Maria Rodriguez is Brooklyn. She was born and raised in East New York and she is everything BK has to offer and much more. I was granted the opportunity to push myself onto her busy schedule, how else was I going to slow her down enough to discuss her life and coming book “Brooklyn’s Daughters.”
Maria is a mother, writer, poet and curator. This Puertoriqueña discovered her penchant for self-expression during her adolescent years, by writing songs to freestyle beats. Shes not readily forth coming concerning her formative years, but she’ll tell you Brooklyn molded her into a fighter, a survivor; who without reservation will place her Timbs or heels squarely inside your posterior if provoked. The Brooklyn native Jay-Z said it best, “How can someone so gangster, be so beautiful in pictures?”
Maria has been published in the New York Daily News, Sofrito for Your Soul, and “Me No Habla with Acento” an Anthology of Contemporary Latino Poetry. She is an original cast member, contributing Writer and Co-Producer for Soledad Speaks; an intergenerational tale performed through monologue and spoken word and produced by Odd Girl in Entertainment. Maria has curated shows for the NYC Latina Writers Group, as well as SPEAK UP! Voices from the Movement as part of El Museo del Barrios Speak Up! Spoken Word Series. She has also facilitated workshops and open mics for the youth at her local Boys and Girls Club. Her sometimes funny, always potent words infuse a raw realism of life and lessons wrapped in spanglish idioms and firmly planted in her Nuyorican roots. Yeah, she’s pretty dope!
Here’s what transpired during our sit down:
S&A: Who is Maria Rodriguez, in seven words?
MR: Maria Rodriguez is Mother, Warrior, Brooklyn, Creative Spirit, Renaissance Woman
S&A: What has growing up in Brooklyn taught you?
MR: Growing up in Brooklyn has taught me how to kick ass, literally and figuratively. Any hood, no matter where youre from teaches you, strengthens you, and Instills pride. My character is a culmination of all that.
S&A: What was the name of your first poem?
MR: The name of my first Poem, if I recall correctly was titled “Fear.”
S&A: When did you KNOW you wanted to be a Poet?
MR: I never set out to be a Poet, though Ive always been a writer. I would write my own songs and record them in a basement studio in the Bronx. It wasnt until I witnessed Def Poetry Jam’s artists like Lemon and Bruja, Flaco and Mayda del Valle. These Poets brought me home and reminded me that our struggle was beautiful.
S&A: You recently wrapped up a role in “Soledad Speaks”, how long did it take you to internalize your character?
MR: Soledad Speaks was monstrous. It was learning to drop my poetic voice and embrace whichever character needed to be brought to life in that moment. It was frustrating and humbling. The Women characters in Soledad Speaks went through some things. It took me a year to finally reach that pivotal moment where I was bare bones and in full character. I cried.
S&A: Talk to me about what made the whole process real for you; you know that “Oh Shit!” moment?
MR: My “Oh Shit” moment was during a domestic violence scene. There’s nothing like that theme to shake you up right? I was so immersed in character that I became her. This victimized, the broken, and tired woman. My voice cracked during my lines. I choked up. Tears streamed down my face, and then I began shouting. The entire room stopped in their tracks and just stared. I walked out after cut and bawled my eyes out in the restroom. It was that intense.
S&A: What did you learn about your friends during the rehearsals?
MR: Ive been blessed to have a relationship with Peggy, Meriam and Seary before Soledad Speaks. We are all involved in the performance poetry circuit and would often catch up during shows. Linda and Milteri I met because of Soledad Speaks. The entire experience was organic. One thing Ive learned is to never underestimate the power of Women. We get things done.
S&A: How does someone steal Maria Heart?
MR: Someone steals Marias heart through Hip Hop, food and humor. I love music and laughter. Its good for the soul.
S&A: If Aliens landed on earth and you had to explain Love to them in 7 words or & actions, which would you choose?
