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New Bedford’s Poet Laureate is one helluva broad

Patricia Gomes on Union Street, New Bedford with her latest collection.

When you picture in your mind’s eye something like a Poet Laureate, a staid, stanza-obsessed somewhat stern wordsmith comes to mind. Robert Frost, for instance.

So, when I was first introduced to Patricia Gomes, New Bedford’s Poet Laureate, via a newspaper article in The Standard-Times, a cross between that most New England of poets and a Catholic school nun sprung to mind. After all, she had the intense look and the credentials you’d expect, according to the picture and article in the paper announcing her initial appointment to the post several years ago.

Accordingly, when I finally got the opportunity to go see New Bedford’s Poet Laureate at a reading, I half expected it to be something akin to a visit to the principal’s office at St. Mary’s grammar school.

Uh…let’s just say things didn’t turn out that way, as anyone who’s had the transcendent joy of listening to Patricia Gomes recite her poetry well knows. For New Bedford’s Poet Laureate is nothing less and a whole hell of a lot more than…a broad.

That’s her word for herself, not mine. Far from me to argue with the Poet Laureate of New Bedford. ‘Broad’ is a word Gomes uses a lot when introducing herself. It’s at once her sword as well as her shield. And she wields both with an abundance of passion and technical skill.

The first time you hear Patricia Gomes read her poetry is an invitation into the art form itself. Her work takes all the labels assigned to poetry, chews them up and then spits them back out. Sometimes the words are fierce – but you hear the aching beating heart in all of them.

When Patricia Gomes calls herself a broad, she’s really telling us that she’s lived a life – maybe so we don’t have to, at least to the degree that necessary to produce the art she does. And isn’t that the role of a poet – to see, hear and, most important of all, experience what the rest of us can only glimpse in shy, quiet places within ourselves?

If that kind of life demands a tongue you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, Patricia Gomes is the broad for you. And, she’s the Poet Laureate New Bedford not only needs, but also deserves.

This consummate performer fills the role well – with energy, passion, ideas, hard work – and a love of language and writing.

All that will no doubt be on display when Patricia Gomes hosts the GNB Writers Block Live Poetry Contest this Saturday, right here at Groundwork! It’s yet another indication of the human behind the words. GNB Writers Block, which she co-founded in 2010 – three years before becoming New Bedford’s Poet Laureate – is a feral act of love to the community of writers here.

The organization holds frequent writing sessions with an emphasis on performance. This Saturday, the fees are nominal (just $1 to get in the door) but the bar will be set high. Our Poet Laureate is someone you want to please.

Poets will be judged on: 1) Quality of the poem, 2) Performance, and 3) Audience reaction. First place: $25; 2nd place: $15; 3rd place: $10. Come with one poem and make it three minutes, maximum please – and PG-13. The contest starts at 1:00pm and ends at 3:00pm, again, here at Groundwork!, 1213 Purchase Street (but use the side entrance on Maxfield Street). That audience reaction enumerated above comes from…you. It’s free and open to the listening public.

And while I can’t promise you’ll get to hear from Patricia Gomes herself, you will get to see her in her element. It’s a beautiful sight because New Bedford’s Poet Laureate is one helluva broad.

Steven Froias