a podium and an audience hungry for more, Perdomo’s voice boomed like the streets of New York City.

He told a story of an uncle he’s never met, Shorty Bon Bon, and his forever-love Rose.
The narrative switches between two dialogues: one between Shorty Bon Bon and an anonymous “Poet”, and the occasional other between Shorty and Rose.

“The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon” is split up into four sections. The third, called “Fracture, Flow,” is about Perdomo’s Puerto Rican heritage. The pieces in this section gain new meaning with the recent devastation of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

“What I can’t get out of my mind is the image, the satellite image, of Maria making her way toward the island. Puerto Rico is about to get hit, and Puerto Rico is [very small] and the hurricane is just gigantic,” he said.

With family and loved ones on the island, Perdomo spoke of the frustration of not being able to be in contact with them. “That moment when you can’t reach anyone is a powerful moment because you’re in the dark,too,” he said.

Though Perdomo’s work is intimate and personal, the subject matter is often something relatable to everyone. Ryan Conroy, a junior English major said, “I knew that he was a poet of the street in what he writes about and that appealed to me in a personal way.”

With Perdomo’s booming inflection in the echoing room, it was often hard to understand literally what he was saying, but “even if I couldn’t get the literal message I was still able to get a message from the sound,” Conroy said.

For Perdomo, his work is never solely entertaining, it carries a powerful personal message. Given the recent devastation in Puerto Rico, Perdomo is hopeful. “Puerto Ricans are resilient,” he said.

The Fleming Museum’s next installation of the Painted Word Poetry Series is on Nov. 30, with the speaker LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs.

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The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883
Latino poet speaks at the Fleming