January 15, 2016
When I finally sit down with Peggy Robles-Alvarado, it is Wednesday night and she has just returned home from a fellowship at The Home School in Miami. The Home School organizes weeklong conferences for poets and artists and looks to “celebrate writers and artists who break the rules, ignore traditional artistic boundaries and question the very nature of their practice.” Peggy Robles-Alvarado knows a few things about breaking the rules. She is a Mother, Grandmother, Educator, Curator, published Poet and Businesswoman who continues to defy the canonical poetics of the written and spoken word through the deliberate celebration of her hybridity. Half Puerto-Rican half Dominican, Peggy’s poetry pays tribute to her raíces, cultura and familia through serial code switching and visceral imagery. There is an urgency in her language that seeks to preserve her ancestral legacy. It’s obvious that the core of Peggy’s stories is carved from the women that came before her.
On being called a “performance poet”:
I don’t see a problem with performing something I’m passionate about. My idea of poetry is not to make you comfortable. I think that even in those gut-wrenching moments I find pleasure in performing. Poetry lives in the sound and being in the energy of sound. It moves differently when you hear it as opposed to when you’re reading it. It’s a multi-sensory experience. The best poems I remember are those that have stayed on my tongue for awhile. I don’t like reading quietly. I want the words to live in my mouth and good poetry does that.
A practicing Iyalorisha in the Yoruba religion of Lukumi, Peggy’s poetry is heavily influenced by the deities she worships and prays to. Through writing about her spirituality, Peggy insists she’s pushing against those misconceptions that have sought to make the religion such a clandestine topic. She thanks renowned Nuyorican Poet Willie Perdomo in helping her realize the importance of inclusion after hearing him read Que Viva Chango at her college several years ago. “To have your belief systems appear in literature is a very powerful thing. Writing about spirituality in the way that I do honors everyone that came before me that didn’t have a voice”. Peggy’s voice breaks a little and I can hear an ache building as she talks about her family both living and departed.
It honors my family. My past. It honors the darkness. The Middle Passage. The black and the browness. I want to be a part of the element that puts part of our culture in literature and documents it.
Drawing from her magic and need of defending it from naysayers, Peggy’s daily affirmations are usually followed by the hashtag #magicmakingisnotforpendejas. It’s in this self-proclamation that she finds her strength and accountability. It is a reminder that magic is work, grit, and dedication. It is this magic she calls upon when creating, submitting proposals, pitching her work or performing poetry. It is this magic that garnered her a Brio Award, an International Latino Book Award, an intro on HBO Latino’s Habla Women, and entrance into AWP (Association of Writers and Writer Programs) Conference this Spring. So how does this modern day renaissance woman manage her empire both on stage and at home? The wishing hour as Peggy calls it happens between 10 PM and 2 AM. It’s when the rest of the house is sleeping that she nurtures her creativity without interruption. Peggy credits her husband Jorge with being the anchor that keeps her grounded and admits that balance is the key word in maintaining her sanity.
The world is remade through the power of fierce woman performing outrageous acts of creative rebellion. ~Louise M. Paré
In 2013, through her Robleswrites Production company, Peggy embarked on The Abuela Stories Project. Along with photographer and visual artist Daisy Arroyo they sought to document the distinctive roles of everyday matriarchs and pay tribute to their resiliency through poetry, prose, and photography, which would then be published into an anthology. While spearheading the project and gaining the trust of her subjects, Peggy became resolute in displaying the matriarchal misconceptions that the status quo plays into. She remembers her own Abuela, Dolores Acosta de Dominguez or Mamá Lolita as she affectionately calls her (and whose image is displayed on the front cover of Abuela Stories ) and recalls her hardships during a time that patriarchy was most dominant in latino households.
Mamá Lolita was a quiet woman. Submissive almost. 16 kids and married to a womanizer. She wasn’t vocal in defense of herself but she was always in prayer. And so this is my dedication to her. Through this project I give her voice. She gets to take it back. Finally.
When I ask Peggy about her legacy she lets out a rambunctious giggle and then a long sigh. It’s obvious this is something she herself has asked. It’s not an easy question but after a few seconds, she tells me that her baby deer, her granddaughter Diani will be her legacy. “She will know that her grandmother was a poet who made magic unapologetically and I will teach her to use her voice unapologetically.” It is in this authenticity Peggy has learned her most valuable lessons. She admits not wanting to dilute her own language to fit the mold but instead says she strives to refine it while staying true to the place that made her feel the way she did upon hearing Que Viva Chango. With her Bronx bravado and machete in hand, Peggy Robles-Alvarado has carved a respectable place among her contemporaries. Whether on stage, on page or behind the scenes she shows no signs of slowing down and continues to represent the beauty of diasporic tradition.
Yes! I am boca grande!
Hija de Yemaya,
and there is no taming this ocean..