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Milwaukee Poet On The Difficulties Of Creating Art For Public Consumption In A Pandemic

2020 was a year that was especially hard on artists — shows were cancelled, collaboration disrupted. And for many, the year was marked by loss, pain, and isolation. Milwaukee native Matthew Gutierrez is a creative writer and author of "Notes I Took Along The Way," a bilingual book of poems.

Gutierrez talks with WUWM's Angelina Mosher Salazar about the difficulties of creating art for public consumption during such a tumultuous time as well as his aspirations for other creatives for 2021. He starts the conversation by explaining why he chose to include both English and Spanish versions of each poem.

"I spent my years here, I grew up on the south side and I work in a bilingual school as a school counselor. I know a lot of people who can't read English. I wanted them to have Spanish versions, so they could enjoy this book too," says Gutierrez.

"Notes I Took Along The Way," a collection of poems published in 2020, is inspired by experiences derived from Gutierrez's life — many pre-pandemic, like "Meeting A Stranger."

In this poem, Gutierrez explores the surprising and curious experience of encountering a stranger and learning about their lives.

Gutierrez reads Meeting A Stranger, and reflects on how that serendipity of meeting strangers has been largely absent in a world grappling with a pandemic.

Gutierrez's poems traverse the themes of memory, environment, love, and death. In "A Loner And A Ghost," Gutierrez writes about his late friend, Tony Valle ,who died at the hands of gun violence at a young age. Two decades later, Valle's cousin, Jesus “Jesse” Valle Jr., was killed in the Miller Coors at the age of 33.

Gutierrez reads his poem, A Loner And A Ghost.

Though Gutierrez's poems are deeply intimate taken directly from his lived experiences, he hopes that his book will resonate with others during this time of isolation. "We can't gather, and we can't get together and talk and share these experiences — ao maybe, we can connect through words, literature. Because, what all written pieces of work have in common is that people can relate to it can see themselves in it, no matter what it is," he says.

Angelina Mosher Salazar joined WUWM in 2018 as the Eric Von Broadcast Fellow. She was then a reporter with the station until 2021.