Author Archives: chuyser

A Virtual Interview with David Meischen

Background

Thursday, July 9, 2020  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. — Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for meeting information.

Feature David Meischen has been honored by a Pushcart Prize for “How to Shoot at Someone Who Outdrew You,” a chapter of his memoir, originally published in The Gettysburg Review and available in Pushcart Prize XLIIAnyone’s Son, David’s debut poetry collection, is new from 3: A Taos Press. A lifelong storyteller, he received the 2017 Kay Cattarulla Award for Best Short Story from the Texas Institute of Letters. Storylandia, Issue 34, currently available, is entirely devoted to David’s fiction: The Distance Between Here and Elsewhere: Three Stories. David has a novel in stories and a short story collection; he is actively seeking an agent and/or publisher for both. He has served as a juror for the Kimmel Harding Nelson center for the arts; in the fall of 2018, he completed a writing residency at Jentel Arts. Co-founder and Managing Editor of Dos Gatos Press, David lives in Albuquerque, NM, with his husband—also his co-publisher and co-editor—Scott Wiggerman.

Cindy Huyser hosts; an open mic follows. Zoom connection info available from bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com.

The Interview

CH: When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer. What is your first memory of poetry?

DM: I wanted to be a writer as soon as I knew what writing was. I wanted to write grand romantic novels in the tradition of the biblical epics that dominated movie screens when I was young. I spent years daydreaming one of them, including the title—Weep Not for Me—about Veronica, the woman who handed her veil to Jesus as he carried the cross, so that he might wipe his face. Not a word of this story ever made it onto a page. As for poetry, the first poem that captured my imagination was Longfellow’s “The Wreck of the Hesperus.” Along about fifth grade, I memorized every single stanza—twenty two of them. To this day, some of the lines come back to me.

CH: You’ve had success in a variety of writing genres, including a Pushcart Prize for memoir-in-progress, publication of and awards for a number of short stories, and now this collection of poetry. How would you describe yourself as a writer?

DM: I would not call myself a poet. I find the writing of poems deeply engaging but I would say the same about writing essays, a serious pursuit since my first semester of college English more than fifty years ago. Poetry came later, in my mid-thirties—and fiction in my mid-fifties. What ties them all together—essay, poetry, fiction—is narrative. I am a born storyteller. When I sit down to write, almost without exception, I hear a voice that wants to tell a story. I follow that voice.

CH: Your new full-length poetry collection, Anyone’s Son, is your first. How did this project come together? Over what period of time were these poems written?

DM: In my mid-forties, trying to acknowledge and then embrace myself as a gay man, I found that I was writing poems about identity, about gay identity, about gay experiences. The earliest of the poems in Anyone’s Son was drafted—in rough form—in 1992. About four years ago, I saw that I had enough “identity” poems for a chapbook. And then perhaps a collection. One member of my poetry critique group encouraged me to keep writing poems for this collection. Another read all the poems I thought I wanted to include and helped me see how I might shape them. Andrea Watson, at 3: A Taos Press, twice asked me the difficult questions I needed to re-organize and re-order, to write new poems to fill gaps she could identify for me.

CH: As someone who grew up in rural south Texas at a time when repression of gay expression was the norm, what is it like to have Anyone’s Son out in the world?

DM: Since the release of Anyone’s Son, two straight male friends my age have written to me, praising the collection, and explaining how the poems resonate with their own experiences, their own anxieties over sex, as they came of age. I can’t tell you how affirming it is to hear from these men that at our core we share something. Their testimonials make me feel that I chose the right title: Anyone’s Son.

CH: A few years ago, you left Austin behind for Albuquerque, and it wasn’t long before Dos Gatos Press found another publisher to take on The Texas Poetry Calendar. What’s changed in your literary life since moving to Albuquerque? Do you see changes in your writing because of it?

DM: I moved here with my husband. Think what it means for me, having grown up in remote rural South Texas, decades ago to claim the word husband. New Mexico gave me physical distance—and the perspective that goes with it. It gave me a new landscape. It gave me the space to approach memoir with confidence, to write the difficult poems for Anyone’s Son—to write them without fear. To celebrate myself and my husband.

CH: You’ve landed some residencies in the last few years. What does the residency experience give a writer? How have those experiences shaped your work?

DM: In the past decade I’ve had two residencies at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Institute for the Arts in Nebraska City, Nebraska, and one at Jentel Arts, near Sheridan, Wyoming. Both offered two invaluable gifts: time and the company of writers and artists who love what they are doing. In the fall of 2015, in Nebraska, City, because I had whole days of uninterrupted time, I sat down one morning and wrote a paragraph about the day I learned of Hank Locklin’s death. This paragraph led me to a childhood memory of washing the family car while country music poured out of my father’s transistor radio, and that memory took me to the dance hall in my home town. Days later, I had a narrative essay of some 5500 words, looping forward and back through time. The magic here was in the time I was given to write—and the infectious enthusiasm of the five young artists in residency with me. I got to read portions of my essay at a monthly event hosted by the Center. And then my good luck compounded. The Gettysburg Review published this piece and nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. The Pushcart folks selected it for Pushcart XLII. I credit the residency.

CH: Tell us a little about the novel in stories you’re circulating, and the short story collection. What drew you to the “novel in stories” form?

DM: In the summer of 1994, I set out to write a short story set in a small town in South Texas. I did not want to get stuck in my own home town of Orange Grove. I wanted the freedom of a fictional town, my own creation. I wanted intimations of drought-tolerant vegetation. The Spanish word nopalito, meaning prickly pear cactus leaf, suggested itself, and Nopalito, Texas was born. As an MFA student a decade later, I found myself returning to Nopalito. At some point, I could see characters and stories coalescing. I wrote more Nopalito stories. I tinkered with groupings, with sequencing. Nopalito: A Novel in Stories has gone through two major revision stages. Currently, it is seeking a publisher.

CH: What are you working on right now?

DM: I have an almost finished memoir. One of the chapters has been especially thorny. It needs a return visit. My fascination with pantoums continues apace. I want to write more of those. Lately, I am examining my fascination with place. I have the beginnings of a chapbook—poems set along the county road where I grew up. I’d like to set up and teach a course via Zoom—Place in Poems—six Saturday sessions exploring how poets do place, how place serves their poems. Stay tuned . . .

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

DM: The last time I flew, coming up out of San Antonio, I opened Bruce Snider’s Fruit and quite simply disappeared into the poems. The title poem begins with a bowl of peaches in the narrator’s adolescent art class and moves immediately into memories of the class bully, memories of attraction to the class bully. Eight of the poems are titled “Childless,” in which the narrator ponders the biological impossibility of two men bearing a child, no matter how close their relationship. Snider’s language in this collection, his insights, are quite simply revelatory. Put your hands on a copy of Fruit. You will not be disappointed.

A Virtual Interview with Susan J. Rogers

Background

Thursday, June 11, 2020  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. — Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for connection information.

Susan J. Rogers’ poetry weaves the personal with mythic tales, including those of Goddesses from Tibet to the British Isles. Rogers, a choir director and musician who has lived near Chicago’s Lake Michigan, in New Mexico’s desert, and in South Central Texas, draws metaphor from these landscapes.

