By Edward Henderson – Contributing Writer
When Rudy Francisco steps up to the microphone to perform his poetry, there is a palpable electricity that reverberates through the room. Cell phones capture every syllable spilling from his mouth and audience’s verbal reactions to his metaphors resemble that of a Southern Baptist congregation responding to a pastor. The Southeast San Diego native has achieved cult celebrity status in the poetry world. He’s garnered over 2 million views on his YouTube channel, won individual world poetry title in 2010 and tours the country performing as a full time job.
Francisco was first introduced to poetry through a writing assignment during his senior year in high school. He penned a love poem for a girl in his class and turned it in to the teacher. It was received well and planted the initial seed of confidence that he had a gift for writing.
The young poet never wrote to perform his work out loud, but that all changed when he started watching HBO’s Def Poetry. The entertainment value of spoken word appealed to him and inspired Francisco to write his first poem for performance. He attended an open mic at Claire De Lune Coffee Lounge in North Park and shared his work with an audience for the first time.
“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. There was nothing else I could really compare it to,” Francisco said.
Open mics around the city began to close down, however, leaving a void in the poetry community that needed to be filled. Francisco along with other local poets and community activists created a group called ‘Collective Purpose’ with the mission of blending spoken word and community engagement. They started an open mic called Elevated which is San Diego’s longest running poetry open mic which recently celebrated it’s 10 year anniversary. It was here Francisco continued to home his skills as a poet and began entering in spoken word conceptions called Slams.
“I don’t do a lot of things, so the things I chose to do I wanted to be the best at,” Francisco said. “As soon as I started I thought if I dedicated the time to this I could be great at it.”
After achieving success in the underground circuit and two impressive showings in previous world slam competitions, Francisco entered the 2010 competition in Charlotte, NC on a mission. After qualifying in a ‘last chance’ competition to participate in the slam, he went on to take home first place honors amongst the best poets in the world.
“I wrote new poems, studied a lot of people and felt very prepared. When I won, it was a very surreal experience.”
After Francisco won the world slam, he spoke spoke with an agency ran by one of his mentors in poetry and began booking college shows. After 6 months of touring, he realized he could earn enough money to make performing his full time job.
“It’s a lot of waking up at 4am, going to an airport, getting to a city and going to a college. The energy I get from being on stage is something I can’t get from anywhere else. It’s beautiful and amazing but it can be exhausting at times.”
In the future, Francisco hopes to capture another individual world title, book more venues outside of colleges to gain more independence and win a team poetry slam title for San Diego.
“It would mean so much for my city and my scene. We often look at other cities and think their art is superior to ours. People are starting to recognize San Diego on the national level.”
Francisco often mentors younger poets on the college and high school levels. In all of his years performing professionally, there is one bit of advice he always offers aspiring artists.
“It takes work. I find so often that people are looking for shortcuts, a viral video or start touring immediately. Go to your local open mic, write as often as possible, bring in new pieces, do your research on other poets on the national scene and put in the work. Be dedicated, push yourself and the doors will open up.”