[ The Money Side of Lifeā„¢ ]

Carlos Andres Gomez: A Poet's Voice

By Sarah Higginbotham on February 1st, 2007 •


Carlos Andrés Gómez has a way with words. He's been called a prophet, praised for his powerful message on and off stage. The 25-year-old award-winning poet and actor has made it to the National Poetry Slam Championships twice, performed on HBO's Def Poetry Jam and grabbed a leading role in Spike Lee's blockbuster, Inside Man. If you haven't heard this "spoken-word" artist on Telemundo or the MTV-U-sponsored Fight Apathy Tour, you might have heard of him: His performances generated over $40,000 to fight HIV/AIDS. Straight from the mouth of this former social worker and teacher comes a message about speaking up, making a living as a modern-day poet and helping others.

1. Prophet: One gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insight; especially: an inspired poet.

He stands luminescent under the spotlight, eyes glowing. His hands whip left and right. The audience holds their breath as words flip off the stage, potent in their honesty and raw emotion.

On stage or off, Carlos tells it like it is. In the world of poetry slams, where energetic poetry performances are scored Olympic-style by audience members, Carlos learned to drop verse as entertaining as any Top Forty rapper.

"Some like it spelled out," he almost whispers in a performance of his poem breath stroke. "But my love doesn't speak literacy, and these metaphors don't sing literally, and these stanzas aren't about imagery or simile. Quite simply this is about a feeling..."

On the slam stages he found a platform to talk about issues he cared about, making us re-think our views on HIV/AIDS, violence, racism and poverty. "Often times the greatest writing is putting down on paper what you know you shouldn't write," Carlos says. "The greatest writers, the greatest painters, the greatest artists, are the ones that are putting down the last thing in the world that you should put down."

He's turned his passion for poetry into an unlikely and influential career by fusing it with the modern-day stage. He's on YouTube and MySpace. He's self-published a CD. He's in Hollywood. He's a far cry from your English class, textbook poet.

The verbal vanguard used to ride the bus to the legendary Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City to read at open mic nights and slams. In 2001, he won the Pronoun Showdown Philadelphia Grand Slam and by 2003 had joined the NYC/Nuyorican National Slam Team. As the creative director of the Fight Apathy Tour in 2004, Carlos set out with fellow artists to promote HIV/AIDS awareness on college campuses. The effort garnered an MTV-U sponsorship and national attention. Today Carlos has performed at over 100 colleges and universities touring around the country and the world. After landing a leading role in a 2006 box office hit, the young artist's growing audience just got much bigger.

2. Prophet: An effective or leading spokesman for a cause, doctrine, or group.

Like his poetry, there are no frills to Carlos. He laughs off the extravagant things reporters write about him. He really listens when you speak and you've got to respect him for that, especially when you know something great is resting on the tip of his tongue. In his expressive style, he tells the story about the day he discovered poetry eight years ago.

"I discovered for the first time this outlet that was a completely new world and completely different than anything I'd ever found in the past," Carlos says. "And for once it was something that I desperately felt like I needed and I definitely felt like I wanted."

That was the day poet Martín Espada read at his high school, back when Carlos was more likely to be yelling on the basketball court than climbing the stairs to a stage. He started writing everywhere and anywhere he could--on scraps of paper, cardboard cup containers, and even his arm. He stumbled upon different performance poets, such as Saul Williams. He read page-poets who broke boundaries and took risks, like Audrey Lore and Pablo Neruda--writers he wasn't exposed to in school.

In the summer of 1999, Carlos stood up in front of his first audience at a café in Providence, Rhode Island. Soon after he moved on to the world of activism and slams at the University of Pennsylvania, where his poems grew to be lyrical and his verbal dexterity mesmerizing. But despite the high honors he earned on the slam circuit, Carlos pursued an even higher purpose.

After working at a camp for children infected with HIV/AIDS, he had felt compelled to put his words to work. With a long-time friend, he created a tour that fused music with poetry and called it The Excelano Project. Touring in Canada, the Caribbean, Africa and the U.S. during 2002 and 2003, they raised $40,000 to fight the disease.

Today his poetry tours actually pay the bills. His manager and booking agent organize his schedule. His flash website and MySpace page list his speaking engagements. In the early years, however, tours like The Excelano Project meant breaking even. Executing a fundraising tour-de-force required mountains of dedication, grant money, and personal contacts.

Carlos took that same energy with him after college, working with New York City students as a part-time teacher. He counseled and provided services for the poor, homeless, and sick as a full-time social worker in Central Harlem and the Bronx.

His social work and his performances stayed in synch, each effort inspiring the other. He self-published three books and his own CD. He shared the stage and opened for musicians and poets like Immortal Technique, Saul Williams, Reel Big Fish, and Wyclef Jean. Carlos had something to say and he said it well. People took notice.

On a random night in New York City, Carlos did a friend a favor by filling in the roster of a poetry slam at the last minute.

That same night the scouting director for Spike Lee's soon-to-be hit, Inside Man was attempting to exit a crowded venue. Not wanting to be rude as a young man approached the microphone, she waited until he finished.

Carlos' performance floored her. A few auditions later, having impressed Spike, among others, the rookie was in wardrobe. He landed the role with zero acting experience.

"If you believe what you are saying and if you do something authentically and you always bring your true self and your fullest self to whatever you're doing," he says, "that's when things happen, and that's when things fall into place, and that's when you get lucky."

3. Prophet: One who foretells future events.

Working with director/producer Spike Lee ignited a passion for acting in Carlos. While his role in Inside Man led to a spot on Showtime, a Spanish-speaking role on Telemundo, and a Rocky Mountain Emmy Award, Carlos is taking a step back to learn more about the craft before returning to the big screen.

When he does get there, he'll be looking for character-driven roles in films that are independently minded. Films made by directors he admires, like Spike Lee, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams), Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain), and Paul Haggis (Crash). With a vision of owning his own film company someday, it won't be long before Carlos is initiating his own projects. Until then, his own touring schedule, as well as The Fight Apathy Tour, keep him performing around the country.

"Whatever I do, I'm going to dare," he says. "I'm going to take the risk, I'm going to take the leap. I'm going to take the jump. And I may fail, but I'll never be afraid to go to those places that most people never want to look at."

The truth-telling visionary already has. As the lights dim and Carlos walks back out onto the street, he knows the biggest stage he'll ever step onto is right out here. His most influential poem will be written with his own actions. If these are just the coming attractions, then he's got us on the edge of our seats, waiting for what comes next.

For more information about Carlos Andrés Gómez, visit CarlosLive.com.