Why did you become a poet?
Not to be cliché, I didn’t become a poet. I am a poet. It’s as natural as breathing for me. I think in prose, my cadence in speech sounds like I am sharing bars. I’ve always been creative; break dancing, graffiti, rhyming, etc… I feel the natural evolution of me rhyming (off beat) was to do spoken word poetry. Now, why I share my poetry is another story. When I moved to Atlanta 7 year ago I was lonely. So, I relied on my best friend, poetry. But there was a keen difference between the poetry I was in my early 20’s on stage and the poetry I wrote and shared in my mid thirties to now 40’s. Before it was vanity, to be on stage and feel the applause. Selfish recognition. However, my writing has matured. Now when I write its to match lessons with experiences. I feel that is valuable to an audience. They can see their pain in my expression and together and lean on my words for strength and inspiration. Sometimes the best compliment someone can give you is that you made them think.
What inspires your content for your poetry?
My poetry is in direct response to what I experience, learn or observe. I find myself in a constant cycle of art imitating life and my life imitating that art. It reminds me of two mirrors facing one another, poetry allows me to look past the initial reflection in the mirror and get to that 5th or 50th reflection. Its in that depth you get past the masks we wear and images we project and get to the substance. It allows me to not simply express what I observe, instead I explain the mechanisms that help in stimulating our decision making. I truly enjoy mapping out the forest as well as giving the description of the taste of tree sap. Being able to feel the relativity of it all.
Tell us about your most memorable performance.
My most memorable performance must be when I was 22 years old and won a talent show in Korea while enlisted in the Air Force. Being overseas you’re limited with the things you can do on your downtime. The base created a huge multi-week talent show that was akin to the Apollo in which the crowd could ‘boo’ you if they didn’t like your performance. I volunteered and survived the first performance, cool. 3 weeks later all the finalists from the 6 weeks went head to head. I however had surgery on my right foot the 1 day before. My boys put the battery in my back and convinced me to get dressed and carried me on stage. I hopped up to the mic with my crutches and said my poem.
“I have a dream, that one bloods and crips, honkey and spic, can live life for what it is without labels like this.”
It was my version of the I Have a Dream Speech. Due to the lack of activities overseas this became a very big deal on the peninsula. We had 4 star Generals there, members of the joint chiefs of staff and here my narrow ass is. On crutches with a baggy royal blue DKNY sweatsuit and a hat 2 sizes too big, taking one of the most iconic American speeches and twisting it for modern times. The whole theater erupted when I was done. I never forgot that feeling, the feeling of my foot swelling up bigger than my ego! I was in such pain but it was certainly worth it. Great memory.
What are some of your rituals before hitting the stage?
If you don’t get butterflies in you stomach than to me you’re setting yourself up for failure. I get the same type of anxiety in a fight or with sports. So, I go outside go over my set and convert that nervousness into bravery. I run on the stage and give them the performance from my solar plex to ensure my passion is conveyed. I’ve stopped using anything to numb the nervousness. No more crutches – pun intended.
Tell us about your book.
The entirety of the book is a metaphor. Called “A Son with No Father is a Book with No Author” it ironically is not at all about absentee fathers. Instead It is a book that gives intimate details about the value and importance of fatherhood through storytelling, methodology and poetry. Essentially, it’s a love letter for my son. I share 8 subjects that imposed themselves into our lives. The world at large laughs the more you try to shelter your children. In those 8 chapters I share the experience of how the subject came into our lives, followed by the lesson I was hoping to impart onto him, and end each chapter with a poem that experience inspired. I wanted to ensure it was more than a pretty coffee table book, (cover art was done by fine artist Charly Palmer) I wanted the book to be a resource. A single mother can pick it up and see how and why a father approaches the situation the way he does. A child can receive guidance from a father figure in the event he is absent. And a father himself can read it and either relate or learn from another brother on this journey with him. To further ensure this project is of use to the community I partnered with faculty in GSU and created a workbook that partners with the book. Using Pageants Development Stages, we created a matrix that is paired with questions a child can ask the parent and the parent can ask the child. Specifically designed to facilitate healthy communication between family members it is the premise for the workshop curriculum I do with fathers and sons.
What advice would give someone who seeks to become a poet?
Create to express not to impress. Once you seek approval for your art, your voice is muted and you effectively become an echo of someone else. Words are powerful. And the story you tell yourself about yourself is reflected in your poems. Therefore, be kind to yourself and write from a place of sincerity. If you choose to share it after you’ve been honest with yourself the crowd will recognize and trust they prefer organic over synthesized.
What does success look like for you?
The ultimate success is having my entire life in alignment. For years I lived compartmentalizing every dimension of my life and wondered why to tend to one aspect another had to suffer. I’ve realized none of those compartments could grow in a pot. So now they all work in concert with one another. So, success looks like tending to my family loving my wife actionably and raising healthy, happy and confident children, making an impact in the community through the arts, inspiring future generations, helping to heal my peers, enjoying the work I do, not taking the journey for granted and being compensated for my talent.
Where do you see your career in the next five years?
I see myself being the lighting rod for all things creative. I see my upcoming play ‘Redefinition of Manhood’ being on Broadway. I see my non-profit organization, Manifest Destiny servicing thousands of artists of varying disciplines and ages. I see myself given the presidential inaugural speech for AOC. I see myself giving keynote speeches globally and representing the virtues of manhood and fatherhood everywhere I go.
I see myself as a cultural leader.
Originally, from Co-Op City in the Bronx, NY, Mario Reyes is of Puerto Rican descent, raised by varying elements of New York Culture. Also a six year Air Force Intelligence veteran, he has used his used his unique perspective to address societal injustices along with highlighting virtues of manhood and fatherhood.
Mario’s first contribution to the world of literature in his book “A Son with No Father is a Book with No Author”, partnered with a workbook to mend breakdowns in communication and relationships. This body of work also has a musical Score currently in consideration for a Grammy. Mario also created two workshops for the community; Poetry to the People, children’s poetry workshop and Kingdom Son, father/son healing workshops.
IG – @iampapipicasso
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Twitter – @papipicassopoet