Springfield Poet Laureate, Magdalena Gómez was just 17 years old when she first publicly performed in Greenwich Village in New York City. Her career as a poet, playwright, educator, activist, and more has garnered numerous awards, accolades, and recognition including recently being awarded with an Academy of American Poets Fellowship. 

Her mission to provide others with tools for self-determination has also led her to tour nationally as a keynote speaker and serve as co-founder and Artistic Director of Teatro Vida, the first Latino theater in Springfield.  

Gómez joined Zydalis Bauer in a conversation about her journey and her latest ventures.  


Read the full transcription:

Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: Springfield Poet Laureate Magdalena Gómez was just 17 years old when she first publicly performed in Greenwich Village in New York City.

Her career as a poet, playwright, educator, activist, and more has garnered numerous awards, accolades, and recognition, including recently being awarded with an Academy of American Poets Fellowship. Her mission to provide others with tools for self-determination has also led her to tour nationally as a keynote speaker and become co-founder and artistic director of Teatro Vida, the first Latino theater in Springfield.

Gómez joined Zydalis Bauer in a conversation about her journey and her latest ventures.

Magdalena Gómez, Springfield Poet Laureate: I discovered it in the Public Library at Hunts Point in the South Bronx, where I grew up. And I discovered poetry there and I fell in love with it and started writing it when I was like, eight years old.

And then finally, at 17, I had a mentor. Her name was Emily Glenn. She is one of the most widely-published unknown poets in the United States, and she said, “I have a feature for you, it’s time!” And I was 17 and still in high school.

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: In the artist’s statement on your website, it says quote, “I grew up hard. I love harder.” You have mentioned in past interviews that you didn’t always have a voice growing up and that you actually had to fight hard to have one.

How were you able to eventually find your voice, and how has that inspired or influenced your work that you do today?

Magdalena Gómez: Poetry reading was pivotal. I think that was an important moment, because I read my work and I got such a loving response from the audience, and I just felt seen.

I felt alive, and in that moment I felt as if my words mattered.

Zydalis Bauer: You have gone all over the country as a keynote speaker. You have been an educator.

How did that transition happen? That it was really this moment that you found your voice to now this is who you are in your career?

Magdalena Gómez: Well, I think that people should never underestimate the influence that they have on children, whether it is for a moment, or a lifetime, or for years.

A few things happened along the way. My third grade teacher cast me as Walt Disney in the school play, and I loved gender-bending even at that age, because I always felt that I was more than male or female and that everyone was, and that our souls were so big, that we didn’t fit into any identity. So, I felt very comfortable playing Walt Disney in my little suit and tie.

And then, I had a fifth grade teacher who said to me, “My dear, you were born for the theater.” And then I had another professor in college, Al Bermel, and he said to me, “You were born for the theater.”

And so all these people who just for a moment or just for a short time gave me words of encouragement made all the difference in the world.

Zydalis Bauer: And that has really made a difference, because you’ve been named as the 2019-2021 Poet Laureate for the City of Springfield.

You also have received an Academy of American Poets fellowship, so congratulations on both of those honors!

Magdalena Gómez: Thank you, thank you.

Zydalis Bauer: But I know it’s more — being a poet laureate is more than just an honor, it carries a responsibility to the city.

So, can you elaborate on that responsibility it is being poet laureate?

Magdalena Gómez: Absolutely. It was very difficult for me because of the pandemic. So, I started a podcast called Jazz Ready because you have to be jazz ready in life because you never know what’s coming.

So, in that podcast, I originally did it for the city of Springfield, and we now have a global audience. And it features poetry, but then it started to grow into the poetry of music, the poetry of theater, the poetry of public speaking.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, as I was mentioning before, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship that you received this year, what type of work are you planning to do as a fellow with that grant?

Magdalena Gómez: I’m going to be in a collaboration with the Springfield Public Library. I’ve been in conversation with Jean Canosa Albano, and we are preparing a series of workshops that I’m going to be facilitating for women and girls in amplifying their voices, in creating tools of self-determination for them to bring up their own voices through poetry writing and poetry reading. And it’s going to culminate in a performance.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, in an interview with Holyoke Media, you stated that you “do not separate art from activism or art from the human connection.”

Why has activism been so important for you and why do you feel that these two should not be separated?

Magdalena Gómez: I was born into it. Both of my parents came from poverty and oppression.

My father was Gitano, and I think that people understand that Gitanos are among the most oppressed and marginalized people globally, not just the Spanish Gitanos from Andalusia, but Gitanos from all over the world.

And my mother grew up, you know, as a victim of the thrashing of Puerto Rico by colonialism. And she grew up in poverty.

And I grew up with two storyteller parents, who shared stories from their lives. And I heard about this oppression, and from the time I was a little girl, there were two things that mattered to me: which was giving opportunity for voice to others who have been silenced, like my parents, like myself, to my two parents were both extremely artistic without the opportunity to express that. And my mother could not read or write until she was 60 years old.

So, I’ve dedicated my life to interrupting those patterns in the lives of others. For me, it’s important that other people find their voice, their power, their creative spirit. And that’s why I can’t separate it from activism. Because to me, the soul of activism is providing opportunities for others to be their best selves so that they can make our society better.

Zydalis Bauer: You make it a point to state that you do not empower anyone, it’s not a word that you are a fan of.

Why is that the case and what do you hope people take away from your work and career as a poet, playwright, and author?

Magdalena Gómez: The reason I don’t like the word empower because there’s, I think, an implication there that somehow, we are giving power to others.

And I don’t believe that my role as an artist or a human being is to think that I can be the voice for other people. My job is to provide venue for them, which is why I started Jazz Ready, why I started Teatro Vida, why I started Ignite the Mic, and all of those venues here in Springfield.

Because I believe that it’s my job as an artist, not only to amplify myself, but to create the tools for others to amplify themselves.