by Erica Warthen
I posted on Anthony Flores’ Facebook, and he responded, “I am free Saturday evening, next Tuesday evening and next Friday evening at least as I understand it now. Wednesdays my son spends the night and I am judging the San Antonio Public library’s Young Pegasus Poetry Contest this Thursday night and the following two Thursdays. Let me know what you think☺.” Yep, he put a smiley face at the end of his message. I have the screen shot to prove it. He is a professional oratory education technician if I have ever heard one. He teaches classes for the youth of San Antonio around town. He is involved in the planning and production of literary events held and paid for by the city of San Antonio.
I have known Flores for many years. We went to the National Poetry Slam in 2010. With other San Antonio professional orators, we traveled to a place crawling with poets contained in the city of Minneapolis, the state of Minnesota. I rode in a car with him for hours on end but never had he spoken as earnestly as in this interview. Here he took time to search for the right words, and in doing so created a choppy cadence that rolled together his thoughts and must be preserved for the reader to understand how carefully he chooses his words. Flores consumed his education at the University of Pennsylvania and has been on a feast ever since he received his degree.
Ravenous and hungry, he has performed on H.B.O.’s Def Poetry Jam, is a three time San Antonio Grand Slam Poetry Champion and has represented our city in competition on six different occasions at the National Poetry Slam. He prints and sells his own poems and short stories. He dines in a realm of literary society where little light is shed yet stems from the very origins of language, Spoken Word namely Slam Poetry. He is a giant of average height with salt and pepper hair, wide eyes, a contoured nose that fits the long cheeks ascribed to his olive colored face and high bone structures. His chin is clad with his signature beard. Neatly shaven so that it only covers the very tip of his chin. It has grown down past his neck and now is beginning to sit on his chest. It is gray. It is stunning in length. It is memorable.
When I arrive, he’s standing outside, a plastic bag in his hand and two smaller bags at his side. I have never seen this man without a bag. They crest with papers and printings of his work. He springs into my Kia Sportage and hands me the plastic bag before buckling his seat belt. The bag is from a time past when he was the Slam Master for San Antonio’s Youth Poetry Slam Team Fresh Ink. They qualified for competition at Poetry Slam International Youth Slam taking place in California. A friend of mine who lives in California had given Flores the shirts to bring to me. That was about three years ago. Flores handed them to me as if he had gotten them yesterday. He said, “Here, I saved these for you.”
Anthony the Poet, a father, family man, entrepreneur, with an astute eye, resounding oratory performances, educating, not only his ever growing fan base but also impacting the literary inclined youth of San Antonio by giving them safe places in which to exercise the vastness of their own voice. We met Saturday night. I proposed tacos, but he said he probably wouldn’t eat and suggested an alternative. “I know a quiet little bar around the corner,” he said.
Driving down the road a bit, we chatted politely catching up for we have only seen each other in passing and performing since the 2010 PSI competition. We were both excited to get to the interview. As we pulled into the parking lot of Bar America on Alamo street, the music screamed at us as we headed in.
Erica Warthen: What are you doing currently that you are very excited about?
Anthony “The Poet” Flores: Right now I am doing several things that I am very excited about. Two months ago I started …something called The Underground Poetry Slam. It’s umm, it’s a slam that we are taking out to nontraditional venues throughout the city, it’s a moveable slam that is very raw, no microphones no, no, no lighting, it’s just basically poets, in some backyard or empty lot or theatre, umm with, with, surrounded by the audience.
They’re actually in the middle of the audience. There’s no separation, there’s no, the audience sits over here, the, the poet gets the stage and the mic, everybody sits together and uhh, I’m really excited about where that’s going. We had a very small inaugural event in December of last month and uhh our second one almost doubled in size we had, eight poets and about thirty people coming out and umm, our next one is gonna’ be even better, it’s commin’up in about three weeks.
That’s one of the things I’m really excited about the other. I’m really thinking it’s gonna’ happen this year. It’s the First Annual Spoken Word Festival. I’ve been working on it for about five years and umm, it should have already happened but umm, you know, I had a son in between and I got busy but there are not too many Spoken Word Festivals in the United States, actually in North America I think there’s only three like in Toronto [Canada] and in L.A. [Los Angles, California U.S.A.].
