Transcript of Live Chat
April 30th, 2004
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NYPL Our guest today is teacher, poet, writer and activist Tony Medina. Writer's Digest says Tony is one of the top ten poets to watch in the new millennium, and we agree. Tony, can you tell us a little bit about growing up in the Bronx?
funkycoldmedina Growing up in the Bronx was a great experience. From the craziness of the South Bronx to the Throgs Neck Housing Projects it was a great communal experience. It was when neighborhoods were truly neighborhoods and people actually grew up together and went through so much together.
NYPL How did you get started as a writer?
funkycoldmedina In the 9th grade I was forced to do a book report for English. Mr. De Los Reyes, our teacher, was mad at most of the class because we either failed it or didn't do it. I didn't do the book report because I was a lazy, TV kid. I didn't grow up with books. But he gave us a second chance to make it up, because the principal came down on him, saying our failure is a reflection on his work. He gave us a list of books to choose from; and I went to the Throgs Neck Public Library with that list. On the list was a title that intrigued me: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. I took that book home with me and fell in love with it. That was the book that made me want to be a writer. From that point on I announced to my family that I wanted to be a writer. One of my aunts bought me a typewriter, the other got me a desk and the rest is just me sticking to my dream.
NYPL Do you recall the first poem that spoke directly to you and nobody else but you?
funkycoldmedina I think the first poets that captured my imagination were Emily Dickinson, Hart Crane, Dylan Thomas and Langston Hughes. For some reason I began by imitating Emily Dickinson. I recall in the 12th grade writing a poem called The Thing With Thorns off of her poem Hope is the Thing with Feathers. Unconsciously I internalized her poem and when that first poem came to me while ironing my clothes for school the next morning, a voice popped into my head. That was the poem that compared Love to a thing with thorns. Hart Crane and Dylan Thomas intrigued me with their strange lyricism. And Langston, of course, was talking about life in the 'hood; celebrating the ugly and the beauty found there. His poems spoke directly to my experience and the experience of my family growing up in Harlem and the Bronx.
NYPL Did you have a favorite book as a kid?
funkycoldmedina as I said before: the novel Flowers for Algernon was my favorite. By I also fell in love with Lord of the Flies. The Catcher in the Rye (all of J.D. Salinger), all of Kurt Vonnegut; John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men; A Confederacy of Dunces; The Color Purple; Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint; John Irving novels, etc.
NYPL What is the thing that you've done that makes you happiest/most proud
funkycoldmedina Publishing books, which was a dream of mine; completing my Ph.D. degree; teaching at major universities;traveling all over the country and throughout the world on the basis of my writing; feeding and clothing the homeless...things like that.
NYPL Do you have a regular schedule for writing, or write when you have something you just have to say?
funkycoldmedina I don't have a regular schedule for writing. But I'm working towards becoming more disciplined in that regard. I work hard when I have certain projects and deadlines; but I try to always have something to work towards; when I don't have the luxury to do that, I'm thinking up things, plotting and reading a lot when the time permits.
PortRichmond What have you learned about yourself through your writings?
funkycoldmedina That I'm very sensitive, compassionate, committed, and intolerable of injustice of any kind. That I have the capacity, through art, to heal and transform lives. That having a sense of humor (and irony) is a great thing. That everything can be turned on its head and be made fun of in these absurd times we find ourselves in. That people are complex animals who want to be recognize and want to matter.
PortRichmond We read your poem "Broke Regrets" and we were wondering...what you meant?
funkycoldmedina "Broke Regrets" is a poem in the voice of a homeless everyman named Broke. Much like Charlie Chaplin's Tramp, Richard Pryor's Mudbone and Langston Hughes' Jesse B. Simple, he comments on life and society through irony, satire and absurdist humor. It is a surrealist poem that amplifies the problem of being homeless in a great metropolis like New York, which is probably one of the harshest places to be homeless in.
catherine Tony's computer zonked out ... he's rebooting... but keep those questions coming
PortRichmond Before the session ends, The Port Richmond High School Pageturner's Club would like to thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
funkycoldmedina Cool... Hi, Staten Island! It's good to be asked questions as a writer and to be able to answer them...
k-link Mr. medina I've never read any of your books I'm not sure if I read any of your poems because I read alot but I joust wanna how is being a writer?
funkycoldmedina it's like being a little rock star, at times... but being a poet is even better because you get to look at the world in a different way..
catherine Do you consider yourself an activist? Is your poetry activism?
funkycoldmedina Yes I do... because it sheds light on things that normally would be in the dark, it allows you to recognize those who are not acknowledged or recognized, and it can allow you to poke fun at the absurdities in society and allows you to poke fun at the system that oppresses. It also can heal people and transform people's lives...
catherine Tony's still here and he's answering some more questions! Thanks for your patience.... One of our guest chatters asks "how did you get known"?
funkycoldmedina I "became known" by reading my work publicly, and by publishing as well.
catherine Why is poetry cool today for kids?
funkycoldmedina Poetry has become more and more popular because the spoken word movement has forced academia and the mainstream to take poetry and poets seriously by taking poetry back to the streets where it belongs. It is the cheapest and the most democratic art form. Everyone has access to it and everyone can participate in it. It allows people to express their ideas, feelings, and thoughts in public communal spaces.... as the great poet Roque Dalton said poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
catherine Who are your favorite poets?
funkycoldmedina There are too many poets to list. Don't miss Pablo Neruda, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Nicanor Parra, Roque Dalton, Ernesto Cardinal.... also...Nicolas Guillen... but these are just a handful.
catherine Do you have a website?
funkycoldmedina tonymedina.net, but it's not up yet. It's under construction.
catherine Has writing opened doors for you?
funkycoldmedina Yes, it's gotten me jobs, it allows me to become a public spokesperson of sorts, it allows me to travel the world on someone else's dime!
PortRichmond Where do you prefer to do your writing?
funkycoldmedina I like to write any and everywhere, particularly on buses, trains and planes.
PortRichmond Do you still do the bookmark/kid welfare programs?
funkycoldmedina I still have the bookmarks and give them out to kids and people that buy my books.
NYPL Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
funkycoldmedina hopefully productive, healthy, and committed to making sure everyone gets to eat.
catherine What are your feelings on political poetry?
funkycoldmedina I love political poetry. I couldn't live without it. We need political poetry, especially in this day and age. More poets, particularly in this country, should be more politically astute, socially committed and responsible.
catherine What is your most favorite line of your own poetry?
funkycoldmedina Poems are prayers we submit to in our spiritual silence
sanchi Hi, Tony! Our teens love your poetry. When did you write your first poem, and when did you know you wanted to be a published poet?
funkycoldmedina I wrote my first poem when I was in the 12th grade. It came to me while ironing my clothes for school the next day. I knew from the first time I fell in love with reading in 9th grade i wanted to be a writer. It was my dream to become a writer and publish books. And I stuck to it. Stick to your dreams... nothing can stop you.. as long as they are positive!
funkycoldmedina I appreciate everyone logging on and asking questions. If I didn't get a chance to answer your question it wasn't because I didn't want to, it was b/c of the tech problems. Hopefully we'll see each other in person down the line.
catherine Thanks for coming.. come to the Library and get Tony's books!