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The first poet laureate of Watsonville is here to foster poetry among youth, and to entertain. | face to face

Born in 1955 in San Francisco to an American mother and a Mexican father, Bob Gómez has been a Watsonville resident since 1984. While his father didn’t speak much Spanish to him, Gómez picked it up from music and school.

Back then, I planned to become a baseball star. But he was also spending hours with a collection of famous poems, memorizing each one. Music was in the family too; With his father and brothers, Gómez sang the National Anthem at San Francisco Giants home games 16 times between 2010 and 2016.

His bilingualism deepened after a junior year in Mexico City, followed by a BA (one of two) in Spanish from San Francisco State University. After a brief time on the East Coast (MA in romance languages ​​and literature from Harvard), he moved back West with his young family, feeling a calling to teach.

Within the educational system Gómez found a bilingual niche for himself. I have tutored students, led leadership training and extracurriculars, using humor, poetry and song to put everybody at ease. I have stopped working as a full-time educator in 2010.

Some of this extra time is now devoted to gardening and carpeting, but Gómez is also extremely enthusiastic about Japan, overseeing Watsonville’s cultural partnership with the Japanese city of Kawakami-mura, Nagano. Now, he also has time to do more as a poet, singer-songwriter and performer. He writes haiku and self-publishes CDs and cassette tapes with his bilingual songs (such as The Book of Bob: Songs of Fight, Humor and Hope). He writes and sings in English and Spanish. In 2021, Gómez was named the first poet laureate of Watsonville, a two-year term with real responsibilities, he says.

Weekly: How does one become the poet laureate of Watsonville?

Gómez: It was decided last year at the library board meeting [the Library Board of Trustees of the Watsonville Public Library.] I heard about it through the Writers of Color Santa Cruz County. It was a rigorous process; I had to submit 10 poems, essays and letters of recommendations.

What will you do with these two years?

My task is to promote spoken words, in connection to music and without neglecting other arts. The goal is also to start the Youth Poet Laureate of Watsonville program. I’m getting in touch with schools right now. The program doesn’t exist; I have to build it.

Tell us what you are best at.

I love variety. I love one liners. I was always a kid who makes everybody laugh. Even though I consider myself shy, I needed to learn how to entertain others. I want to continue the good old tradition of troubadours.

What does a troubadour do?

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He writes stories for the whole community. I love experimenting with my person. I do public songs, institutional songs, songs for special occasions. I perform at a yoga class; it helps the movement.

Can we hear a poem, please?

“Hymn for the Ground,” for Stan Rushworth:

I place my hand down on the floor. / The earth’s hand made the wood. / The earth’s warm blood is in my hand; / This earth – this place – is good.

The water that fills up the gutters and brooks / Is singing in the ground; / The simple water that feeds the roots: / A chanting, drumming sound.

Frogs are calling across the lake, / Across the fields and crops; / The furrows are deep, the water grows, / Building itself with drops.

Coursing through thickets, dark and deep, / The water and ground are one, / Unseen, unheard, beyond us all, / Gathering, moving, gone.

The sea otter noses, pokes, observes / Along the tidepool shore; / He has no need of my thoughts or words; / He dives, floats, eats, lives for.

I am the wave that powers and goes, / I am the otter, free. / I am the poet who dreams and knows / Action is legacy.

I thank the gods that are in the ground, / The work that is in my meal. / I choose this valley to live and die, / To stay, to love, to heal.

Earth of this valley I do not own, / Bird valley, river and bay, / You claim my heart, I claim you home: / To love, to heal, to stay.

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