Spoken word artist Advocate of Wordz has a thing for food and sex
Who you calling a poet?
It’s not that Advocate of Wordz had a lack of material to work with. For years, the Bronx-bred writer/performer (whose real name is Erik Maldonado) has been putting his feelings down on paper. But his plans to weave a book from the individual threads (poems about love, self-reflection, and heartbreak – to name a few themes) kept getting pushed back. That is, until now.
The procrastination is understandable though; the 32-year-old’s a busy guy. He engages youth in poetry through his involvement with Lincoln Center’s “Meet the Artist” series and regularly performs at colleges, theaters, and workshops nationwide. A resident poet at the legendary Nuyorican Poets Café, Maldonado is also a founding member of El Grito De Poetas, an all-Latino spoken word troupe that has been around for almost a decade.
In short, the man’s a hustler.
“When I fall in love with something, my eyes get bigger than my stomach and I try to put my hands in everything,” Maldonado tells me during our recent interview at New York City’s Bryant Park.
But by November 2011, the artist was done procrastinating and finally sat down to piece together his first book. Published independently, the self-titled book is a collection of Advocate’s poems and, as its subtitle states, “other creative nonsense.”
“It almost tells a story if you read it from front to end, but you can skip pages if you want and still find value in it,” the artist says. Each section of the book’s table of contents stands on its own – from “Love, Lust, Lonely and the Likeable” to “Self-Reflection.”
Advocate estimates thousands of poems under his name since his teenage years, but less than 100 made it into the book.
“I’ve always been a fan of language… using it to get dates, out of trouble, get a job,” the performer says, a smile spreading across his face.
Don’t call him just a poet, though.
“Titles in general are kind of limiting. I never get offended [about being called a poet], but I always tell people, ‘Yea, I’m a poet, but there’s a bunch of different things I do,” he says.
But poetry was the catalyst for everything else.
Much like our conversation, which fires in different directions throughout the course of an hour, Advocate of Wordz embodies the writer’s colorful spectrum.
“There are some things that I’m very serious about – socially aware, political,” Maldonado says about some of the pieces in his book. “Then there are some things that are very selfish and mean.”
And there are those pieces that open a window for readers into Maldonado’s past, like the endearing “Grand Battement en Avant (A high school story 101),” about his decision to bypass gym class for modern dance and ballet as a teen as a way to get girls.
Part of the poem reads:
There I was
in navy blue sweat pants
and a white T,
sweating, breathing hard,
catching and juggling 30 females in tights.
Young, agile and tangible angels at my sole disposal!!!
I knew, me being the only guy in the class
meant me being everyone’s partner
My Fouetté was tight!
“I wound up enjoying it [the dance classes] – everything was geared towards the ladies,” Advocate says with a laugh. His curly dark locks are tucked under a hat, and his wide grin is contagious.
And then there’s his signature poem filed under the book’s “Love Metaphors” section, titled “Me and Food Got Beef!” and a personal favorite of mine.
In the poem (about a man who gets his heart broken by a woman), Maldonado plays on different foods:
“At six-foot-one I am no shrimp,” he says in the poem, and goes on to talk about smoking broccoli, being cool as a cucumber, and trying to “mustard” up the courage to meet with his love.
True story: “Me and Food Got Beef!” is a combination of Maldonado’s different experiences with women rolled into one. The poem ends when the man finds out the woman he was in love with is pregnant by another man — this last detail, he offers, is the only one that’s not autobiographical.
“I wined and begged for her back/she replied, ‘my belly is full.’ She had a bun in the oven. They had worn no mittens and she got burnt,” Advocate recites, another smile emerging.
Advocate’s poems have been recorded and neatly packaged into videos all over YouTube and Facebook. He’s traveled across the country, reciting his work countless times. But it wasn’t official until it was in a book, he says.
“What I enjoy the most about writing, period, and what I enjoy the most about life is looking behind the curtains… how’s the magic trick working? How does love work? How is it that racism works? How are we being taught history? How is it that our culture works?” Advocate says. “Let’s go down the rabbit hole. Let’s get to the root of it.”
Still, this is only the beginning for Advocate – there’s plenty more to write about.
(Photos: courtesy of Erik Maldonado)