Culture Shock: The Selena-Meets-Athena Warrior Poet

Gigi Bella Performs At The Lobo Slam Championship

Maggie Grimason
7 min read
Gigi Bella
Albuquerque native and current New Yorker Gigi Bella returns for the Lobo Slam Championship (Adam Rubenstein)
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At the Santa Fe Women’s March last January when Gigi Bella stood before thousands in a black jean jacket with a patch that said “Hex the Patriarchy,” and announced on the microphone, “I am fearless; I am warrior; I am woman; I am choice; I am all of the endless possibilities you’ve ever dreamed of … I am whatever I damn well please,” she was not lying. Gigi Bella is the nom de plume of Gigi Guajardo, an Albuquerque native who recently relocated to the Bronx, who is ranked tenth in the world by the 2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam, the first ever Project X Bronx poetry champion and a 2017 Fem Slam Finalist. She is the resident poetry teaching artist at the renowned 92nd Street Y in New York City. She was Albuquerque’s 2017 Women’s Slam Poetry Champion. She is an activist and is the author of 22, a collection of poetry published by Swimming with Elephants Publications. Those are just a few of the titles that Bella can lay claim to. Add to that list that on Wednesday, Jan. 17, she is the featured poet at the Lobo Slam Championship at Tricklock Company (110 Gold SW), a night of spoken word performances that will determine who represents UNM at 2018’s College Union Poetry Slam Invitational in Philadelphia. Ever the poet, 23-year-old Bella unpacked some of her inspirations, motivations and ambitions for the future before she packs her bags and heads west again.

Alibi: What were your first experiences of poetry?

Bella: I first experienced [slam] poetry at 16. A friend of mine took me to Warehouse 508 back when they used to do open slams and we sat in the audience and watched. I fell in love. After that experience, we decided to go every week and read on the open mic, the non-competitive portion of the night. I remember seeing Tracy Dahl and just feeling like someone had turned the key in my heart’s ignition. I just wanted to tell stories the way she did. I also remember sitting wide-eyed and listening to Olivia Gatwood who is now a well-known Button Poetry star. … She was someone who set the bar by being able to captivate … the room. I wanted to have that quality. I was hooked from the first time I saw someone hit the mic. My friends and I used to sneak into the outdoor courtyard at our high school at night and scream our poems at the sky. The love affair was immediate and all-consuming.

What attracted you to the medium?

I believe that as New Mexicans, we are descendants of great storytellers. My grandmother passed away when I was 10 years old. Following her passing, my mom would tell these beautifully detailed stories about her past and all the things she remembered about her. … She has an extraordinary vocabulary and wanted to describe every single detail. I love that about her and I definitely inherited it, but in a different way. I tell stories like she does, but I also write them and give them to strangers. Poetry gives me the ability to take the … tradition of oral history and tell stories everywhere I go. It is also a completely open platform and that in itself holds so much power. I just love getting to stand up on stage for three minutes and tell the truth about everything that is actually going on in my head. It is incredibly freeing.

What made you stick with it?

Honestly, I started competing—and winning! My friend, fellow badass poet and founder of the Project X poetry slam in the Bronx, Noel Quiñones, says there are several ways to win. … There is a version where you actually win the poetry slam and because you are an artist and you don’t do the sport thing, you realize that winning feels pretty good so you keep trying to do it. There is also the version where somebody tells you that they liked your work and that it changed them in some way. That’s my favorite version. … My favorite poem is called, “Benediction for the Hustlers and the Gardeners” … by Lauren Zuniga. The last line of the poem is “Let us remember that when one of us creates, another is created. Let us remember that if one of us quits planting, none of us can be bloombox.” … This is now my mantra; I take a deep breath and say this to myself before every poem. Somebody planted a seed for me that allowed me to be my truest self and it is my duty to plant that seed for someone else and keep us all blooming. It is a calling, a sacred responsibility and a medium, simultaneously.

What is your writing process like?

I try to write as soon as I have an idea. … Other pieces require more distance and experience. How do you write about your life if you’re not out living? I write about my experiences as a Xicana woman in her 20’s trying to navigate this Trump-topian mess as a Selena-meets-Athena-purple-lipstick warrior. I write things I am afraid to say out loud and it forces me to eventually hit the stage and say them. Recently, I have been writing as an act of self-care and preservation. I treat my writing time like a ritual or time at an altar. Sometimes, I light a candle and edit like I am trying to create a perfect prayer. … I believe my art is a sacred practice and that every single word matters.

What topics are you interested in writing about lately?

I am in the process of getting started on a new book titled New Yorqueño … that deals with home as a concept. … I changed my life forever by moving to New York and it has given me a lot of opportunities to reflect on my life in Albuquerque versus my life in the city. These are two places that are really focused on identity, as New Yorkers [or] Burqueños. … Recently my mother passed down her typewriter to me. It was my grandfather’s before her and it has an “ñ” key on it. This is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received and has inspired the book so many ways as I finally feel ready to really talk about my family. I have also been really inspired by the Disney film Coco. Remembering where we come from is so immensely important for the preservation of our history and our people.

What are your plans for the future?

I am planning to tour for the first time ever. I am also planning on releasing another book and I will be representing the Bronx through Project X at the 2018 Women of the World Poetry Slam. I want to do more teaching and keep growing my career. … I have also been amazed at the change I have seen in my writing, I want to keep growing that way as well. Maybe I’ll write a one-woman show. Maybe I’ll keep competing until I’m ranked first in the world. … I tweeted the other day that my 10 year plan is to be the first poet sponsored by Olive Garden (damn, I love Olive Garden) so, you know, that could also be in the works. At this point, I think anything is possible and I am opening myself up to all of it. I’m ready to shake the Earth up a little more. It’s my time to be bloombox.

The tenth ranked woman slam poet will perform on Jan. 17

Starr Guajardo

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