Poetry: Rodrigo Steps Up

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I haven’t had anyone’s poetry hit me quite the same way as Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria’s album Desconocidos since Sonia Sanchez. It has that quality of fire to it, talking much smack about life of color on the mean streets—and doing it with a world of immediacy. Take “I Cross Borders,” which goes, “Borders/I cross borders/I jump borders/I run through borders/So I can break borders/I wake up and I am still dreaming in borders/I get dressed and cross 3 borders/I cross borders like people wear masks/I do it innately/I do it unintentionally/Sometimes I don’t want to but it happens eventually/I cross borders so much I should work for taco bell/I run into borders with neighborhoods that look like hell/And I run through them with my eyes closed/I walk through them with my heart screaming/As I walk through these borders I try to grasp meaning.”

June 22 at at The Loft/Open Book | 8 p.m | $FREE |

He also has no trouble taking America’s conscience—rather, lack thereof—directly to task. Where countless films and an annual memorial are dedicated to the so-called martyrs at The Battle of The Alamo, Sanchez-Chavarria is very well aware that they were a swarm of land-grabbers stealing real estate from Mexico and that the only freedom-fighters slaughtered in that massacre were the Mexican defenders that U.S. history conveniently forgot about. In the intro to Desconocidos, he acknowledges this and other ancestral aspects that “paved the way for me.” He honors “the deaths in 1821 for the independence of Peru and El Salvador” as well as “the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943.”

Thankfully, Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria doesn’t stop at being a gifted writer. He’s determinedly invested in the young and sees poetry as a tool of liberation for school students. “ I have had the fortune and opportunity,” he says, “to be invited to schools to talk to kids about poetry, perform and create workshops. The kids I have come to contact are looking for an artistic form of expression they can make their own. Spoken Word speaks to them. It … liberates their feelings, opinions, beliefs, morals and lets them express it in a way that they have control. It gives them a voice.” It’s not a concept he idly came by. Sanchez-Chavarria is spurred by experience. “[I] remember when I was in school, I always was craving for knowledge, but it wasn’t available. I felt my schooling did not prepare for day-to-day life, interaction in the real world. I had to take classes to find out more about the Civil Rights Movement, Chicano history.” He sums up, “Many young people have a lot to say and that can also liberate us and them. Kids tell me that I inspired them, which I feel is one of my duties as a poet. But the kids also liberate me.” Makes a great deal of sense to yours truly.

“I believe,” he orates in the Desconocidos intro, “in the power of words/I believe that, as a poet, I am the messenger/not just to my audience, but to my communit.” This is one author who has a pretty strong message for the rest of us, too.

On Friday, June 22, 8 p.m., Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria releases Desconocidos (“the unknown”) at The Loft/Open Book. The evening features performance by Latino poetry collective Palabristas (Lorena Duarte, Larry Lucio Jr., Brandon Lacy Campos), Big Quarters, Tish Jones, Angel and, of course, Sanchez-Chavarria. With percussion provided by Quilombolas. Admission’s free, but the album costs 10 bucks. It takes place at 1011 Washington Ave. S. in Minneapolis.