Yeah there’s a lot a very, very famous poetry festivals and uhh, throughout the United States thru out the world… but there are very few spoken word festivals umm they feature a different kind of poetry, poetry that is meant for performance or the stage for example like slam poetry, like poetry that uses comedy. Um not, not your ordinary quiet, ‘ya know book store kind of stuff. And um, were gonna’ try to bring that to San Antonio for the first time this year. So I’m excited about that.
EW: You’re gonna’ play a what?
AF: Were gonna’ try to bring that to San Antonio for the first time, the first annual ah, San Antonio spoken word festival.
EW: When do you think that’s gonna’ be?
AF: I’m looking at September to October sometime around there.
EW: Why do you think that’s so important?
AF: Well we don’t have one and I think san Antonio is um, is one of the artsiest, one of the, I think recently we got outted as one of the um one of the uhh the coolest ah places to live in the united states um were very artistic, we have we have our own [in audible because of music] happening, umm we are at a size and we have umm an intellectual creative capacity to where we should be having umm world class events and not wait for other cities to have them first and then we follow along which I think we do too often. We do, we do eventually get the, the great events but only because somebody else started them. This is an opportunity for San Antonio to do something first and to do it big and to have other people looking to us on how to model theirs …. I’m excited about that.
And um plus we have places like the Tobin Center that just opened up uhh, after its uhh, remodeling and its, uhh, a world class performance facility, one of the best in the world and we have other places all over the city that would be perfect for that, and I think its umm, I think it’s time for San Antonio to you know do something big like that.
EW: Do you remember your first ever poem?
AF: My first ever poem?
EW: However old you were, three or two or one?
AF: O yeah I rem, I remember, I tell this story very often in other interviews umm in second grade, I had umm, our teacher put up a lot of pictures and asked us to write poems and umm, I wrote a whole bunch of them. She only asked for one and while everybody was trying to write one I wrote like 10 of them or whatever, and umm, she came back later, um later that weekend and said it was her mama’s umm birthday that weekend and if I wouldn’t do her the favor of writing her a birthday poem cause ahh my stuff was so, so good, she thought.
And I remember thinking like “whoa, I, I, thought I, I was liking this stuff,” and ahh apparently it was something that I was just fit for and I think ever since then, that’s when I thought I , I was a poet. And I don’t remember exactly what the poems were about uhh that I wrote before that but that birthday poem to her mom was the first one I actually remember and I been writing ever since.
EW: Your first noncommissioned work, ahh?!
AF: Yeah sec ahh, second, second grade, second grade.
EW: Second grade?! That’s awesome!
AF: Naw I don’t think she paid me for it but…
EW: You passed! You passed.
AF: That would, that would’a been good.
EW: What piece do you think is the most important that you’ve written?
AF: That I’ve written?
EW: Yes, and what was it about? Or what is it about?
AF: This is gonna’ probably be a surprise, a surprise answer but ahh a piece I wrote about two years ago. Which is a funny piece that I wrote. I work with a lot of kids so when I work with them I find that, that my writing becomes really, really silly and I stop getting really serious about it. And so I write really free stuff and it’s like, it’s like if I was just drunk on poetry and I write really free stuff. And so I started writing a piece about huevos rancheros which is my favorite breakfast and umm, I wrote it and when I wrote it I was drinking beer the night that I wrote it, and it was like very, Doctor Suessey, very rhymey, and umm, I actually threw it away at one point.
I pulled it out the next day and it has turned out to be uhh, a poem, that’s the poem that was being taught in Houston last semester at a community center and it is the poem I have sold the most copies of my book, I have already gone through six printings of that, it’s called The Punkrock poem called Huevos Rancheros and its just basically mixing in a lot of culture. It’s a bilingual piece mixes culture, our San Antonio Spurs and our religion as family, but it always ends with rhyming “Huevos Rancheros.”
I think that’s the most important one because well people, it touches into the community here in San Antonio and umm, people have asked me to go read at events just to read that one poem. It’s only been around for about two years and it’s already, people are quoting it to me on the streets and stuff like that so I, I think it has touched people so far and umm that’s, that’s the one I think is the most important right now.
EW: Okay so, Huevos Rancheros, talk to me about the economics of being a poet, a working poet, printing, everything.
