Poet Donna Snyder will be the featured reader on Thursday, January 8, from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for November’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.
Donna Snyder publishes work in literary journals and anthologies throughout the United States and on-line, and has presented readings in Sitka, Alaska, Venice and Santa Monica, California, Boston, New York City, Denver, and throughout New Mexico and Texas. Her book reviews appear in Red Fez, the El Paso Times, and other venues. She is a contributing editor to Return to Mago, an international webzine which since 2012 has featured a continuing series of her poems based on the divine feminine principle and the role of women in world culture. Her poetry is featured monthly in VEXT Magazine, a webzine of international art and literature.
Virgo Gray Press released her chapbook, I Am South, in 2010, which was resissued in 2014. In 2014, Chimbarazu Press published her collection Poemas ante el Catalfaco: Grief and Renewal. NeoPoiesis Press will publish her book Three Sides of the Same Moon in 2015. She is working on a poetry collection for Slough Press.
Snyder’s work as an activist lawyer advocating on behalf of indigenous people, immigrant workers, and people with disabilities has garnered multiple prizes and recognitions. She founded the Tumblewords Project in 1995, and continues to coordinate its free weekly workshops and other events.
CH: I gather from your biographical sketch that you’ve been in the El Paso area for some time. How long have you lived in El Paso? Where else have you lived?
DS: In my early thirties, while living in Santa Fe, by some fortuity I joined a series of writing groups led by established writers Miriam Sagan, Joan Logghe, Judyth Hill, and Natalie Goldberg. I wrote mostly stories, linked together by recurrent characters and place. Joan gave me a bilingual book of poems by Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo. This book changed my life, introducing me to a type of poetry that appealed to both mind and heart. Another factor was moving to Las Cruces, where I read each week at an open mic. No one there had a preconceived notion that I could only write fiction, so I started writing more poetry. Once I began the Tumblewords Project, weekly workshops that focus on writing on the spot and reading aloud, I found poetry was easier to create in that format.
CH: Living in a border city offers unique opportunities and challenges. How has living on the border influenced your work? What kinds of collaborations occur between artistic groups on the two sides of the border?
DS: Living aqui en la frontera, here on the border between Mexico and the US, has had a major impact on my poetry. I speak, write, joke, argue, and think in el idioma fronteriza, that is, Spanglish. The sound and rhythms of Spanish permeate my writing, without conscious thought or intent. This area is or was home to some of the greatest Chicano/a writers: Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ben Saenz, Arturo Islas, Denise Chávez, Pat Mora, Ray González, Ricardo Sánchez, José Burciaga, Lalo Delgado, Juan Contreras, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Sergio Troncoso, Daniel Chacón, Ana Castillo—the influence is pervasive.
As for bi-national collaboration between artists, from its inception Tumblewords has been a tri-state project, with participants from New Mexico, Texas, and Chihuahua, incorporating Mexican writers, artists, musicians, actors, and playwrights into workshop presentations, performance events, and art shows. For years a young man rode his bicycle across the international bridge every Saturday to write in the Tumblewords workshops. There have been other bi-national projects, such as Free Hole Slam and BorderSenses, to name just two. Moreover, through collaboration with universities and arts groups on both sides of the border, Tumblewords presenters have been from throughout the US, from Los Angeles and San Francisco to New York City and Washington D.C., from throughout Mexico, as well as from Chile, Peru, Cuba, Hungary, Jamaica, and Hungary.
CH: The last two decades, the news about Juarez has frequently been terrible: the murders of hundreds of women; the rise of the drug cartels and violence associated with them. How have El Paso’s literary and artistic communities responded? How have ties between the artistic communities in Juarez and El Paso been affected by the changing social landscapes on both sides of the border?
DS: The Juárez terrors-femicides and narco wars-and the post 9/11 difficulties imposed on border crossers have reduced bi-national projects to some extent. Everyone in Juárez has been affected, and consequently also friends, families, and colleagues throughout El Paso. Many artists I know are also activists. We demonstrate on both sides of the border, on the bridges, in front of the consulates. Our writing and art serve as testament to the lives lost, the disappearances, the terror endured, the anguish suffered.
CH: How has your work as an activist lawyer influenced your poetry?
DS: Working as an advocate for indigenous people, immigrant workers, and people with mental and physical disabilities blew the borders of my small-town-Texas mind to smithereens. I was able to attend college and law school courtesy of scholarships, loans, my tips from waiting tables, and support from my family as was feasible. Nonetheless, working for and with my clients and colleagues provided a much more direct understanding of the cruelty and stupidity of racism and other forms of exclusion. All of my experiences increased my awareness of the defining differences and commonalities of diverse cultures, and expanded my concepts of the nature of reality, spirit, religious beliefs, philosophy, surrealism, and more, all of which has undoubtedly fed my writing.
CH: 2014 has been a busy year for you, with the reissue of I Am South by Virgogray Press and the publication of Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal by Chimbarazu Press. And Three Sides of the Moon is coming out in 2015 from NeoPoiesis Press. Tell us a little about these books.
