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Northampton poet, playwright talks inspiration, process

  • Poet and playwright Chris Gonzalez of Northampton, seen here at Northampton’s Haymarket Café, has also taught devised theater and poetry in the city. FOR THE RECORDER/KEVIN GUTTING

  • "Water or Bread" is the first poetry collection written by Northampton poet and playwright Chris Gonzalez. FOR THE RECORDER/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton poet and playwright Chris Gonzalez, seen here at the Haymarket Cafe, is moving to Portland, Ore. in June to get involved with that city’s theater scene. FOR THE RECORDER/ KEVIN GUTTING



For the Recorder
Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Northampton native and UMass Amherst student Chris Gonzalez has carved out a diverse platform in the Pioneer Valley arts scene in the last several years, writing poetry, performing it live — he memorized Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” for one performance — writing plays and creating “devised” theater. He says he also “composes strange music on guitar and piano with the musical saw and electronic drums.”

In addition to recently publishing his first poetry collection, “Water or Bread,” Gonzalez has written a one-act play, “Paradise City,” a satire/tragic comedy that he describes as his love letter to his hometown (he’s a 2011 graduate of Northampton High), which he’ll be leaving in June to move to Portland, Ore.

Steve Pfarrer: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Chris Gonzalez: Aside from “Paradise City” and “Water or Bread,” I’ve spent the past year teaching Devised Physical Theater at Northampton’s School of Contemporary Thought and Dance, where I am an artist in residence. I’m also teaching poetry workshops at the Northampton Community Arts Trust building on Hawley Street.

In all of this work, I’m really trying to give myself opportunities to experiment, to collaborate, to fail and to learn at my own pace.

SP: What do you draw inspiration from?

CG: I try to give myself permission to try and fail at as many different experiments as I can think up, for any given medium. Then I take the best stuff and try to move forward. I’m also immensely inspired by Northampton’s stand-up comics — their commitment to revision and to risk-taking — even though I don’t do that myself.

SP: How do you know when your work is finished?

CG: As a 25-year-old, I don’t suppose I really can answer that question, because in every aspect of my creative life, there’s room for improvement. At 40 or 50, maybe I’ll be able to have the perspective to know when I’ve finished a piece.

SP: Name two artists you admire or who have influenced your work. What about their art appeals to you?

CG: I’m inspired by the work of Joanna Newsom, a singer/songwriter/composer on harp and piano. She really sets the bar for me as an artist. Another inspiration is GECKO Theatre in Ipswich, England, a company that makes the most wonderful devised physical theater in the entire world.

SP: What’s the most recent exhibition/concert/book reading/other event by another artist or group that you’ve attended and enjoyed?

CG: I recently saw the HBO Mini-series of “Angels in America” by Tony Kushner. That’s got to be the greatest thing ever made.

SP: Dream dinner party — who would you invite?

CG: James Baldwin, Bill Evans, Daniel Day Lewis, David Simon and Angela Davis.

SP: Do you listen to music while you’re working? What kind?

CG: I always, always, always listen to music. If I’m writing poetry, then I’m listening to Bill Evans or J Dilla. If it’s playwriting, then I’m listening to Maurice Ravel or Claude Debussy. If I’m devising physical theater, then it’s everything from Madeleine Peyroux to Fela Kuti.