AF: In my uhh, personal view, uhh, I have never submitted anything to magazines I’ve done everything nontraditionally, so, all of my material umm, I self-publish chap books. If there is a poem that is very popular, doing very well, I run off a hundred copies of it and I sell it, and if it does well, I, I go and print up another hundred.
EW: Talk to me about the money part.
AF: This is a gorgeous way to do it, where uhh, if you send all this stuff to other people you might see a, a dime or a nickel out of every dollar that umm, people may cop for your poetry. The way I do it, I will pay umm, maybe sixty cents to publish a small chapbook and I’ll sell it for ten dollars, so umm, all of that uhh, is profit and that’s a phenomenal percentage for merchandise. I do that same thing with tee-shirts, and uhh, with uhh, with limited addition posters, uhh the printing cost is very nominal, uhh usually less than a dollar per copy of anything and uhh they end up selling for like ten or twenty dollars so the poet gets to keep everything.
Some of my younger poets now are burning their own CD’s, umm, they are recording their own stuff. My daughter for example uhh, spends less than uhh, well, I don’t think she would appreciate me telling everybody how much, how she spends. But she has found out how to record her own stuff, she cleans it up and she does her own CD’s and she sells ’em at all her shows. And so uhh it’s a very do it yourself mentality that a lot of spoken word artist are taking to, a lot of bands too, a lot of musicians. Instead of giving most of the money to big record companies, or big publishing houses, uhh they’re doing it themselves and keeping the money in the end and ownership of your work and uhh, the creative umm, a power over everything, so it’s a very good way to be doing stuff if you can afford to.
[It was about here that a man walked up with a dark haired girl behind him. The smile on his face was spread to its fullest capacity and almost hit each of his ears and was illuminated by the neon beer signs in the bar. He knows Anthony from a performance that Anthony did a while back at a bar. He had seen Anthony perform “Huevos Rancheros” and told Anthony how much he loved his writing. It’s like he is meeting an idol that he has secretly worshipped for years. He can’t stop shaking Anthony’s hand.
The girl behind him ushers him down the span of the bar. They sit there but he keeps looking back at us. Anthony asks me to wait for a moment, he peels through some of the work in his bag and finds something bound in a card stock quality manila cover with some leaves of paper flapping around on the inside. He takes one and walks to the couple at the other end of the bar and the gentleman smiles just as he had before as Anthony extends his hands for a shake. There is conversation and laughing which I cannot hear, then ‘it’ comes.
The professional picture pose that all celebrities enact with fans. The left hand of the star crosses to meet the right hand of the fan. The celebrity tilts the upper torso into frame for the camera as the face appropriates a smile. An iPhone flashes and something in my mind clicks. I am with a local professional celebrity. I told him I would pay for some tacos in exchange for this interview. He suggested another beer.]
EW: Umm, umm, what do you think that poets who are trying to make it simply as an everyday performance poet, like yourself, what should we know?
AF: ‘Ya know, I think you should know first of all that uhh, you should have a thick skin. I think a lot of people umm are very good writers umm but they can’t, can’t handle criticism and I think a lot of what they’re gonna’ meet with at first is umm, especially since they’re not at the level that they’re eventually gonna’ be at, is umm that people might not like their stuff or umm talk negatively about their stuff or just say that they got a lot of work to do. And a lot of umm poets, get, get umm, get, get downcast by that or they don’t, they just realize that it’s gonna’ be a lot more work than they ever thought and so then they give up. And I think that the most important thing is to know is that they should be prepared to uhh be told that they’re not good yet umm and that its gonna’ take a lot of work to get good and to have a thick skin and not and not uhh not be hurt by words like that.
EW: So Anthony Flores, tell me what, tell me what inspires you, I’m sure you’ve been asked that plenty, what inspires you? Especially, in particular your Clean Sheet of Paper piece?
AF: Oh well I think I’ve been inspired by, by um, kids and the youth. Especially in the last few years I, I, just had a lil’ boy six years ago so he’s been taking up a lot of my subject matter for my poems an short stories, but even before that umm, I just thought umm, that the stuff that I wrote that focused on ahhh youth, especially middle school and high school kids is always the stuff that turned out best for me.
