He had his own voice. And he made sure others realized theirs
Columnist Steve Lange looks back at a 10 (Or So) Questions with Danny Solis
Danny Solis — slam poet, activist, artist, and father — not in that order, died last week.
If you didn't know him, you should have. He was someone who cared about others. Cared about kids. Volunteered a lot of time helping kids find their voices through poetry readings and open mic nights and any other way he could think of to give people a literal say.
Both of my daughters, at separate times, took part in some sort of one of these on-stage performances. Both of them were nervous, scared.
And, after each of those shows, both of them came back and told me how one guy had helped them through it. One guy who, beforehand, told them how good they would do. One guy who, afterwards, told them how good they had done.
Both times, when they told me the stories, I knew who that guy was before I even asked.
Danny Solis was a good friend of Rochester Magazine, and I'll greatly miss our coffees at Cafe Steam.
Here's one of them, from an interview we did back in 2016.
That’s exactly the vehicle I expected you to drive up in (it’s like a yellow Ford Focus).
It’s not my vehicle. It’s my son’s mother’s. We are divorced.
Does she know you have it?
No! Shhhh! Yes, she knows. We’re divorced, but we’re really good co-parents. We met. Fell in love within a month. Within three months I proposed and she accepted. Less than a year later we were married. About a year from that we had Teagan. Two years from then we were divorced. We’re very efficient.
That is efficient. Tell me about your son.
Teagan is 8 years old.
What brought you to Rochester?
Teagan. His mom got a job at Mayo. She’s a scientist.
And you were in Albuquerque at the time? How painful was it to move?
We got here on May 3, 2013, the day of the record snow storm which also was ice and sleet and slush. Two days later was Cinco de Mayo. For the first time, in I can’t remember when, I stayed in the house on Cinco De Mayo and didn’t go out.
Your poetry has taken you to 48 states, Europe, Africa, Asia.
Yes. It’s afforded me to be paid to go there. Have my travel paid and to be paid there.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a working poet and I’m also working for the Rochester Diversity Council, SPARK presenter. I also have some projects in the works. The Rochester Art Ensemble is trying to create brand new interdisciplinary art in ways it hasn’t been done before. It combines poetry, dance, music, art ... and we have a burgeoning relationship the Rochester Art Center. Also the International Poetry Institute is another ongoing project of mine, the IPI is essentially an organization that will bring together poets and poetry and audiences from different countries, communities and cultures in a celebration of our diverse humanity and artistry.
Give me a part of a poem ...
It is times like this/when I feel the old blood inside/stirring, heating the new Mexican, Mexicano, Chicano. I am listening to Los Lobos/Guitarron and accordion/spinning out generations of dying grief.
Very cool stuff. And you’ve won a lot of poetry awards. You were Albuquerque’s Poet Slam Laureate. You’ve been called "a Slam Poet legend."
I’m sure alcohol was involved with whoever called me that.
What are the Tober Games?
Oh, man! Those are the games that we play on my last day of my family reunion, the Tober side of the family. I don’t have a lot of dough, but I’m incredibly wealthy in terms of family. My mom’s family started a tradition years ago. Now we take over a hotel and cabins in Oklahoma. Even though we’re from Texas that’s where we head because they can handle our numbers. Some people arrive on Wednesday or Thursday. They bring boats and RVs. There are organized events like the Tober games, fishing contests. People play dominos and cards. Hang out. Stay up too late. Argue with each other. Love on each other.
How has Rochester been in terms of your work?
Lovely. I’ve gotten a warm reception. ... I came here with a pocketful of poetry scene points. From UMR to the Diversity Council to the Art Center to the Chamber of Commerce, I’ve been given so much love and given so many opportunities. I really want to cultivate that love and those opportunities and do things are more community-oriented, like the Day of the Dead Poet Slam. Right now I’m working on getting some funding to go into the schools during April, National Poetry Month, to do work with kids.
You’re from Dallas. Are you a Cowboys fan?
You seem like someone trying to bring love and positivity to the community and even the world. How do you rectify that with following a team like the Dallas Cowboys, who epitomize all that is evil?
I cannot rectify that. I remember thinking when I moved that I was going to have a problem wearing my Cowboys gear. I know Vikings fans despise the Bears and hate the Lions. But they really hate the Packers. The hatred of the Cowboys seems more diffused.
Whatever. I’m a Lions fan anyway. I see you take a lot of Star Wars quizzes on Facebook. You are, it turns out, 60% Jedi, 40 % Sith. Does that seem reasonable?
Yes. Unless I’m having a really bad day or a really good day. If I’m around my son I’m about 90% Jedi.
I had to take the What Star Wars Character Are You Quiz like six times before I finally got Han Solo.
I got the female character from the new movie, Rey. I was good with that.
You wrote your first poem when you were 5?
It was called Sugar Rain. Sugar rain/on my window pane/won’t you come take away my pain? That’s all I can remember of it, mercifully.
True or false: You like romantic novels about pirates?
Does sci-fi and fantasy count? There’s a series by Ilona Andrews, Magic. One of the key troops of the novel is a relationship between a were-lion and a magical warrior woman. I would say that probably counts as a romance novel.
Yes, that counts. Just because the characters are only half human, or not human at all, doesn’t discount the romance side of it.
What’s the worst question you get asked in interviews?
Worst question would be ‘So what’s your poetry about?’
What is your poetry about?
French fries and monkeys.
Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.