Rogers’ first poetry collection, In the Beginning: an Egg, a Mask, a Woman, was published in 2018 and contains illustrations by her partner, artist Luisa-Maria Potter. Other recent publication credits include the di-vêrseˊ-city anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival, and the anthology Enchantment of the Ordinary (Mutabilis Press, 2018). Rogers has been interviewed about her poetry on Texas Nafas, a poetry-centered public access television program, and her musical compositions (with poems as lyrics) have been performed at the University of New Mexico and at Chicago State University.

Cindy Huyser hosts; an open mic follows.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? When did you first become interested in writing?

SJR: My first memory of poetry was in the first grade. Our teacher had us make cards for events like Mother’s Day, but gave us a verse with a blank word at the end of every other line so we could fill it in. That was magical to me.

CH: When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer? Do you have a primary identity as a writer?

SJR: I started thinking of myself as a writer when I was nine years old. My primary identity is as a poet.

CH: Your poetry has long been interested in the mythic, from the Tibetan Tara to goddesses of the British Isles. Tell us a little about your connection to Goddess myth.

SJR: I have a thirst for knowledge about the Goddess and relevant mythology. It is about untangling the lies I was taught and standing proudly as a woman in the reflection of the divine.

CH: As a musician and choir director, what is your take about the role of music in poetry?

SJR: When I choose music for the choir, I always look at the lyrics first. When I write poetry, I listen for musical elements in words and phrases to inform line breaks, stanzas breaks, alliteration, and internal rhyme so the poetic techniques support the meaning.

CH: You’ve lived in a variety of climates, notably near Chicago’s Lake Michigan and in the desert of New Mexico, as well as in south central Texas. How does place figure in your work? What has changed in your work as you’ve moved locations?

SJR: The environment of a place is deep inside me even when I am not aware of it.  Moving is always a loss, like missing a person. For example, I wrote most of my New Mexico poems after I moved from there to Texas. My relationship with nature has evolved also.  Luisa says that painting a landscape is like saying a prayer.  Writing poetry with natural images is similar in some ways. It is about seeking the wisdom reflected in the web of life.

CH: You’ve been busy in the last couple of years, with a debut poetry collection in 2018, and another forthcoming. How have you managed to make room for this work? What is your writing life like?

SJR: I don’t have a writing schedule. I write when I feel an image or have an insight so strong it needs to be written down and then I work it into a poem. My goal is not just to have a poem emerge, but to somehow make the world a better place. For example, I wrote the title poem to In the Beginning: an Egg, a Mask, a Woman because I met a young woman struggling with self- esteem in the company of young men. It made me upset that this was still going on, so I wrote about women in control of their own image and that of the Goddess in ancient times.

CH: Tell us a little about your first poetry collection, In the Beginning’ an Egg, a Mask, A Woman. What inspired this book, and how did it come together? How was it to collaborate with your partner, Luisa-Maria Potter, for the book’s illustrations?

SJR: Luisa is a talented artist and I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with her.  In the Beginning: an Egg, a Mask, a Woman started as a place to collect several poems about Tara.  She was the first goddess I encountered who was not a truncated personality or actively being humiliated by male gods. Instead, she has 21 wonderful qualities we can all emulate, and has a fully formed personality that responds to a variety of situations.  She is also fiercely protective to all who call out to her. I decided to poetically invite her into my own history and that of others I knew. I included other goddesses and stories later. I believe that when we rewrite our own history, it has the power to transform us.

CH: Tell us a little about your forthcoming book, Landscapes of the Mind. What’s been different for you in this project, as opposed to your inaugural book?

SJR: My new book, Landscapes of the Mind is longer and more diverse than my first book.  It includes poems about contemporary themes, for example about COVID-19. It includes several poems about place, including a series of New Mexico poems. It also includes more poems about the goddess and mythology from Kuan Yin and Nerthus to the original story of Eve.

CH: If you were to recommend three “must-read” poets, who would they be, and why?

SJR: I would like to recommend three directions of inquiry instead.  The first is to find a poet from history who you admire, in my case, W.B Yeats. The second is to find someone who speaks to you, who understands who you are. In my case, this is Judy Grahn.  The third is to find a poet who challenges your experience and expands your horizons, in my case, Audre Lorde.

CH: What are you reading now?

I am reading books by poet laureates of the U.S.:  Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and Richard Blanco’s How to Love a Country.  I appreciate the fact that poet laureates are now as diverse as this country. Joy Harjo is from the Muscogee Creek Nation and Richard Blanco is a Gay Cuban-American.

A Virtual Interview with Nicole Brogdon

Background

Juliana Maldonado and Nicole Brogdon will be our features Thursday, May 14, 2020  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for information on how to join this virtual event.

Nicole Brogdon is a therapist and a writer living in Austin Texas. She graduated from Rice University with honors and earned an MA in creative writing from the University of Houston on a Barthelme writing fellowship. For fifteen years she worked as a writer in the schools, as adjunct English faculty at Houston Community College, and as a free-lance editor and writer.

Later she acquired a Masters in counseling from St Edward’s University. Currently she
works as a psychotherapist (a Licensed Professional Counselor, as well as a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist), specializing in trauma, attachment, creativity, and multicultural issues. She has worked with all kinds of admirable strugglers, from torture survivors to musicians to couples.

Married for 28 years to an Iranian doctor, the two have a grown daughter. Nicole likes poetry, sudden fiction, live music, and making objects with her hands. Nicole believes that her lifelong work has been connected under the umbrella of helping
people to tell their stories. As one of her favorite poets, William Matthews, wrote:

There’s no truth about your childhood,
though there’s a story, yours to tend,
like a fire or garden. Make it a good one,
since you’ll have to live it out, and all
its revisions, so long as you all shall live....

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? When did you first become interested in writing?

NB: My mother used to read to me from big hard back used books, nursery rhymes, poetry, fairy tales, and Greek myths, when I was a little kid, before bed each night. Read aloud with Mom then read aloud to yourself, and you would get to stay up a little later —like, until 8:30 PM. Or don’t read, lose out, and just go to bed earlier—like, 8 pm! Ingenious of my mother. Later on, my mom went back to school and became an English teacher, then a school principal, always interested in books. She also used to pay my brother and I and a quarter each to write a fairytale. I still love dark fairytale elements, in poems, stories, movies.

CH: When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer? Do you have a primary identity as a writer?

NB: In my heart, I am always a writer. Even when I have pursued other work, like therapy work since I was 40, I really do feel like I am helping people to tell their stories. Perspective, questions about whether this is a reliable narrator, show don’t tell, savor sensations, mindfulness, the somatic felt sense of things…. all of those concepts show up in work as a therapist, as well as in literature and writing (my background). I feel that I think in stories, I respond to stories, as many people do. In that sense, in my best brain, I am a reader and a writer.

CH: What inspired you to pursue an MA in poetry from the University of Houston? How did that experience shape your writing?

