It’s an unusually warm autumn night. Between the wine bar and Se7en in West Street Market, a diverse group of people of all ages has gathered. While some are signing up on the list, others are whispering in the air, moving their hands, going over their poetry.
When night falls, the murmurs grow and the place begins to heat up. Everyone, the poets and the public, is saying goodbye to the place that has been the venue of Spoken Views for the last few years. Pan Pantoja, one of the event’s pioneers, is sitting up front. Dressed strikingly in black with his legs crossed and chin resting in hand, he observes the scene attentively. In the crowd, a flash of a white cowboy hat passes by. It’s Marvin Gonzalez, who distributes fliers for the group’s latest project: the upcoming bilingual event, El Puente.
One by one, the poets start reciting. The newcomers read nervously with wavering voices and shaking papers, but the audience listens intently and rouses them with applause. When Pantoja’s turn comes, in two or three verses, his energy explodes into every corner of the room. He doesn’t use more than six feet of space to move around, but everyone can feel the energy. And what energy! Before the night comes to a close, it’s Gonzalez’ turn. As if a medieval jester, he starts reciting around the audience, provoking and hypnotizing in a circular motion. Then the session’s over. Four hours of art has opened the door to beer and exchanges of phone numbers and websites between the new poets and the old ones.
Gonzalez has been an active participant in the Spoken Views sessions since 2007. Educated in the American system, this son of Mexican parents never ignored his Spanish language side. He arrives with a huge smile, a gentle temperament and the right side of his pants rolled up, like every good bike rider. He sits at the table and waits in silence for his large cappuccino. Bearded, with glasses and a bohemian hat, he explains quietly that there is rhythm everywhere, and everything is metered, if you listen for it.
“When people speak, even though they might not mean to, they always follow a rhythm. If you pay attention to the back table … there is a rhythm to their words. It’s easier to notice when you’re with friends or people you know because when you meet someone for the first time, the conversation doesn’t flow.”
Marvin believes in writing, whether in English or in Spanish. “For me, Spanish sounds better than English,” he says. “It’s more romantic.”
He remembers when he first saw the pamphlet for Spoken Views. “I didn’t even think about it, I went to check it out, and I liked it. Later, I made friends and kept at it.”
It’s enough to have curiosity and daring, which is exactly what the people of Spoken Views are attempting with El Puente: to serve as a bridge to unite the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking communities in Reno. El Puente is Spanish for “the bridge.”
“I’m sure that there are many Latino writers [who] don’t share their work because they don’t know the community,” says Gonzalez.
One doesn’t have to be a professional to try. In the sessions, there is an open mic so anyone can come up with notes and read, without obligation, just the desire to express themselves.