A Virtual Interview with ire’ne lara silva

ire’ne lara silva and Natalia Treviño will be the featured readers Thursday, December 12, 2019 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

ire’ne lara silva is the author of three poetry collections, furia, Blood Sugar Canto, and CUICACALLI/House of Song, and a short story collection, flesh to bone which won the Premio Aztlán. She and poet Dan Vera are also the co-editors of Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands, a collection of poetry and essays. ire’ne is the recipient of a 2017 NALAC Fund for the Arts Grant, the final recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, the Fiction Finalist for AROHO’s 2013 Gift of Freedom Award, and the 2008 recipient of the Gloria Anzaldúa Milagro Award. ire’ne is currently working on her first novel, Naci. Website: irenelarasilva.wordpress.com

The Interview

CH: It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since we’ve shared this space. So I’d like to start by asking your thoughts about your writing life during this interval. What pieces have remained constant? What has changed, or ebbed and flowed?

ILS: This is such a big question–I barely know where to start. Everything has changed. My vision and my feeling for what writing is and what it is in my life. How I approach it. What I feel like it does in my life.

A few things that stand out:

Before I published my first book in 2010, I had a vague sense of wanting to write/publish more books beyond that, but I think I had the impression that the sense of urgency I felt would fade. Instead, after four books and an anthology, the urgency to create is a pulsing thing. Every year it seems easier and easier to push away distraction. It seems more necessary to dedicate time and energy. More urgent to shape my life so that it’s aligned with my desire.

This year, I broke all previous records for readings, workshops, class visits, and traveling. There have been so many days where I’ve felt almost stupid with gratitude for these opportunities—and for the richness of sharing and discussing my work with so many people.

I talk all the time about how the most important thing for writing poetry—or anything for that matter—is telling yourself the truth. Over and over again. Always trying to get at deeper truths. I think sometimes I might have reached the point where I’ve told myself the truth so much that the writing comes to me in a way that it never did before. Because I don’t have to fight myself anymore to get to the truth.

CH: In 2017, IMANIMAN—Poets Writing in the Anzalduan Borderlands came out from Aunt Lute Press, edited by you and Dan Vera. Tell us about your experience as an editor for this anthology. What did you learn from working on this project?

ILS: It was an amazing experience—18 months from conception to a book in my hands. We had 225+ submissions and ended up including the work of 54 poets. It all began as a panel I proposed for the 2015 Mundo Zurdo Conference (hosted by the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldua). Joan Pinkvoss, founder and editor for Aunt Lute Books suggested expanding upon the idea of the panel, and voila, I recruited poet Dan Vera and we were on our way!

The most important thing I learned from that experience is that it’s very easy to be too strict, too restrained, too methodical as an editor. At a certain point, you have to trust your gut, trust your instincts, trust everything you’ve already learned, and use that to make your decisions about what to include and how to shape an anthology manuscript. There’s a point in the process where you have to trust the process itself and allow the space for it to breathe and become what it envisions, what it wants to be.

CH: And now, your third book of poetry, Cuicacalli/House of Song is out from Saddle Road Press. Tell us a little about this new book.

ILS: It poured itself out of me in a near-ecstatic rush, but it’s the culmination of more than twenty five years of thinking about identity, specifically Indigeneity and how it is fundamental to my Latinx/Texan identity. It’s also a meditation on history and survival, on language and how what some might call ‘myth’ still resonates in daily, psychological, and spiritual ways.

Poems about desire and heartbreak and the reawakened soul/heart/body are woven throughout because the soul/heart/body are what connect our lives to history. These poems aren’t purely intellectual exercises—my intention is for them to speak to the urgent question of how we endure and heal ourselves even through oppressive histories and times.

CH: Tell us a little about your experience in publishing this collection with Saddle Road Press (which also published Blood Sugar Canto).

ILS: Don Mitchell and Ruth Thompson at Saddle Road Press are just a dream to work with—they work so hard and do such beautiful work. More than that, they’re excellent communicators, and they support their books and writers in a very caring way. I knew that they would take care of Cuicacalli/House of Song in the same way they took care of Blood Sugar Canto.

CH: You have supported yourself in non-academic jobs and have had significant caregiving responsibilities, yet continue to find space in your life to write and to publish deep, nuanced work. How do you make time for your writing? What systems of support have made a difference for you?

ILS: It’s been twenty plus years of non-academic jobs, and more than one for most of that time…and almost that long as a caregiver. For many years, I talked about ‘stealing’ time and ‘making’ time, but somewhere in the last few years, I decided that I wanted to stop using the language of scarcity around writing. ‘Stealing’ time implies that I’m taking it from someone else. ‘Making’ time means that I’m focused on creating time and opportunity rather than focusing on writing itself. I want to focus on ‘giving’ myself time, ‘giving’ my writing time, and ‘giving’ myself the space and energy to write. I want to be clear-eyed and direct about this—about choosing my writing, about deciding what to say yes to and what to say no to in order to have that choice, and about shaping my life around the desire to create, publish, and travel to promote my work.

As for support systems—there’s my brother, who endlessly believes in me and who is my best editor, my friends, who enrich my life in every way, and most recently, my job, which in the past couple years has given me the flexibility and opportunity to do more traveling.

CH: What are you working on now?

ILS: Lots of prose! My first novel, Naci, which is so painfully close to being completed. About environmental pollution and South Texas and the life and loves of an indigenous/Mexican/American intersexed person. I’m also a few stories into my second short story collection, tentatively titled, the light of your body. Mostly, the stories are focusing on repercussions of the Conquest, the body and desire, and the necessity of art and art-making.

CH: Please tell us about a book you’ve read in the last 4 years that surprised you.

ILS: I could go on about this forever but I’ll resist mightily and confine myself to saying that both the film and the novel, Call Me By Your Name, kicked off a cascade of epiphanies and discoveries and aesthetic explorations that were both surprising and life-changing.

CH: What are you reading now?

ILS: In fiction, Daniel Chacon’s Kafka in a Skirt: Stories from the Wall, which I’m enjoying as much as I did his 2012 short story collection, Hotel Juarez. Thoughtful and thought-provoking author. His narrators are both comfortingly familiar and yet unpredictable.

In poetry, I’m reading or re-reading all of Barbara Jane Reyes’ full length collections: Gravities of Center, Poeta en San Francisco, Diwata, To Love as Aswang, Invocation to Daughters, and the forthcoming Letters to a Young Brown Girl. Reyes is a ferocious and lyrical poet, speaking always to the truths of intersecting identities, and of my contemporaries, the poet I most admire.

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