NB: I graduated from college with an English degree. I didn’t care much about money, as I was always working hard and getting jobs, waiting tables and doing freelance work proofreading, and so on. Probably, I would have benefited to care a little bit more about money, and personal stability, back then. Anyway, after college, I wanted more of the English major experience. I thought, apparently I’m going to be a poor English major type anyway —resourceful and hardworking, yes— but medium poor, anyway. So I might as well just keep looking at what I love, stories and poems, paper writing. And so I applied to graduate school in Houston and was accepted. I then spent a few years focusing on books and language —time and education which has been useful in every paid job that I’ve ever had since.

CH: Tell us a little about your work as a writer in the schools. What did that experience teach you?

NB: My experience working for Writers in the Schools in Houston taught me that, children have such innate and fearless imaginations; unsquashed unschooled imaginations. And so many of the great writers and artists throughout time have tried to get back to that child-like sensibility, in their own refined adult work. We civilized adults tend to educate that right-brain surrealist imagination right out of our kids, in most school situations. Anyone trying to write or make art can work to remember, what creative people like Picasso have known: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist, once he grows up.”

CH: How did your writing life shift when you entered the field of psychotherapy?

NB: When I became a therapist, I consciously thought that I left my identity as a writer for a while. All the while though, unconsciously, when I was doing therapy, I was using a deep down story lens, perspective and narrative sensibility that I had learned from literature, as well as psychological and character sense that I had learned from reading poetry, and novels by the great Russians. I began to realize that often, doing therapy, I was traipsing around in a similar part of my head that I had lived in before, while reading and writing fiction and poetry. Making metaphors with people, for example. There ended up being lots of connections between my therapist work and my past writer-editor-English teacher work, a similar mindset.

CH: How do you make room for writing? What do you do to nurture yourself as a writer?

NB: Nowadays, after many years of experimenting with when and how to write, I am a little wiser and more organized. I’ve learned enough common sense skills to enable me to plan ahead the night before, to write every next morning early, even if it’s just for an hour (or occasionally, for a couple hours). I wrestled with this for years —when and how to write, nighttime or morning, how much sleep to get, how to balance paid work and writing work, and later, trying to balance parenting with some personal writing. I am glad that I never fully turned my back on my writing for too long though.

Now, I’m a big believer in sitting up, with a half-asleep concrete dream image, and just trusting that image imaginatively and starting to write from that early morning dream space. I like to start writing before my logical brain gets too wide awake and picky to have fun and be creative.

CH: Who are some poets whose work has influenced yours?

NB: Charles Simic, early Russell Edson, Mark Strand, Sylvia Plath for her darkness, and often, Latin American and Eastern European poets, for their surrealist fantastical bent. Also, Marge Piercy, and Lucille Clifton, for their writings from the body. Lately, the emotional honesty of Dorianne Laux’s poems, and the straightforward poems and poetry writing books by Kim Addonizio, are influencing me.

CH: If you could have an hour with any contemporary poet, who would you choose and why?

NB: I’ve so admired the last few books I’ve read by Dorianne Laux —her raw wisdom, her ability to talk about specific, possibly autobiographical trauma scenes. I’d like to sit down and talk with her about emotional bravery and language.

CH: What are you reading now?

I’m reading the poet Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. Poetic mini essays about objects and sensual experiences that delight him. With my mother, a year and a half ago, I heard the engaging poet Ross Gay read aloud from this manuscript at a college in Vermont. My mother sent me his book for my birthday just recently.

A Virtual Interview with Juliana Maldonado

Background

Juliana Maldonado and Nicole Brogdon will be our features Thursday, May 14, 2020  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for information on how to join this virtual event.

Juliana Maldonado is a poet who found her voice through Book Woman and Cindy Huyser’s open mics. She is ever striving to celebrate her mixed Chicana heritage and all things that make her soul sing. She is published in the ACC literary periodical The Rio Review and has featured at Malvern’s I Scream Social. She can only be found in person, so listen while you can!

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? When did you first become interested in writing?

JM: My first memory of poetry is my mother reading “The Children’s Book of Illustrated Poetry” to me as a bedtime story. My favorites were Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe and The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.

I remember first dabbling with poetry around age 13, but I didn’t start exploring writing as a passion until college.

CH: What drew you to poetry? When did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?

JM: I’ve always loved reading poetry. I love the richness of emotion and textured language that poetry provides.

Last year I took a creative writing class which introduced me to poetry in a new light. Through that class I was able to find a more poetic part of myself, as well as a community of similarly inclined people. After completing the class, I felt I had been remade as a poet.

CH: Do you have other literary or artistic interests?

JM: I dabble in various artistic mediums such as drawing and sculpting. I like experimenting with prose from time to time as well.

CH: From what do you draw inspiration?

JM: My biggest sources of inspiration are nature and both my past and present life experiences.

CH: What is your writing process like? How do you make time to write?

JM: Inspiration strikes at various times, so whenever it does I try to jot something down. I try to keep a journal handy at all times. Later on, when I have some free time and free mental capacity, I gather up all the things I’ve saved in my journal, type them up, and edit them. If I’m really unsure about something I’ve written I’ll ask friends or family to proofread it.

I have time set aside every weekend to work on my writing, though I don’t always use it.

CH: Who are some poets whose work has influenced you?

JM: Poe is probably my biggest influence just because I’ve read so much of his work for so long. I think I’m also influenced by the patchwork of styles I hear at open-mics.

CH: If you could have an hour with any contemporary poet, who would you choose and why?

JM: Honestly, anyone. I still feel so new to this world that I feel I could learn a great deal from any poet. I love to marvel at these brave and beautiful people and I hope that I will be like them.

CH: What are you reading now?

JM: Various old zines I found at Half-Price Books.

A Virtual Interview with Koraly Dimitriadis

Background

Koraly Dimitriadis will be the featured reader Thursday, April 9, 2020 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. on Zoom. Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for meeting information.

Koraly Dimitriadis is a Cypriot-Australian writer and actor. She is the author of the Australian poetry bestseller Love and F–k Poems and the recent Just Give Me The Pills, which together form the basis for her theatre show “Saying The Wrong Things”. Koraly also makes short films of her poems. She is a freelance opinion writer and has also been published in The Washington Post. Koraly was awarded the UNESCO City of Literature Residency in Krakow in 2019 to work on her debut fiction novel, Divided Island.  Much of her work has to do with cultural and religious repression. www.koralydimitriadis.com

The Interview

CH: What first drew you to writing? When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer?

KD: I loved to write when I was in school, but because of my migrant upbringing, studying art was not an option and was considered the pastime of the lazy. So I became a computer programmer, however after the birth of my daughter, the creativity I had inside me exploded out as I questioned my life choices and what kind of role model I wanted to be for her. Writing then became a tool for survival, as I realized I was living a life others wanted for me and not what I wanted. I used my writing to help emancipate myself from my culture, my marriage and my religion, and to discover who I was and what I wanted from life.

CH: In addition to having published two collections of poetry, I know you recently had a UNESCO City of Literature Residency in Krakow to work on your debut novel, Divided Island. Do you have a primary identity as a writer? How would you describe yourself?