MR: Love is something that needs to be felt. You can do that through both words and actions but sometimes words are not enough. In seven actions I would explain that love is Perfume, Her favorite flowers, run a bath complete with candles and wine, combing her hair, a Massage, Cooking and tender just for me forehead kisses. Not sure if they’d readily understand, but the look in my eyes would explain everything.
S&A: What have the women in your life taught you along your journey?
MR: The Woman in my life have taught me to keep pushing. Theyve taught me how to be independent and how to nurture relationships with other Women. Oh, and to never let myself go for anyone. Always take care of you.
S&A: What inspired this “Brooklyn’s Daughters?”
MR: Brooklyns Daughter is self-explanatory. This book is life through my eyes, my past, present, and future. Initially it was named something else until I wrote a poem for the exhibit “Defying Devastation.” It was inspired by a photo of 2 little girls on a brownstone stoop in Bushwick. The look of resilience and hopelessness in their eyes stirred something in me. It reminded me of my sister and me, and countless other little girls who grew up during the late seventies and eighties. This is for them, this is for us!
S&A: Which piece was the most difficult to write?
MR: I dont have difficult pieces. I have pieces that flow or dont. Sometimes its nothing more than a blurb and theres nothing I can do to flip it. I love pieces that say everything in 3 sentences. Those are the hardest.
S&A: Will the reader get to know Maria Rodriguez from reading “Brooklyn’s Daughters?”
MR: Oh definitely. Its in my language. My broken spanglish, my Brooklyn grit, my laughter, my tears and my idioms. I can only write what I know.
S&A: Did your role in “Soledad Speaks” Inspire any of the pieces, if so, which ones?
MR: Soledad Speaks was written in monologue form. The writers were given themes that resonated with them, then and now. I would go back to my youth and remember conversations that my elders had, conversations with my aunts, mothers and cousins, the matriarchs of our family. One of my favorite pieces was the Kitchen scene because it hits so close to home for many Mothers and Daughters, that inevitable fight to preserve and let go.
S&A: Where was the first place you every performed?
MR: The first place I ever performed was at the East Harlem Cafe in El Barrio back in 2010. It was part of a NYC Latina Writers Group reading. Shout out to all the beautiful woman making magic.
S&A: What was the experience like?
MR: I was soooooo nervous. My family came out. I was rolling deep that night. I memorized the poem but forgot all the words due to me hyperventilating. Thank the GODS for having it pre-printed.
S&A: If you could change the world’s idea of poetry, how would you do it?
MR: I would convince the youth that poetry is NOT boring and does not only consist of dead white people. I would convince the Poetry community (those that deny otherwise) that hip hop is indeed, Poetry, and it should be introduce them as such, and I’d have them read Big L before making them listen.
S&A: When you came to the Dojo (I was very honored to have you there by the way) what was your thoughts about what we do, and what you might change
MR: What I love about the DOJO is the audience/artist interaction. This was the first time that I ever witnessed a venue encourage audience participation. That was a nice surprise. At this point, I wouldnt change anything, if something aint broke, you know the rest.
S&A: If you could have any three poets dead or live perform at your funeral who would they be and why? Sorry this one has worked its way into being one of the three questions I’ll always ask
MR: Ok, so I really have to say this question sucks! Theres no way I can whittle down my list to 3. Damn you! Since I havent a choice (and please dont hate me for leaving any of you out, he’s forcing my hand here.)
- Mayda del Valle (Shes so effin gangsta)
- Lemon Andersen (No one does Brooklyn like him, no one!)
- Warsan Shire (Her words are a psalm)
S&A: What next for Maria Rodriguez?
MR: Brooklyns Daughter is whats next. Stay tuned for it this spring, and possibly a Soledad Speaks reunion. Who knows? Im just riding this wonderful wave of creativity. Let’s just say me and the universe are conspiring.
S&A: When is all Said and done, what would like your friends and family to say about you?
MR: I always want to be known as genuine. I strive to be that.