Anyone who thinks poetry is a dead art should attend one of Freddy’s readings. (Photo ©2005 Mark Paul Petrick)
Freddy Niagara Fonseca puts the “performance” in Performance Poetry. Anyone who believes poetry is a dead art should attend one of the Fairfield-based bard’s readings. There, they’ll see a slim, unassuming man stroll to the stage and light up like a three-ring circus complete with clowns, calliopes, and tigers (oh my).
When it comes to poetry, the mild-mannered Freddy is a man inspired. That’s why he created the Candlelight Reading Series, in an effort to celebrate the works of poets both renowned and unknown. Since its inception in 2004, the series has featured a number of local poets and musicians reading poems with themes ranging from American to Irish and the Mystical.
Freddy has been reading and performing poetry—in six languages—for years. In 1990, he organized a local performance art show where he, a pianist, and 30 dancers performed Freddy’s original poems in spoken word, music, and dance.
Born on Curacao, a Caribbean island close to Venezuela, Freddy didn’t care much for poems as a young adult. After visiting Rome in 1969, however, he was moved by a pedestal inscription on a statue of Lord Byron in Villa Borghese and wrote his first poem the next day. Since then, he has written and published many poems, and he’s made it his mission to revive the oral poetic tradition.
Below, Freddy talks about poetry and the Candlelight Reading Series.
What inspired the Candlelight Reading Series?
Freddy Fonseca: Well, in my heart, poetry is like an ongoing celebration of life. And all it wants is to be shared. For quite a while I had been looking for a way to do that. I feel that with the series I struck gold, because I feel that—and I’m not the only one saying this, it’s nothing new—poetry can have mass appeal. I have seen that it is possible to reach an audience across the board. At CRS events, I’ve seen very young people, very old, in between, from all walks of life and all backgrounds. And that’s what I’ve been envisioning for years. The more diverse the group is, the better.
Why is that?
The more diverse energies there are in the room, the better it is for the recipients and for the people who recite. The best way to reach people is to be inclusive, not exclusive. If you cater only to certain groups, like the extremely literary groups, you don’t have others involved. The CRS is a celebration of life and it’s all-inclusive.
How many readings have you had to date?
Last year before the series I did 6 events. Since December I had 9 separate events, and by the time this article comes out, I’ll have had 2 more. So in a year, you could say I have done 17 events.
You must be pretty busy!
When you’re crazy, you’re crazy. As you can see, I have really found something that I like to do. I’ve always liked to perform. I’ve performed many, many times. Now, I’ve chosen to do an event once a month to create a sort of continuity. I understood from the beginning it would be work-intensive, but I love to do it. I love to organize and work with people and make something beautiful happen and share it with others. That is foremost.
So why is it exactly that you’re so driven about these readings?
Why? Because I feel like I’m on a mission to—it might be presumptuous to say it, but I want to change the course of poetry. Poetry seems to be more popular than ever and I want to help it along. If you look on the Internet, everywhere there are classes, contests, poetry therapy, etcetera. And that’s all great. But it’s also kind of fractured. You could say that poetry has mostly retreated from the auditory into the book. People don’t hear anymore, they don’t listen as attentively as they perhaps once did.
Has poetry really retreated to the book? What about the recent resurgence of spoken-word events, like poetry slams? What about all the famous authors’ readings?
Well, as I said earlier, poetry is incredibly popular in this day and age with readings, poetry slams, and all that, and it’s wonderful. Nonetheless, I find that poetry is at kind of an impasse, despite its popularity. Of course there are beautiful poems written all the time, but there is a stagnancy I’m noticing. There are the more dry, literary regular readings, and there are the poetry slams that go into all kinds of antics. Slams are great. I’ve done them myself—I won a poetry slam in Iowa City—but I don’t think they’re the answer. I don’t see that the slams are the response to an aesthetic approach to poetry. Their competitiveness evokes all kinds of feelings that are better left alone. Everything I’m trying to do with the CRS is to revive the true cause of poetry and make it more varied, more aesthetic, more of the heart.
So you’re looking to revive the oral tradition, as it were?
I’m attempting to modify and expand it for modern audiences. Poetry has been confined too much to the literary world, or just the love of emoting with little substance. With the CRS, I’m trying to demonstrate that the presentation of the well-spoken word can be vastly entertaining, and revelatory, and unifying, and memorable.
What’s your background in poetry?
I’ve been writing for years and years. I never took any classes. Actually I’m glad I didn’t. I find that although poetry classes can unlock your creativity, they can also give way to mediocrity. I think that real genius is something that will burst forth anyway, whether you have classes or not.
Your readings attract both professional and non-professional performers alike to be involved. Does it feel good to encourage aspiring readers?
I love that this is one of the things I’ve started doing. I thought, this is great! I’m helping people to find expression for themselves, encouraging them to take opportunities. I’ve been given opportunities myself in life—right now I’m so glad I’m in the position that I can provide them for others. And working with those people is pure bliss.
What’s coming down the pike for the Candlelight Reading Series?
I’ll be having an evening of Whitman’s longer poems; an evening of poetry and food where Revelations [the popular Fairfield café where many CRS readings are held] will be presenting foods—little things, delicious treats—after every so many poems; there’ll be an evening of sonnets; I’m working with a local comedian on a humorous poems reading; Chinese poetry is coming up—I’m looking for musicians classically trained in Chinese music. The list is endless!