KD: It’s a really interested question and one I grappled with, as I am also an actor and my I make films and theatre of my poetry. I write opinion articles and I am deeply drawn to writing longer form books, particularly fiction. So I do a lot of different things. I call myself a writer and actor but I do think I spread myself too thin and I am in the process of trying to narrow down the things that I can do so I can pay more attention to what I really want to do. It’s a constant battle for me.

CH: What was your UNESCO City of Literature Residency like?

KD: It was really a one-in-a-lifetime experience, and in the current pandemic climate, I am so thankful for the travel experiences I have had through my career, as a large part of my work involves touring and connecting with people. I was given a beautiful room at Villa Decius which was in this very big garden, and I got to work on Divided Island, while also being involved in the Milos Literary Festival and performing poetry. Krakow is a beautiful city with a rich culture and I look forward to returning one day. I have also had the opportunity to have several poems of mine translated and published in Polish, and I also made a poetry video at Villa Decius of my poem, Shh, woman, ssh.

CH: In addition to being a writer, you’re an actor, and have also made short films of your poems. Tell us a little about your experience as a performer of your own work. How has that experience shaped you?

KD: I really do feel that my poetry is best on the stage in theatre as part of a theatrical narrative, and I do have a theatre show called “Saying the wrong things” which I hope to tour one day. Through my performance I’m able to add another layer to the meaning to my poems. The drive to perform came naturally to me as part of my emancipation from my culture. There was a drive to perform and share my story. From there I built on this, adding film and theatre and getting some formal acting training. I’d like to do more, but, like I said, I do too much!

CH: How did cultural and religious repression become important themes in your work?

KD: I write poetry about what is happening for me, at when I started writing poetry I was repressed, and confused, and trying to break out, so these themes naturally emerged in my work.

CH: Tell us a little about what it’s like to be a poet in Australia. Is it easy to find audiences for your work as a poet? What has it been like to have a bestseller?

KD: Very interesting question. The Australian literary community is very small, and as such I have found it necessary to tour, mainly because I do speak my mind, my poetry is raw and confronting, and unapologetic, it doesn’t conform to traditional rules, and all this can be difficult for some to swallow. It hasn’t been easy which is why I’m thankful for travel support I have received from the Cypriot government which allows me to tour the world. Love and F—k Poems is a bestseller in the poetry genre in Australia, but most books don’t sell more than a few hundred copies. It’s been great selling in the thousands, but because of the content of the book, I felt the conservative literary community didn’t do enough to support it and shied away. However, the spoken word community have been supportive.

CH: How do you nourish yourself as a writer? As a performer?

KD: I go to spoken word events and listen to other poets. They often inspire me. I try to read when I can. Films also inspire me.

CH: Who are three poets whose work you admire?

KD: Hera Lindsay Bird, Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski.

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

KD: Bukowski’s War All The Time.

A Virtual Interview with Patty Crane

Background

Patty Crane will be the featured reader Thursday, March 12, 2020 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX)

Patty Crane’s collection Bell I Wake To is just out from Zone 3 Press. Her book-length poem, something flown, was winner of the 2017 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Award. Her poetry and her translations of Swedish Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer have appeared in numerous journals, including Bellevue Literary Review,VerseDailyWest BranchAmerican Poetry ReviewBlackbird, and The New York TimesBright Scythe, a bilingual volume of her translations, was published by Sarabande Books in 2015.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? When did you begin to think of yourself as a poet?

PC: I vividly recall the joy of reading and reciting nursery rhymes, a joy embodied in the memory of looking up at the summer night sky with my grandmother while together we recited “Star light, Star bright, the first star I see tonight…”

I don’t know when I began to think of myself as a poet, but I’ve only recently begun to feel comfortable calling myself one. Maybe because I’ve learned what a conversation-stopper it can be. Why is that? This is a topic worthy of deeper discussion, but let’s just say it took far more external validation than it should have for me to fully acknowledge my poet-self.

CH: How do you trace your development as a poet?

PC: I came to poetry (with a capital P) relatively late in life, but poetry was always there in the background. As an adolescent, I journaled in a cheap spiral-bound notebook that I kept hidden in the bottom of a drawer. I wrote poems, song lyrics, thoughts, little epiphanies, and jotted occasional quotes. It wasn’t a diary or chronicle of my days, but a way to work things out—who I was, or wanted to be, and how to be that self in such a confusing world. I preferred to be alone, riding my bike long distances, often to the beach, where I’d walk for what seemed like hours and feel utterly free to observe and to think. This was surely formative to my becoming a poet, as was my training and career as a registered nurse, learning the limits of the human body, the reaches of human spirit, and the value of empathy.

CH: I’ve been exploring the poems on your website. I love the spare, lyric voice in them, and I’m intrigued with your play of space. Please tell us a little about your approach to the use of whitespace in your poems.

PC: The use of white space doesn’t feel intentional, but inevitable. The white spaces are pauses, periods of silence—sometimes hesitations, sometimes open waiting—as I listen to or for the quiet place in my mind that helps me to focus, tune out the static and chatter, and tune in to the object or objects of my attention in order to really see them. Also, pauses create the rhythm, the same way they do in music. Poetry is music. Whether it’s a blank page or score, silence is where the words and notes originate.

CH: How did you become interested in translation? How did you become engaged with translating Tomas Tranströmer’s work?

PC: During a three-year period living in Sweden, I gained a level of fluency in the language that eventually put me on the path to translation. What began as an exercise to refine my Swedish, grew into a curiosity about translating that turned into a passion. I’d been reading Tranströmer since the late 90’s (mostly Robert Bly’s translations), but suddenly I could read the original and it felt entirely new. Over the course of a winter, I translated his 1996 collection THE SORROW GONDOLA and, at roughly the same time, had the great fortune of befriending Tomas and his wife, Monica. I spent many hours visiting with them at their home in Stockholm, and ultimately many more hours discussing those first translations with them. In 2011 I was awarded a MacDowell fellowship to continue this work and while there, news arrived that Tomas had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. That was memorable! Those translations were gathered in “Bright Scythe” (Sarabande, 2015).

CH: How has working with translation influenced your own writing?

PC: Influence seems impossible to pin down. For example, the poems I wrote while living in Sweden have a spareness and voice that’s very different from my other work. Is this my translating coming through, or the Swedish landscape with its extremes of light, what I was reading at the time, or what was happening in the world or in my relationships? I just can’t say.

What I can say is that translating gets me out of my own head, allows me to time- and place-travel, and to see my own place a little more clearly because I’ve gained some perspective. And I get to temporarily inhabit the mind of a speaker like Tranströmer, who moves fluidly between the everyday and liminal worlds, offering me glimpses that, at the very least, heighten my sense of possibility for my own writing.

CH: What do you do to nourish yourself as a poet?

PC: What nourishes me as a person nourishes me as a poet: my relationships, my connections to place, bearing witness to beauty in its many forms and guises. Having a quiet, devoted space to write is key for me. I work in a tiny, humble studio I helped build with my own hands. It’s tucked into a field that overlooks an active beaver pond and is surrounded by woods. The natural world nourishes the whole of me, informing how I live, work and make sense of the world.

CH: What are you working on now?