EW: So what’s up with A Clean Sheet of Paper?
AF: A Clean Sheet of Paper? I retired it for a couple years, it did very well, it got me to the Lincoln Center in New York City and sold me a lot of books and ahh, I haven’t done it in about a year and a half.
AF: Yeah but people keep asking me for it everywhere I go and ahh they keep, they keep downloading it off of, I go on umm, I, I send them to the Youtubes or whatever, I’m like there’s a viedo of it if you want to see it, it’s not a good video but I hear that it’s been used in classes like in Dallas and Houston and uhh, some other cities, and uhh, people are still looking at it on that level and uhh it was very good to me.
EW: How does that make you feel, like as an artist, to know that your stuff is being analyzed in an upper division university?
AF: Oh it’s ahh, it’s very, it helps, it helps me ‘ta keep on writing. I just got umm, a request from some youth center in Houston that’s using another one of my poems and um they were teaching it at a college in, in, umm, somewhere out of state I forget which one it is and so umm it’s, it’s solidifying, it feels good to have all the hard work ya’ know paying, paying off in some ways,
AF: And also because ahh economically it helps me out in that if people are reading it and liking it and using it in their classes, sometimes they order bulk copies of it and so I get a little bit of money to keep on writing and uhh, not having any other kind of, of job, I’ve been doing poetry full time the last five years so, I’m, I’m staying alive.
EW: Is this the only thing you’ve ever wanted to do, is just like, just poetry?
AF: Yaaa. I think uhh, I studied poetry in college and umm, I never wanted any other kind of job, I tried a few, for a while umm, after the university ….
EW: I couldn’t imagine you having another job Anthony!
AF: Yeah, it didn’t work but uhh, its been, its been slow, uhh, success, its been very slow but very, very tangible, and uh, its been a very, very ahh, very umm, you can, you can see the up slope of everything happening very well although its been very slow, but uhh yea. It’s my job.
EW: What is your educational back ground?
AF: I am uhh, I, immm I studied in the Ivy League actually. I, I, uhh studied poetry at the University of Pennsylvania. I graduated from here in uhh nineteen ninety six from Harlendale high school, and I went to school in Philadelphia. And umm, I came back after six years and just started writing. And that’s what I been doing.
EW: So you have a master’s degree?
AF: I have a bachelor’s degree.
EW: You have a bachelor’s degree?
AF: [Anthony shakes his head in agreement.]
EW: Damn, that’s awesome.
EW: Is it Creative Writing or English err…?
AF: Creative Writing.
EW: Damn, that’s so…
AF: Creative Writing with a concentration in Poetry.
EW: If you wanted to talk about anything in the world right now, what would you talk about? Pertaining to anything?!?
AF: If I wanted to talk about anything in the world right now?
EW: What would you talk about?
AF: Ohhh that’s a tough one, that’s a very umm, ‘put me on the spot’ thing.
EW: You’re a poet!
AF: I probably would not talk about anything. I find uhh, a lot of people, when I’m out in public, besides interviews, when I’m out in public people think that because I’m a writer, a poet, that uhh I’m always writing or always talking. It’s unknown that when I’m in public I’m very quiet. I don’t wanna’ talk, I don’t want words. I just want to think and uhh, you know I have a six year old boy so he takes, he takes everything outta’ me so when he’s gone, I just like sit without making a sound for like hours at a times. It’s like, I’ll just drink a beer or I’ll go take a shower, and I don’t talk, so umm yeah, I probably wouldn’t talk about anything right now.
Anthony “The Poet” Flores is a three time San Antonio Grand Slam Poetry Champion and has represented San Antonio in competition on six different occasions at the National Poetry Slam. He has performed his work all over the United States, from local schools and community centers to H.B.O.’s Def Poetry Jam to the famous Lincoln Center in New York City. He is a co-founder of Fresh Ink Under Twenty One Youth Poetry Slam, the only on-going poetry slam and open-mic for teenagers in San Antonio, and he is also a judge for the San Antonio Public Library’s Young Pegasus Poetry Contest for kids and young adults, as well as for S.A.’s La Voz City-Wide Spoken Word Competition. Most recently, Anthony has founded The University of The Spoken Word, a collective of spoken word artists who have performed at more than 100 area events in the last two years.