A Virtual Interview with Joe Jiménez

Poet Joe Jiménez will be the featured reader on Thursday, March 12, 2015 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for March’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.

Background

Joe Jiménez is the author of The Possibilities of Mud  (Korima Press, 2014) and A Silver Homeboy Flicka Illuminates the San Juan Courts at Dawn (Gertrude Press,2011), which received the 2011 Gertrude Press Poetry Chapbook Prize. Jiménez is also the recipient of the 2012 recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Poetry Prize.

Jiménez holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and lives in San Antonio, Texas. More information is available at joejimenez.net.

The Interview

CH: How did you come to writing poetry? How has the focus of your work changed over time?

JJ: I studied English at Pomona College in Claremont, California. I preferred prose over poetry at first, finding poetry oftentimes pompous and inaccessible.

Sandra Cisneros’s Loose Woman changed how I saw poetry. After reading Cisneros, poetry became someone I knew, someone who would talk to me at HEB or as we waited for the bus in the rain, and this was the real electric moment for me. I realized I could write poems about my America, poems that needed to please no one but only speak something true about and for people living lives like mine.

CH: What made you decide to get an MFA? How was the MFA experience for you at Antioch University? How has the MFA influenced your work?

JJ: Antioch University LA’s MFA program was perfect for a poem-maker like me. I attended a low-residency program, which allowed me to keep my full-time job and complete most of my coursework at home, while visiting the campus residency twice a year.

At the time, my sister and her two boys were living with me, and my former partner and I supported them. Not working full-time was not an option. People depended on me, and yet, I wanted to explore this thing called poetry, which was calling to me. AULA offered a program where I could satisfy both responsibilities—the one to people who relied upon me for survival and the one to myself. This program was particularly fitting for me, as it focused on Social Justice.

Writing with social justice in one’s consciousness, then, shapes the poems I make. As a Chicano writer, this means I want to craft poems that are accessible, that ask questions to engage us in the political moment or the pleasure of our survival.

CH: I understand you are a native of South Texas, and now live in San Antonio. Where else have you lived? How do you see the interaction between your interior landscape and the landscapes in which you have lived?

JJ: My first full collection of poems, The Possibilities of Mud (Korima Press, 2014) focuses on the Texas Gulf Coast. I grew up on the coast, in small towns near Corpus Christi. In 2012, I exited a violent relationship, and I found myself trying to make sense of my life in the only place that really made sense for me to do so: the Gulf. I spent hours among the fish and the heron, observing the pelican smash their full faces into the green waters in search of a fish. I learned the names of plants and trees, and I watched birds with a patience I had not previously known. I learned to ask questions and to let those questions quest.

I wrote the poems from TPOM during my final semester of my MFA program, and after accessing services at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center’s Domestic Violence Program, I moved with the commitment to craft poems that might offer solace or at the very least pose questions to someone trekking through a darkness similar to mine.

CH: Your chapbook, A Silver Homeboy Flicka Illuminates the San Juan Courts at Dawn, has an intriguing title, and its cover is both beautiful and startling. As winner of the 2011 Gertrude Chapbook Competition, did you have a hand in the cover design? How does the cover design relate to the chapbook? 

JJ: The chapbook title came from a poem about a guy I once knew who lived in the San Juan Courts in San Antonio. We met while playing handball one Saturday afternoon at Escobar Park on San Anto’s Westside, near the fruit terminals, not far from downtown. This guy was good at handball, much more skilled than I was, and after defeating me soundly that first afternoon, we went our separate ways. I ran into him a few more times, and we played handball a few more times, too. I lost each time. It was a frustrating connection. He liked my tattoos, and one afternoon, he asked to take pictures of them “to show his homeboy who was going to be giving him a few new placazos.” I was okay with letting him take my picture.

I didn’t really have a hand in the cover design. I’m not terribly fond of the cover, and still, I am grateful for the opportunity to have published these poems with Gertrude Press. At the time the book was being published, I had just left my ex after he tried to kill me and kill one of my dogs. It was difficult time. I struggled to pull myself through it, and negotiating a cover for my chapbook was not a priority. I let it happen. I believe the cover connects to the collection in that several of the poems reference deer.

CH: How did the title and cover design for The Possibilities of Mud come about?