PC: The growing disconnect between us humans and the natural world has been in the back of my mind these days as I write. I’m not overtly writing ‘about’ this, but it’s coming through, and in ways I hadn’t expected. The work is still raw and unfolding, and thus hard to talk about in any detail. I’m also actively sending out my second full-length collection of poems written during the years I lived in Sweden, and I’m deep into translating the complete poetic works of Tomas Tranströmer.

CH: What do you read for pleasure?

PC: Whatever strikes my mood, mind and senses at any given time; and often several different genres at once. Right now, I’m reading Edna O’Brien’s Girl, Brenda Shaughnessy’s The Octopus Museum, and, for the umpteenth time, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim of Tinker Creek.

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

PC: Shirt in Heaven by Jean Valentine. Times two. After turning the last page, I went right back to the beginning and read it again.

A Virtual Interview with Sequoia Maner

Seqouia Maner will be the featured reader Thursday, February 13. 2020 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Sequoia Maner is a poet and Mellon Teaching Fellow of Feminist Studies at Southwestern University. She is coeditor of the book Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era (Routledge, January 2020). Her poems, essays, and reviews have been published in venues such as The Feminist WireMeridiansObsidian, The Langston Hughes Review and elsewhere. Her poem “upon reading the autopsy of Sandra Bland” was a finalist for the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize and she is at work on a critical manuscript about the history of African American Elegy.

The Interview

CH: When did you first start thinking of yourself as a writer? What inspired you to become a writer?

SM: I’ve kept journals since I was a girl for song lyrics, poems, and intimate thoughts. I was a quiet observer as a child (still am if I’m honest) and writing was how I processed / articulated in my own special way. I think there are many reasons I was drawn to libraries, books, and music. I spent a significant portion of my childhood in foster care & this special bond with books was a way to process trauma. Books opened worlds for me & libraries have always been a singular refuge. Also, I am sensitive to sound, an auditory learner, so music and poetry play significant roles in my life for mediating the world. I have always been just dazzled by the possibilities of language.

CH: When did you start to think of yourself as a poet? Do you have a primary identity as a writer?

SM: I didn’t have people in my life who wrote for a living & I didn’t even think to dream that I could someday write books like Morrison, or Angelou, or Shange. Those were writers; that couldn’t be me. It wasn’t until my college experience at Duke University that I first called myself a poet but, even then, I didn’t realize a career for myself as a writer. I knew that I would write poetry for a lifetime as a personal self-care ritual, but I was open to career paths, studying chemistry & photography, relegating poetry to the sidelines. As an English major, college was the first time I studied major writers and eras, learned form and structure, and wrote with a close circle of writers. Before then, my writing had been for myself, you know. I started to experiment with public performance in the form of spoken word & collaborations with other artists—even still, I never called myself “a writer.” After college I moved home to Los Angeles, California & was working in an interesting & lucrative career field but I was writing bullshit for corporations and yearned to truly create from a place of intention. So, I enrolled in a PhD program, sold most of my things to move to Austin, TX and never looked back. Now, I am a writer.

I refer to myself as a poet and scholar, giving equal weight to both. Teaching in the classroom plays just as central a role in my life as wiring literary criticism and poetry.

 

CH: I’m currently reading Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era, which of course you recently co-edited. Encountering its discussions of elegies that refuse both consolation and narrow boundaries of time and location has been quite an enriching experience for me. How has the experience of editing this book influenced you?

SM: Oh, it has been beautiful and heavy. I’ll simply say that this project has reaffirmed my dedication to working against oppression and violence in all of the spaces I inhabit.

CH: I recently read your poem, “upon reading the autopsy of Sandra Bland,” and first would like to congratulate you on it being a finalist for the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize. I love the way this poem uses etymology and definition to explore alternation of meaning as it investigates and grapples with its subject. The poem is in the form of a justified block of text in which phrases are separated by a slash (“/”), which made me think of the way poems with line breaks are quoted within prose. How did you arrive at this form for the poem?

SM: Thank you. I am so humbled to have been named a finalist—its beyond my dreams!

I have to tell a quick story about this poem! I first wrote this in response to Kenneth Goldsmith’s abhorrent, offensive reading of Mike Brown’s autopsy report as “poetry” to a Brown University audience in 2015. I was so distraught by Sandra Bland’s death. We were the same age. Her arrest and jailing happened two hours away from where I live, on a road I drive often. She was an outspoken activist. She loved black people. She believed in the transformational power of education. She was resilient and inspirational. I didn’t know her, but I feel like she was my sister. She is my sis and I loved her. So, I read every damn word of her autopsy report. Gosh, this was on Christmas Eve (morbid, I know) and I was in a work session with my homegirl, painter Beth Consetta Rubel, and we was vibin. I was in the zone. I wrote this poem in two hours & have never edited it since. It came out in a trance & I remain astounded that I am able to honor her in this way.

This was my attempt to recapture the beauty and brevity of Sandra’s life / to honor breath / to breathe / to acknowledge an afterlife / to unravel the structures that bound her / to identify all the ways one can asphyxiate: miscarriages – economics – policing – mental illness – black womanhood in a white supremacist nation / to release her from all that shit.

Yes, this is an etymological poem that pivots along the varied meanings of “ligature” and “furrow.” I was thinking about how the language of the autopsy report tells us everything and nothing… the language is useless in reviving the dead, useless in telling the truth of it. Although it is a poem about meaning, I think it is a really a poem that reaches beyond meaning, if that makes sense.

Last thing I want to say is that poem was chosen by Patricia Smith as finalist for the Gwendolyn Brooks prize. I submitted it for this purpose alone. I knew that she was also writing exquisite “autopsy poems” & I hoped that she would get it. She got it. I am so honored to have had her read and anoint this poem.

CH: How do you make room for your creative endeavors during the busy academic year? What advice would you give someone struggling to find that work / creativity balance?

SM: I have no balance, really. I’ve been in a dry spell with my poetry for too long & I’m really frustrated. I am in the early stages of my career as a professor in a tenure-track role & this job is all encompassing. There are teaching demands, publishing demands, and service demands. This means that for the past year or so I’ve been focused on other kinds of writing: I published the co-edited book, two essays, and a couple of book reviews. I try not to be hard on myself for producing less poetry because shame is useless and debilitating. I try to tell myself that I am building other muscles for the time being and will be stronger when I rec-enter poetry in my life. I am headed to the James Baldwin Conference in Saint Paul de Vence, France for a creative writing workshop in the summer & I am so excited to rediscover my poetic voice.

CH: Who are some writers that changed the way you looked at language and writing?

SM: I return to Langston Hughes at different stages in my life. He is so deceptively simple, so pure in his love & hope for black people, and unabashedly critical of oppressive power. Hortense Spillers and James Baldwin are master essayists I look to. Evie Shockley & Douglas Kearney are some of my favorite contemporary poets—I think I share their experimental sensibilities. Brenda Marie Osbey & Sonia Sanchez teach me the power of chant and repetition and pacing. Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Keats, and John Milton have taught me something about formal rigor and beautiful images. Steinbeck’s opening pages of East of Eden rocked my world as did so many of Morrison’s openings—Paradise, Sula, and The Bluest Eye come to mind. I consider two books my literary bibles: Lucille Clifton’s Collected Poems and Zora Neale Hurston’s Collected Letters. Both of these writers teach me about authentic voice & the unabashed celebration of black womanhood.

