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Give a listen to La Dulce Palabra Spoken Word Ensemble.
Drawing on episodes from their lives and recognizing the importance of oral storytelling in Latino culture, the ensemble’s members use poetry to express their emotions and share their experiences with audiences.
“The poems are about things from our own pasts, things we want to talk about – personal experiences of growing up, relationships,” Maria Del Carmen Calderon said.
“Through poetry we paint the picture of our existence,” added Martha Cartagena. “Ultimately, strength is revealed through poetry. I’m convinced writing poetry is a healthy tool to release all that holds us back, and much cheaper than therapy.”
“It’s a great outlet,” agreed Evon Flores Barrera. “It was awkward for me at first; I was very shy about what I was writing. Now it feels safe being with the ensemble and being able to express myself. We have no boundaries when it comes to writing.”
The women hone their craft in member-directed workshops, which provide a secure, supportive environment to experiment and grow as writers.
“Having a safe space where my writing and self-expression is not judged, but rather encouraged, gives me the freedom to write what I please,” Cartagena said.
“It tapped into this creative side that I didn’t even know existed,” Alicia Tellez Vega said. “Stuff just poured out. I’d write stuff and I’d be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know that was in me.’”
The women present their poetry at various venues such as college campuses, bars, fund-raising events and poetry slams. For Vega, immersing herself in dramatic performance provides a constructive outlet that allows her to release the negatives in her life.
“When I started performing, I felt like I was delivering myself to the world,” she said. “I discovered my pieces had a life of their own. People would come to me (after a performance) and talk about how they experienced pieces I wrote and I would be like, ‘Wow, that’s got nothing to do with me. It’s not the way I wrote it, but that’s the way you experienced it. Take it for what you need it for.’”
Marixa Rojas has had similar reactions after a performance. “People come up and say, ‘I understood you. I know where you’re at. I’ve been there. I’m going through that right now. I felt that.’ That feels great; it feels empowering.”
“Reading in public and believing that my words may make an impact to move and/or challenge the audience in some small way is rewarding,” Cartagena said.
“We’ve had hecklers say, ‘How could you say something like that?’ or just turn their noses up, and that’s OK,” Barrera said. “We welcome that, because whether we moved you in a way that’s heartfelt or it’s made you think or made you blush or even pissed you off, we’re OK with that because we moved you. We have the power and the audacity to do that because we can and we should.”
“What I really feel we’ve done and what we’re trying to create is the possibility for anybody to be a writer, to be a poet, to be a performer,” Vega said. “It’s got nothing to do with experience or skill or talents. If the desire’s there, we want to create a space for it to happen, whatever it looks like.”
The group has created a book of their work. “The book is totally handmade, very grassroots, from scratch,” Vega said. “Different people put different pieces of it together. We created this assembly line in somebody’s house and put the book together and folded them and bound them and self-published it.”
The multicultural, multigenerational collective began as a collaboration between Amigas Latinas, a nationally recognized organization whose mission is to empower Latina lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning women, and En Las Tablas Performing Arts Group, a not-for-profit community arts organization in Chicago that provides an open and affirming space for aspiring dancers, actors, poets, musicians and singers of all ages. A documentary celebrating the alliance of La Dulce Palabra and Amigas Latinas, Palabras Dulces, Palabras Amargas (Sweet Words, Bitter Words), was screened in March at Chicago’s Hoover-Leppen Theater.