Virgogray Press, located in Austin, first published I Am South as a chapbook in 2010. Michael Casares had read my poetry on-line and asked me to send him a few dozen poems. He chose the ones he liked, put the poems in order, chose a title and voila! This year Virgogray reissued I Am South as a perfect bound book.
Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal also came about by the publisher’s invitation. Guillermo Echanique, a performance poet from Brooklyn, started Chimbarazu Press by releasing a few digital books. He, too, was familiar with my work from reading it on-line, and had seen me perform in New York City twice. After my husband died suddenly at age 54 in October 2013, Guillermo contacted me with the concept and title, part Spanish and part English, like my poems. The first half addresses grief born from personal bereavement, public tragedies, and catastrophic events. The second half of the book reflects recovery from grief through creativity, productivity, and loving relationships.
Three Sides of the Same Moon is slated to come out next year from NeoPoiesis Press, of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. They issued a call for submissions and I sent a manuscript relates to women’s roles as goddess, crone, and oracle, the source of abundance, law, writing, healing, and wisdom, and the erasure of those concepts by a violent and misogynous culture.
My most recent good news is that Alicia Winski has informed me that she wants her press, Seattle-based Nightwing Publications, to publish my next book, whatever it might become.
CH: Talk a little about the collection you’re working on for Slough Press. Are other collections also in the works? Do you see your series in Return to Mago eventually becoming a book?
DS: Chuck Taylor asked me to send him a hundred or hundred and fifty poems. He chose several dozen and sent them back to me with instructions to edit them as I saw fit and put them in order. The manuscript contains earlier poems, and so needs more work than my more recent manuscripts. I have great respect for Slough Press, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, and want to transform this pile of papers in a manila folder into a strong collection worthy of publication.
I am a contributing editor for poetry for Return to Mago, an international webzine that addresses the divine female principle and women’s roles both currently and throughout history. The other editors have honored me by publishing a number of my poems that address these issues, several of which will be included in Three Sides of the Same Moon.
CH: You’ve had quite a bit of success finding publishers for your work. How have you gone about identifying candidate publishers for your work? What is your process for readying a manuscript for submission to a publisher?
DS: I have been extraordinarily fortunate that three publishers have solicited manuscripts from me. The book with NeoPoiesis Press is the only manuscript I submitted in competition with other writers, and without denigrating the value of my work, I consider myself lucky to have mine chosen. I have been reading NeoPoiesis authors for almost a decade. I own several of their books. I also have Slough Press books, and scads of other books from small, independent presses and far flung writers. I contribute to anthologies and journals, and have over a hundred publication credits to my name. “Cast your bread upon the waters” is the single Bible verse that has stuck with me these decades after leaving church behind me. If you want to be published, you need to buy books by other writers, support independent publishers, and submit individual pieces of your work for publication.
As far as preparing a manuscript, I begin by combing my computer folders and throwing potential poems into a folder with some general title such as goddesses or physics or raza. When I feel that I have gleaned most of the poems pertaining to the subject, I print them out and read them, revising as I go, then shuffle them like cards, shuffle and read, shuffle and read. The sequence of the poems is fluid, and I’m not sure where it comes from, some intuitive place, I think, more than calculation. I print out the revised versions and read them through. At this point, I create a Word document and copy and paste the poems into that document, hard page breaks separating each poem, and making the font, spacing, margins, and other format matters uniform. I create a prior publication list a page for a dedication and another for acknowledgements, then add pagination and a table of contents. All this said, I’ve only prepared two manuscripts of my own, and one chapbook for another person. So my advice may or may not be of value.
CH: Name five of your favorite poets.
DS: This list can change from day to day, or even hour to hour, but perennial favorites are Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca. At the moment, high on my list would be Will Crawford, Petra Whitely, Phibby Venable, Luke Buckham, Eduardo Galeano (who is technically a historian, but his histories are poetry). Oh, I see I named seven. Math has never been my strong point.
CH: 2015 will be the 20th anniversary year for the founding of the Tumblewords Project. What inspired you to found it? What has sustained you in continuing to be engaged with it?
DS: I modeled it after writing groups in Santa Fe using a series of timed writings, each followed immediately by each person reading aloud what had just been written. After attending my workshop at the first Border Book Festival in Las Cruces, two women from the New Mexico Arts Division took me to lunch and on the basis of a handshake and a subsequent telephone call, I received funding for my first series of weekly workshops. From the beginning prominent writers were willing to both present and participate. In 2001, after the death of my 44 year old partner, I quit writing grant proposals, and ever since have paid presenters by passing the hat. Nonetheless, renowned writers from across the US have been willing to present workshops and give performances year after year.
Tumblewords is a gift to the community, but also a gift to myself. New people continue to come to the weekly workshops I organize, while others have been coming throughout two decades. Writing and reading aloud improves a person’s craft. Hearing other writers read aloud is a learning experience. Weekly participation creates a large body of work and extensive lists of publication and performance credits.
CH: What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?
DS: Lupa and Lamb by Susan Hawthorne