CH: What are you working on now?

SM: I’m working on two monographs. The first is a critical study of Kendrick Lamar’s work. The second is what I’m calling a critical history of the African American elegy.

CH: What do you read for pleasure?

SM: Fiction. I have about four novels on my nightstand at the moment. I adore the detective novels of Chester Himes, the speculative fiction of Octavia Butler. I return to Baldwin/Morrison every other summer, reading their respective bodies of work in full. I love everything Kiese Laymon has written. Right now, I’m about halfway through Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, it is marvelous.

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

SM: Right now I’m toggling between Chad Bennet’s Your New Felling is the Artifact of a Bygone Era, Faylita Hicks’s Hood Witch and AI’s Vice. Additionally, I’m teaching with Rampersad’s Oxford Anthology of African American Poetry, so I’ll be reading nearly the entire volume over the next few months.

A Virtual Interview with Michelle Iskra

Michelle Iskra will be the featured reader Thursday, January 9. 2020 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Michelle Iskra earned an M. A. in English Literature from Texas State University and has taught English at both Austin Community College and Cedar Park High school for sixteen years. She’s a writer, painter, educational consultant, researcher, and lover of cats.

The Interview

CH: What first drew you to writing? When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer?

MI: The first original story I remember writing down was about a stegosaurus named Tego in second grade, but I was always making up stories and annoying adults with them. Four wonderful, encouraging teachers were instrumental in my becoming a writer.

Reading was an important part of my daily life as a child. My first chapter book was Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince; I identified with the prince’s being marooned and alone in a foreign place. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder was also an early favorite. I wanted to write like these novelists, but had no idea how to go about it.

CH: What do you remember about your earliest encounters with poetry? When did you begin to identify yourself as a poet? 

MI: My grandmother on my mother’s side was very kind and attentive to me. She taught me to play the piano, to develop my own style, to appreciate the arts, and to take care of myself. She and I would write letters back and forth, and in mine I included poems from Wordsworth and Keats, T.S. Eliot, and many others. I loved their vivid imaginings and facility with language, fascinated by meter and rhyme and the beautiful economy of it all. I didn’t actually write any poetry until I was in high school. It was a shaky thing to actually call yourself a poet except to people who wouldn’t betray your confidence.

CH: How has your work as a painter influenced your perspective as a poet? Is that influence bidirectional?

MI: I learned to paint as a result of my efforts to grow closer to my elder son, who was 10 and taking art lessons at the time. I loved to draw, but when I tried painting, I was very disappointed with the result. I kept practicing because of him and eventually discovered that I could transcend my own ideas about what I was supposed to make. As I became what I think of as a receiver of the work I was doing, emptying my mind as I went about it, the work became exponentially better. This simultaneous detachment and connection through painting, and the simple practice of making art, improved my writing. Writing sends me back to the canvas. I can paint when I can’t write, and the opposite is also true. The experience is strange and wonderful.

CH: I imagine your schedule as an instructor at both Cedar Park High School and Austin Community College must be a hectic one. How do you balance your professional and creative lives?

MI: This is the fundamental challenge of creative people: how do you make a living while developing work? There have been semesters in which I’ve taught 9 classes between the two positions (a full time position is five). I was grumpy because I was tired all the time and wasn’t making any art. Even without the extra stress of such a semester, it’s a constant challenge to restrict the planning, reading, and paper marking to a particular number of hours per week so that I’m making art weekly, as well. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but the necessary discipline is still a work in progress. 

CH: How do you nourish yourself as a writer?

MI: I’m an introvert and need alone time every day to stay sane. I try to get outside as often as possible, seeking to avoid thinking about anything for a little while. Being in nature inspires me, as does reading and being around calm, intelligent, inquisitive people. I also love cooking and other creative processes. I’ve kept a journal for over twenty years, writing each morning as meditative practice. Working through thoughts, ideas, and feelings on the page helps make sense of them and provides material for poetry and other work.

CH: How has your writing been influenced by the process of teaching and mentoring others?

MI: When you work with other people, especially in areas (like writing) where they naturally feel exposed and vulnerable, your own flaws also emerge. People are both complex and simple; all of us are revealing and hiding ourselves by turns. My students and mentees have influenced how and what I think, feel, and write about, gradually shaping my ideas about what needs to be said or implied, and what needs no mention. Compassion and empathy are important each time I write anything, but they can be hard to summon if I’m not making art and listening to myself.

CH: Who are three of your favorite poets to teach?

MI: Pablo Neruda, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Claude McKay are three of my favorites because they are so skilled, yet many students find them accessible. All of them have something important to say that needs to be heard, but each of them approach poetry in stylistically distinct ways. Students are constantly amazed that you can say so much, so beautifully and sometimes painfully, in so few words.

CH: What three things would you tell someone who is starting out as a poet?

MI: Rainer Maria Rilke broke the mold with what became Letters to a Young Poet, and his advice still rings true: be kind to all you meet for we are all fighting a hard battle, never stop practicing, and be courageous in facing your life. 

CH: What are you working on now?

MI: I’m working on two projects: the first (and most pressing) is a book on teaching poetry and poetic language in middle and high schools. The creation of poetry at those levels is regularly discussed, but analysis and interpretation is not. My students struggle to learn these skills in the one year I have them and I feel qualified to address the problem. I have plans to start a blog and podcast in support of it.

The second is a novel about family secrets and the problem of traditional Western power based on gender and race. 

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

MI: My writing group recently read aloud Rebecca Hazelton’s Fair Copy, which was marvelously inventive; Robert Pinsky’s compilation, Essential Pleasures, has been a recent choice for classroom work, and I frequently reference poets.org, poetryfoundation.org, and the Library of Congress Poetry 180 project website.

A Virtual Interview with Natalia Trevino

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),

Born in Mexico, Natalia Treviño is the author of the chapbook, VirginX, which was a finalist for the open chapbook contest with Finishing Line press. A professor of English at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, she was raised in a Spanish speaking household and learned English from Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. Her awards include the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, the San Antonio Arts Foundation Literary Award, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize for Poetry, the Menada Literary Award at the Ditet E Naimit (Dee-tet EH Nah-ee-mit) Poetry Festival in Macedonia, and several others. Her first book, Lavando La Dirty Laundry, was a national and international awards finalist. Natalia’s poems appear in BordersensesBorderlandsThe Taos Journal of Poetry and Art, and other journals and anthologies.

The Interview

CH: It’s hard to believe it’s been five 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?

NT: I also cannot believe it has been five years. So much has happened—to both of us. Since the last time I came to share this space, I’ve lost a parent, my father. It’s been a very difficult time. My writing sort of halted as I felt very deflated even though I know my work with the Virgin was spiritual preparation for something big. I didn’t think it would be that big or that close, but I knew I was on the verge of a loss of some sort. I imagined it was the loss of my beloved Tia Licha who I write about in my first book. She’d been such an inspiration to me and was a living connection to my grandmother, her big sister. That could be the only explanation for so much miracle, so much direct and divine intervention as I was diving into my study of her.

