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Grand slams: ABQ performance poet writes about his city, its people and his development as an artist

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On the front cover of Albuquerque slam poet Manuel González’s new book are three ways that the Duke City is identified.

One is in the title – “Duende de Burque.” Burque is a shortened, colloquial Spanish version of the city’s name.

At 3 p.m. today Manuel González gives a virtual reading from “Duende de Burque” and is in conversation with Valerie Martinez, director of history and literary arts at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. To register for the Zoom event go to bkwrks.com/burque.

The duende in the book’s title González defined as “the magic that exists in each moment.”

A second is in the subtitle – “Alburquerque Poems and Musings.” Founded in 1706, the city was named for the Duke of Alburquerque, then viceroy of New Spain. There is an “r” in the second syllable of his name.

And the third identifier is in a phrase that refers to González as an Albuquerque Poet Laureate. The first “r” is dropped in the modern spelling of the city’s name.

González is a nationally recognized slam, or performance, poet.

“I had been the local slam champ a few times, and that has taken me to national competitions,” he said. “I constantly write poetry. I come from a spoken word tradition.”

González’s first musing in the book is about his evolution as a Burque poet.

As a boy, he wrote, he feared people would make fun of him for writing poetry so he kept those poems to himself. As he grew older González shared his poetry with friends. Then he got into hip-hop as a beatboxer. It wasn’t until he attended a poetry slam that he realized he was at home.

Though González initially lost in competitive slams, he kept returning. “I revised, rewrote, and memorized my poetry. Eventually I started to win,” he wrote in the musing. That led to competing nationally.

At a performance he gave at a local coffee shop, a teacher heard González and asked him to recite his poetry for her high school students. He agreed: “… I realized I was the person who got to show them an art form that I love for the first time. I was the one who got to grab them by their hearts and squeeze them until it hurt …” He gave the students pen and paper, and told them to write about themselves the best they could. Do that, “and the floodgates would open. Tears and affirmation in every direction,” he wrote.

González realized he had found his calling – helping others to be emotionally vulnerable through their poetry. He’s become an inspiration for others and at the same time for himself.

The poems in “Duende de Burque” comprise what González calls his love letter to the city, its people, the bosque and the Sandias. Most of the poems in the book he wrote while serving as Albuquerque Poet Laureate from mid-2016 to mid-2018. Being named Poet Laureate legitimized him as an artist.

Here are excepts from several poems:

From “Burque Summer Solstice:” “Summertime heat creates/mirages off the asphalt,/playing tricks on our eyes./Burque and her secrets/are whispered on the wind/when we listen.”

From “Ancient Aztec Origami” (dedicated to the boys at the YDDC Detention Center): “Folding future memories/Into modern codices./Honoring ancestors by giving old graffiti glyphs new life./Slicing time/With our tongues like a knife/From the center of the Quinto Sol.”

González is a founding member of the Angry Brown Poets. He described the group as “a Burque-based phenomenon that features poetic socio-cultural commentary put to improvisational rhythms and visual stimulation.”

González’s family is from Barelas. He grew up near West Mesa High School.

“Poetry is becoming a family thing for me,” he said proudly. “My daughter Sarita Sol is developing her credentials. She is a sophomore at the New Mexico School for the Arts and she has read her poetry at the Library of Congress. She does it all – on the page, on the stage.”

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