JJ: Originally, I’d titled the collection “The Meaning of Fire,” however after Francisco Aragon, who was writing a blurb for the book, read the manuscript, he suggested another title, since the one about fire was too abstract. “The Possibilities of Mud” made more sense, as the poem with this title spoke to the notion of becoming unstuck, the idea “To pull out, with the entire vessel/ of Love, mud-covered, dank and more wise./ And how is mud not part of this marvelous life?” The newer title echoed the arduous lesson many of us pick up, which is the one about embracing struggle as a necessary and invigorating process toward growth.

The cover of TPOM features Rafa Esparza, an LA-based performance artist. Dino Dinco, an artist I’d previously worked with on “El Abuelo” took the photograph of Rafa during Rafa’s performance *STILL*, “a meditation on Manifest Destiny” delivered at LA’s Elysian Park on Thanksgiving morning in 2012. For more info on *STILL*, here’s a great write-up from *Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies*.

CH: The Gertrude Chapbook Competition site bio contains a link to the short film El Abuelo, which was commissioned as part of London’s 2008 Fashion in Film Festival, and in which you star and narrate the poem that makes up the film’s narrative. How does performance figure in your current work? Is the text of Homeboy Beautiful (and Other Things I’ve Nearly Forgotten But Am Throwing Punches Not to Forget) currently in print?

JJ: Yes, I would love to perform. Ever since watching Luis Alfaro perform Pico-Union in LA in the mid-90s, I have carried a desire to enact such a moment. In my most secret moments, I craft a one-person show about queer desire in the fracking fields of South Texas. It’s a commentary on small towns’ economic dependency on industries that may not have the peoples’ best interests at heart. And yet, there is need. And yet, there is hunger. And yet, people somehow manufacture happiness from scraps of opportunities. Much like love, sometimes, for some of us.

CH: El Abuelo locates itself in both San Antonio south side sensibility and queer identity, and I love the way the poem navigates and integrates those worlds. What kind of responses have you had to your work from different communities? What was the response to this film in London?

JJ: El Abuelo was the catalyst for my decision to join an MFA program. After reading a few articles about the film, I felt moved to better equip myself with the craft of poem-making. One of the first responses that comes to mind referenced me as an ex-con writing about men’s affinity for domestic work, namely ironing. The assumption that I’d done prison-time, based on what my body looks like, troubled me, of course. But there also have been fierce and empowering critiques, including the scholarship of Liliana C. Gonzalez from the University of Arizona whose essay “Queering Chicano Vato Memory in Dino Dinco’s ‘El ABuelo’” was presented at last year’s American Studies Association conference.

CH: How have you gone about identifying candidate publishers for your work? What is your process for readying a manuscript for submission to a publisher?

JJ: I’ve recently completed a second collection entitled The Goat-Eaters + Other Poems. I am hoping to publish this collection with Korima or another independent progressive press.

What I learned about preparing a manuscript was shared by my mentor Jenny Factor. She suggested cleaning my kitchen table or the floor, which is the less desirable option in my household of four dogs who believe they own everything in the house, and spreading my poems so that I can begin to see relationships between and among them. This works for me. It’s amazing how one can see connections, or how poems call out to one another as if they were lonely or needing to belong.

CH: Name five of your favorite poets.

JJ: Mary Oliver, Anne Carson, Natalie Diaz, Carmen Giménez Smith, Danez Smith.

CH: What are you working on now?

JJ: Revising a series of Juan Diego persona poems to be included in The Goat-Eaters. “Juan Diego Holds a Sign that Reads, ‘Stop Bill Cosby’” is the first poem I wrote for this sequence. I became especially interested in Juan Diego when someone asked me whether I thought he had made the whole thing up, the apparition, the roses, the miracle. I’d never fathomed it, and it has sat inside me for years. I read a Maxine Kumin poem about what if Emily Dickinson was alive today, and I was tuned it.

CH: What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

JJ: Renato Rosaldo’s The Day of Shelly’s Death. I heard him read a couple of weeks ago at the Guadalupe Center here in San Antonio.

One thought on “A Virtual Interview with Joe Jiménez

  1. Donna J Snyder

    What a great interview, Cindy.

    Joe Jiménez, your answers are so interesting and create a narrative arc, themselves. I loved hearing that Sandra Cisneros was a key influence, as she was for me in many ways. Your personal stories of pain and triumph are an inspiration. Best wishes in all your future endeavors. If you ever plan to come through El Paso, with two months advance notice, I set up a reading and workshop with my Tumblewords Project. El Paso would love you.

    Like

    Reply

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