Zihuatanejo demonstrates poetry’s power

N-Poet copy Colby Patterson
Joaquin Zihuatanejo recites his poetry in front of U students at a “Beneath the Hoodie” event. Photo by Dane Goodwin.

Joaquin Zihuatanejo recites his poetry in front of U students at a “Beneath the Hoodie” event. Photo by Dane Goodwin.

Joaquin Zihuatanejo believes a poem can change the world.

In a talk on Wednesday in the Union Ballroom, Zihuatanejo, an award-winning poet, artist and teacher, shared personal poems about his life and racial equality and encouraged everyone to become a poet. His speech was part of the U’s MLK week events.

“You can be a doctor and a poet,” he said.

Zihuatanejo began his lecture with a poem dedicated to his grandfather, the muse to whom he attributes the reason he is a spoken word poet today.

He also touched on the subject of racial equality and told a story about a man who verbally attacked him when Zihuatanejo spoke Spanish to his own daughter. The man purportedly said Spanish should not be spoken in his country. The poem, called “Speaking in Tongues,” detailed the peaceful approach with which Zihuatanejo responded to the situation.

His poem “Hope Five Miles” told the story of a black man, a brown man and a white man sitting in bathroom stalls next to each other.
Zihuatanejo said he chose this poem specifically for comic relief.

The poem “Elephant” is the one Zihuatanejo believes could change the world. It illustrates for him the universal reaction to the loss of a child, whether to American, African or elephant parents.

Zihuatanejo said people in the U.S. need to stop focusing on their own problems and reach out to African communities who have much more challenging lives.

“In Africa, they plant children in the ground and grow angels,” Zihuatanejo said.

He told a story of how he began spoken word poetry at the encouragement of his high school students.

“I have to be good. I sell The Odyssey to ninth graders at 8 a.m.,” he said.

Juan Rodriguez, an engineering major, is a fan of Zihuatanejo’s work, and said spoken word poetry is important because “words are salvation.”

Angelica Calderon, also an engineering major, was a little familiar with spoken word poetry before the event. She said listening to Zihuatanejo was like “inheriting his memories.”

The next spoken word poetry event is on Feb. 3 and hosted by Project Vocal Outreach Into Creative Expression, a movement that motivates youth to express themselves.

e.trepanier@chronicle.utah.edu