The loss of my father was completely unexpected. I was had lunch with him in my home on that last day of his. I had just come home from a trip abroad to study and write about the Virgin. I am just now getting back on track with my work with her and with my other projects. Grief is most definitely best understood through creativity. It has been a reflective time. Thankfully, my poetry group meets consistently, which means I churned out several new poems since then, but they are all over the place, about teaching, about my cat, about the chasm that is in my consciousness now in the world without my father. It has been a challenge.

CH: I read on your website (http://www.nataliatrevino.com) that you are working on a new collection of poems about Mary, and it was lovely to be able to read one of the poems (“Between Wings”). And contemporaneous with the 2nd Thursday reading in December, BookWoman will be having its annual Virgin Day Celebration in honor of the Virgen de Guadalupe.  Please tell us a little about how Mary resonates for you, and about the inspiration for this new project.

NT: Thank you for the kind words and the research, Cindy! And I’m thrilled the reading fits in with Virgin Day at BookWoman. It is such an honor to bring my poems about the Virgin to any audience because she is more than the mom of a really nice man who was crucified for being a really good guy, a spiritual coffee cup, waking people up about their inner lives and their socio-spiritual responsibilities. Among other things, Jesus told us we are all God’s children, all brothers and sisters, and he liked peace and humility, and a rule of law that was based on compromise and respect. He did not want us lusting after wealth or prizes or power. The realm within is what he was helping us to understand, but He also cared for the poor and for children, for marginalized people. Sadly, he’s been twisted into someone who represents the homophobic jerks who hoard wealth and funds illegal materialistic wars. He can’t be happy with his characterization and how he’s been pimped out by corrupt leaders because this claiming of him to justify war and pompous self-righteousness so contradicts the very simple sentences that he emphasized: live without sin. Sin is dicking over your friends, family, and community: dicking them is doing the same thing to God, and that’s not good. It is the worst form of self-harm.

The Virgin is a much bigger being than a saint or relative to Jesus, and not only because she was used to replace Tonantzin by the Catholics, and not only because she’s the symbol of Catholic purity, the Mother of Jesus, Blessed among women, but also because, like all women, she’s linked to us all genetically and is a reminder that yes, we actually are brothers and sisters. She is linked genetically to Mitochondrial Eve, the maternal ancestor to all living humans, and so are all of us.

There is a common factor in our shared genetic being, and all woman are the sacred portal to life through this ancestral communion with life, original human life. This is true especially for women, not only if we become mothers, to send that genetic message forward, but because we are from mothers, connected to the source no matter what our reproductive choices are. Being aware of our cosmic ancestry going back to Mitochondrial Eve is a portal to Life, and with the big L, I mean Spiritual Life: the awareness that we are all deeply connected to one another through one actual mother. How is the Virgin mixed in with this? That is the miracle. She is a once-human-body that has transcended humanity, as all of our ancestors have, and who I believe is aware of us and her own connection to the Spirit Mother-Father, what some will God, the Creator.

We all have the DNA from Mitochondrial Eve, and we would not be alive without it. This is passed only through the mother line. Our ancestral mother, the mother of all mothers lived 200,000 years ago according to a study from Rice University, and she’s alive in each of us, literally in our spit, semen, and eggs. She’s in our tear ducts! She’s in Mary’s DNA too, and the Creator Goddess (who else) built this system of people.

Our indigenous ancestors and family members already know this. The goddess, Mother of God, is the Origin of Life, and science says all life begins in the ocean, in water, which has almost the same rich saline solution as the salt in our first nest, the amniotic sac, which was at 2% saline. The ocean is 3%, but this is so interesting. Salt water is necessary for life, for birth, and somehow also necessary for all foods to grow so that plants, humans, and animals can survive. Fresh water is absolutely essential for all of these life forms too. How can we not pay attention to that when we talk about the Mother of God? She’s liquid. She’s in our many ducts, aware of us and calling for self-care and compassion for ourselves and for others. This is the message of the Son, right? The Santeria religion, which is a blend of Catholicism and West African Yoruba practices call have syncretized their water goddess Yemaya/ Yemoja with the Virgin as well.

Mary, La Virgen is, like all women, tapped into that enormous power, and represents that power so beautifully, as she’s the one who was chosen to be named the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven. It’s in our DNA to connect to one another to assemble as a group, and many can do it through the idea of a Mother Goddess. This is why she was accepted by the indigenous people of the land that is now called Mexico. They said, “Oh, that’s how you see HER? OK!” And we have the matachines devoted to her every December  8th, the day she appeared to Juan Diego.

The thing is that all mothers are linked like a constellation, or better yet, a power grid to this great source, and so are all of their children. I know this sounds wildly heretical, but it’s also exactly what John said in John 3: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and we have not yet been shown what we will be in the future.” There is a lot of debate about whether this means we are automatically saved just because we are God’s kids. The line about the future evokes that question. The Second Coming is what most scholars say this future is about and yes, this is a factor in the Bible, judging those who lived in Christ— but to live in Christ meant be a good person. Believe that you must be a good person to reach spiritual feast and glory, and good means some basic things: do not hurt one another is number 1.

But who wrote the parts that said Jesus locks you out if you do this or that? Men. Men who wanted power. Jesus wanted us to love one another and His Mom. He wasn’t after power on Earth, was he? He was saying Heaven is for all of us if we are KIND to one another and look INWARD at our own sacred potential, sharing our material wealth with others so we can stop worrying about bread and begin worrying about our spiritual nourishment instead.

While dying on the cross, he looked at John; “Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” This is John 19. What a great son to know his mother so well, to see her real power and place in the world. I honor that.

Our Mother “es muy milagrosa,” my grandmother once told me. I see it now. My project is attempting to understand her better, and in so many traditions. There are over twenty two thousand Virgins who are all the same spirit, and each of those names, or identities are specific manifestations of her miracles. I understand there are many ways to access her, and I hope to understand this more by examining her representations created by humans in their inspired creative works. They looked to her miracles in their world, felt her resonance with all people as the Mother of God and all of us too, and found women around them who could represent her to model as her. They see her in their own mothers or lovers or muses. Looking at how artists adorn her and tell her story inspires me with a lifelong project of deepening my faith, taking in art, and tapping into the eternal thing I’ve always loved about literature: the complex, sometimes broken, but everlasting human spirit— in all of us!

CH: I understand you are teaching at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio. How do your students surprise you? How does teaching inform your own work?

NT: My students are so much smarter than they think they are. Once I build an atmosphere of trust, they tell me what they know. If they do not trust me, they will stay shy and not reveal their knowledge to me. If they do not trust me, they will never tell me what they need and what they don’t really know, and so with trust-building, we begin, and I also use trust move them forward with so much excitement.

They already receive a mass of information. They read all day long, not textbooks, but yes Twitter feeds and status updates. They are reading, communicating, connecting, making meaning, making new words, working out what ethos they will follow, working out who they will believe. My job is to show they how they can do it on a different scale, an academic one, so they can be degreed.

