The Poet- Toro is a poet and an educator. You may not be that familiar with his work because he prefers to teach and create rather than hang at a lot of Open Mics. Too bad for both sides because the scene could use some of the fresh energy he brings to both his poetry and any room he’s hanging out in.
o.b.: As an educator, what is the most valuable thing you have learned from your students?
Toro: Patience. And that I’m really not that cool. And more patience. NOW GET ON WITH THE NEXT DAMN QUESTION!
o.b.: You teach Slam poetry (in a sense) yet you make it a point not to be classified as a “Slam Poet,” how does that dichotomy work for you?
Toro: “Slam” is just a marketing slogan used to sell a product. Like all marketing slogans, its sole purpose is to place an idea/object into a box that is simplified and easy to consume. As an artist, I am always uneasy when someone wants to place my work into such a box. These categories limit the artist as well as the audience. When I was younger and people were telling me that I was a “slam” poet, I found myself trying to write “Slam” pieces, which stunted my growth for some time.
My teaching “Slam” poetry is purely an irony of situation. When I began working as a teaching artist, my company, Dreamyard, had been given a large sum of money to teach “slam” poetry and hold interschool
slams in the Bronx. My feeling is that if some suits in an office are willing to give some of their blood money for me to work with the children and their minds are trained to be engaged by campaign slogans, such as “Slam”, it doesn’t matter to me. I’ll call it Clown poetry if they want me to, so long as the money is going to the education of these young people. In this way there is no dichotomy at all.
o.b.: Have you had an opportunity to meet any of your poetic influences? How was the experience?
Toro: The first time I ever read my poetry to a large audience was in the home of Reverendo Pedro
Pietri. When I was 14, my cousin Carmen gave me a copy of PUERTO RICAN OBITUARY, and it was the book that inspired me to become a poet. I didn’t know then that my cousin was friends with Pedro. We went there for New Year’s when I was 16, and after all these astounding writers like Ntozake Shange and Papoleto Melendez perform, Pedro and my cousin invited me up to read one of my poems. It was terrifying, and at the same time it was in many ways the birth of my life as an artist. I have since had the pleasure of reading with Pedro and spending a little time here and there. He has always been supportive even though after ten years he still always forgets my name (TO him, my name is just “Carmen’s cousin”). He brings light everywhere he goes. He is a true people’s poet.
o.b.: What part of the world is most poetic and why?
Toro: The only part of the world that has not been colonized, the independent nation without a name or borders, only known affectionately as “the imagiNATION.” You can find its refugees inside little crevices all over the world. The evil empire wants to know where they are hiding but we won’t ever tell, never!
o.b.: “I don’t remember who said it but one time, I heard this poem that blew my mind. It spoke of…”
Toro: being polite. Only I remember who said it. Hafiz wrote:
Everyone is god speaking.
Why not be polite and listen to him?
o.b.: When did you drop your first poem and how much have you changed since then?
Toro: I dropped my first poem all over the kitchen floor when I was two. My mother was trying to spoon-feed it to me, but I just didn’t like the peaches. I still don’t like peaches. As in the words of one of the great Bodhisattvas, “I changed by not changing at all.” I drop a lot of things. Last week I dropped a glass of red wine all over myself at a very Bourgeois and stuffy poetry reading. The glass smashed on the table just as the poet was using the word “tentacle” (A very played out poetry word). All the self-important MFA students snorted at me, wondering who let me in, while I laughed with my outfit permanently stained. The whole experience was very poetic and enlightening.
o.b.: Which was your preferred choice for two-tone jeans- Sergio Valente’s or AJ’s?
Toro: Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” is a Cinematic Masterpiece!
To quote the poet Nicanor Parra, “I hereby retract everything I just said!”