Patty Dukes Puts Up Her Dukes for Art
By Robert Waddell
A strong Latina poet and self-described "hip-hop head," Patty Dukes remembers she put up her dukes to get where she is today.
Patty Dukes, whose real name is Patricia Marte, recalled a fist smashed into her right arm, shocking her with bone rattling pain. Feeling stunned and frustrated, she left El Puente in Brooklyn, but she then bumped into Lemmon, the guy who had just hit her, outside on the street. She came up behind him and smashed him on the head with a fist.
According to Dukes, he said, “‘Who do you think you are Patty? Put up your Dukes.’”
And, the name stuck. Patricia Marte became Patty Dukes. That was 10 years ago.
Dukes said she later learned that Lemmon, a poet who became her mentor, hit her as a way of getting her out of her shy shell and it worked.
While in high school, Dukes recalls meeting poets like Lemmon, who would win a Tony Award for Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, the group Universes, La Bruja and Mariposa.
Although she felt as an outsider, she discovered she also was a poet, an emcee, a hip-hop fanatic and an actress.
Recently, Dukes showcased her poetry at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in New York City with a lineup of Latina poets that included La Bruja and Mariposa. She has also performed at SOBs. She’s now working on a CD and will appear in Danny Hoch’s latest play “Til the Break of Dawn.”
Dukes was born to Dominican parents in Puerto Rico and was raised near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. She attended Hunter College and now works as a poet in schools.
Dukes represents the mix of Dominican and New York cultures as well as the hip-hop and poetry scene. She offers a whirlwind of sexy intellectualism, hip hop savvy and spoken word awakening.
She credits poets like Reg E. Gaines and Piri Thomas for their inspiration. One of Dukes’s poems harkens to a Gaines poem about someone getting killed for their sneakers. The poem is socially and politically relevant.
“The poem was written for the 80s; those issues are still going on today,” Dukes said. “As far as consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses, the products may have changed...I had to tell this story with a more modern twist. This is my re-mix.”
Dukes sees a strong connection between poetry and hip-hop.
“I’ve taken a lot of risks,” Dukes said. “I didn’t realize that being an artist you could be sustainable...An MC moves the crowd, a rapper is someone who can rhyme. A lyricist is someone who can rhyme but put some heavy lyrical content….at the end of the day to be a good lyricist you have to be a poet.”
Poetry has had to go beyond the academic setting...poetry needed to be infused with hip hop-isms, she said.
“I need that performance element and that mixture of poetry and the content of words,” Dukes said. “I need to get their eye contact; I need to feel what they’re saying…I want to feel you and I want you to move me and by nature that is hip-hop.”
One experience that helped Dukes understand that she was part of the hip-hop poetry and theater movement was when she wrote a play about women in prison and presented it to her professor and class. She said they just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand the nature of Dukes' words and where her ideas were coming from.
That inspired her to go on the road, perform and become a hip-hop dramatist.
Although painful, Dukes is grateful for that punch in the arm that Lemmon gave her years ago because it helped bring her out of her shell and gave her a nickname that has stuck.
“You have to find where you connect to the world,” Dukes said. “If you don’t find that first connection, you’re not going to open up.”
Robert Waddell is a freelance journalist based in the Bronx who contributes his writings to the Puerto Rico Sun.