Why do most of them want a degree? It is not to discover mysticism or realism or humanism or even Chicano power. Most want to move along on the socioeconomic ladder that they feel is holding them back. I know I did when I was their age. How would I own a home one day? How could I be wealthy? I wanted to hoard and save like my father did, so I could one day take great vacations, travel, and of course, own a swimming pool. My students want these things too. They think things will bring them happiness and they have lost their faith in teachers. What surprises me is when they do trust me because I work on this every semester. Being in their lives is sacred work.

They are all multi-lingual and mostly bicultural like me. Most community college students are nepantleros, between two worlds: culturally. Once we talk about this idea of Gloria Anzaldua’s, they know we are being real and that they can be free to share their world in the classroom.

What surprises me most is when they trust me with their story, when they volunteer to share a personal worry or story. One of my students lost his father this year. He announced this during our Dia de los Muertos event. It has been less than two weeks. I started getting teary and shakey as I responded to him, but thankfully we were all talking about our dead, and we had a positive, communal Die de los Muertos altar that they had voluntarily built in front of us, a ceremonial space which made it beautiful. He added a picture of his dad to it. He wanted us to all know it had just happened the week before. I am doing the most important work I can do, helping my students gain confidence to share their voice. Their voice is their super-power.

CH: You have many roles in life: professor, writer, mother. How are you creating balance? How do you make time for your own writing amid the demands and commitments of work and family?

NT: This is always a struggle. It’s midnight as I type this interview and I need to be at work tomorrow at 9 a.m. There is a ton of grading waiting for me on my desk. It’s 4 a.m. when I do my best prose writing —sometimes on a Sunday morning when an idea wakes me up— or a hot flash!. Sometimes I tell my husband, “Don’t talk to me until I come out of our room” or “Don’t talk to me until Sunday.” He is fantastic and extremely generous about these requests. He understands how important it is to me to have time to write. I would not be the writer I am if it were not for his generosity and faith in my work, which has been there from the beginning. We met writing letters to one another. He is a writer too, but he is so selfless that he makes the space for me to create what I want to create. He will make dinner, clean up, and even give me alone time to write when we have a short vacation or a weekend together.

It’s just the two of us now, and we are learning it together since my son has always been a part of the package. I am in a new stage of motherhood now, which kind of feels like a break up, but not the angry kind, the I know you need to go kind. It’s nature. He’s moved out. He’s 21. It is so hard to miss him as much as I do, but it is also a wonderful time in our relationship as we are honest with each other and support each other as artists.

He’s a musician, rapper, and college student. I can fall asleep without knowing where he is finally. It used to keep me awake! I don’t have ulcers from worry, but I do send regular texts telling him to quit smoking. Mexican moms hang on tight, too tight. I’m trying to resist making him dread his oppressive Mexican mother who is a ball of worry and doubt and fear. Yes, I have all that, but the other day I sang the 12 Days of Christmas to him in full opera style at dinner. He and my husband loved me enough to let me do this. I need singing lessons. We have fun, and I can enjoy a glass of wine with him now as I tread into this new space of motherhood that is about encouraging and guidance and not rules and mandates.

I find that through attention to my body, which has been so generous with me so far, that I am able to balance and remember why I am here. I am running three times a week and dedicated to walking long distances with my best friend at work every day. I am taking care of  health in numerous ways, not forgetting about my body as often as I used to. These active measures punctuate my week and my life now. My exercise routine is a keystone habit reminding me each day of my priorities: goals, work, family, not in that order.

Family is first, work is second, writing is third except for when it is first, and family does understand that sometimes writing is first.

CH: In a section labeled, “finding purpose,” your website has an intriguing discussion of the term mutualism. along with the statement, “Mutualism describes the relationship between my writing and my life.” How did you come to your understanding of mutualism? How has adopting this concept made a difference in how you approach your own work, and working with others?

NT: I love the wisdom in the physical world. If a tree creates and gives me oxygen, I want some of that wisdom so I can survive like a tree does, giving something written to the world in return for its favors of light and air, Earth and water. I am happy to be a place for nests, a place that provides shelter for my students, friends, and loved ones, and perhaps also provide good fruit for my readers, if I am lucky enough to be that kind of tree. This can happen when I receive the gift of consciousness, calm, reasoning, and love, so can put forth more branches and perhaps be close to winged creatures that inspire me. My student just posted this wonderful line in his research paper where Chelley Seibert, a 25-year police veteran giving a TED talk, quotes Jana Stansfield saying, “I cannot do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good that I can do” (“Behind The Badge”). Yep.

CH: Tell us a little about your novel-in-progress, Drinking the Bee Water.

Oh, that is the marathon for me! I was so fortunate to have it accepted with the press of my dreams a few years ago, and then my agent advised me to pull it because she did not approve of the contract. It was the bravest thing I have ever done because I have been working on this novel for a long time and this was my desired press, the press that changed my life and introduced me to Chicano letters. The truth is the novel was not done, and pulling it was a good idea in the long run. I am reworking it after others have read it and said, “Hey, this is not done yet. Try this. Work on that.” Ok. I always tell my students to sacrifice the words for the work. The work is not done, and I am so excited about how it is going now, which is a sacrifice of words, a lot of them, thousands of them that need to be unstitched, reconsidered. Luckily, I have many new words inside of me, and I have some new possibilities for publication, but I have to see it through, which gets back to the work/life balance thing. The story about this woman, Berta, is too important to muck up.

CH: When we last spoke, Lavando La Dirty Laundry had just come out, and you were focusing on its launch and promotion in the world. Looking back, were there any surprises along the way? Was there anything you would have done differently?

NT: I am so pleased with how it went. Who can complain about a dream come true? My first book of poetry. I would gladly revise it now because I have grown as a writer, and some of the poems could use some nurturing and pruning, and this is also true for VirginX. My Macondo network helped me immensely with this book, and I have limited time to travel and promote it.

The next book will get more attention on this front. The more you plan before the book release the better the launch will go. I had no idea how to get the word out, and so I said yes to everything and everyone. There is no small audience, only a small performer. This is what a former music professor friend used to say. And with each encounter I have in sharing this book with others, I notice it has its own life, how it resonates with certain people who are navigating nepantla, the world in between cultures, languages, between heritage shame versus heritage pride.

CH: What are you reading now?  

Research papers. HAHA! Yes, I do read a lot of student work, revisions, revisions, and reflections and drafts. But for my own work, at the moment I am reading ire’ne lara silva’s  Cuicacalli (Saddle Road Press 2019) and an early copy of Wendy Barker’s Gloss (Saint Julian Press, out in January 2020). These are my two favorite poets, and it is an honor to also call them my friends. They are a huge factor in the mutualism idea I mention in my website. They are great trees who bear important fruit and nutrients for me. I can honestly say that they have had a deep influence on my work.

In fiction, I am reading Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III, who I met at Gemini Ink last summer, and this book, which is so out of my normal reading range, it is shedding light on all kinds of things, showing me something lyrical in the structure of a contemporary short story collection about how dirty love can get. I recently finished another book about love called Love by Hanne Ørstavik and translated by Martin Aitken from Norwegian (Archipelago Books, February 2018). It is about the limits of motherhood, a very powerful book gifted to me by my amazing friend, Gregg Barrios. It haunts me, but this is a good thing.

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.