Category Archives: border

A Virtual Interview with Griselda Castillo

Background

Griselda Castillo will be the featured reader Thursday, June 9, 2017 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX

Griselda Castillo is an unapologetically bilingual poet and creative nonfiction writer from Laredo, Texas. The youngest daughter of Mexican immigrants, she is a first-generation American and explores her Mexican-American heritage and identity in much of her work. Her poems and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Spark + Blink, Unlikely Strangers, Chachalaca Review, and the di-vers-city anthology.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? What is your first memory of writing?

GC: My first memory of writing goes deep. I don’t remember how young I was but I remember watching the cool important people writing. The scientists on TV, the news anchors shuffling white paper, David Letterman’s note cards. Were they blue?

As a kid, I would pretend I was a scientist taking notes that were really just scribbles. I would play news anchors with my little brother. We wrote stories about what had happened at the house or in the neighborhood that day and reported them later. Top stories were us making fun of our other siblings and stuff.

My first memories of poetry are more ambivalent. Kinda like my poems, surprise! I remember the initial complicated feelings that pushed me to frustration and thinking just say what you mean. Get on with it. I also remember seeing my sister write poems with abandon. And how she was the only one in the family who I ever saw writing more than their homework. She shared them unabashedly too. She used to call the radio station, recite a poem to the DJ…and get it played live on the radio! Fearless. Those are my two first memories of poetry as an art form.

CH: When did you first begin to think of yourself as a writer? as a poet?

GC: Probably in college. I was a theater major at first but quickly questioned if that was the right path for me. I was very disappointed in the lack of diverse roles and the rigor of the major was sort of ridiculous to me. Having come from a fine arts high school, I expected something a bit more… well collegiate. But it felt too chaotic for me.

I took a poetry and politics class that was taught by 3 professors who lectured and discussed with students during the same one class. We read and learned about Vietnam, watched Apocalypse Now and read Douglas Anderson, The Iliad and The Odyssey. I felt my world shift. I saw with eyes for the first time. Through the cross pollination of all of that media, I got Vietnam. It was a thing in our consciousness. I also began to understand how I could convey what I contained in a controlled context. And how, when a poet can articulate all those things well, it feels powerful. It moved the important things within you. I’ve always asking myself: How does this poem mean to get to where it wants to get?  And then we sort of figure it out together.

CH: Your bio describes you as both poet and creative nonfiction writer. How do these two passions inform one another?

GC: It’s the pearl and oyster scenario. With poetry, there is always this nagging particle. Something I mull and mull and ignore but can’t get rid of so I roll around until it starts to form. With creative nonfiction, it’s more about the oyster. There is more of a process or narrative, more thinking , more flesh and shell, more story. Can’t have one without the other.

CH: How has growing up along the border shaped your writing? How does place figure in your work?

GC: Border towns are…interesting places. But you don’t know that until you leave them. While you are in a border town, you are blinded by the border town drama. Almost everyone is brown, all the business signs are in Spanish, everyone speaks Spanglish: in other words not great English or great Spanish. Menus are in Spanish but everyone orders in English. It’s a bizarre spot.

When I left for school, I experienced great culture shock and was exotic. The latter was not a great feeling. I learned about people’s weird relationships with their parents and other people and also realized how poor my schooling had been at times. My grammar is still terrible! I was writing more sterile poems during that time because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into being a Hispanic writer. Didn’t want to become gimmicky. I was also young and didn’t have the experience or reading brain needed to write the kinds of things that painted my interior self.

But then I got homesick and homesick for the Mexican-ness of what makes up my “poet home.” In hindsight, I realized the richness from where I came and found fertile earth. The search from my severed roots led me to an understanding of the how the border weaves in and out of my identity and writing.

CH: How has your experience as a first-generation American shaped your work?

GC: I think it’s that border town bizarreness again. When you are in Laredo you’re a not really Mexican. When you are not in Laredo, you are very Mexican to others. And to make things even more confusing, when I say Mexican, I really mean Mexican-American. It was odd growing up as an American in a Mexican home that happened to be in America. I think that propels the treatment of identity in the poems.

CH: As a bilingual poet, you live with the music of two languages. How has this influenced the sonic landscape of your work?

GC: This is an area I am still developing an ear for. I write by instinct and nostalgia, always enamored with image. So the sounds in my poems flow like underground rivers. I feel them more than know there are there.

CH: What do you do to nurture yourself as a writer? What paths have you taken to deepen your skill?

GC: This is a hard fucking thing to do. I am still learning how to nurture myself so I can nurture my writing. It’s hard. I am sensitive, combative, but want to take care of everyone. I’m sure my husband loves that about me! 🙂

But when there is cause for a poem, I get tunnel vision. It sit down to work for hours at a time, doing intense editing, handwriting draft after draft, until I leave it to rest for a while. What I am getting better at is coming back to them quicker. Writing in stints vs bursts. I feel more enjoyment from the writing when I can write that way. I also self-imposed a sabbatical at my brothers house one time to finish something. I want to do more of that. Removing myself from the world to write. Just writing that felt good.

CH: What is your writing process like? How do you make room for writing in your life?

GC: I ruminate a lot. I like to see stuff. Remember. I talk about ideas with Jim. Pull stories out of the depths of my parents. Then I get to work. Making room for it is tough though. I write for a living and the demands of that sometimes leaves little stamina for myself. I want to balance that a little better. Make enough money to be able to.

CH: Tell us a little about Five Voices One Brush. How did you get involved with the project?

GC: I never thought I would be a part of this amazing collaborative. I read poetry with Terry Dawson, a man with a very groovy past, and Joe Morales who is a Grammy winning musician. Joe puts together the trio, Terry puts together a very diverse set of poets and Chris Rogers does live painting to it all. It’s very cool and we hope to get the word out about it some more.

I write much differently for that. More of my performer side comes out. The outfit, hair and make up. I let the poems go loose for Five Voices One Brush and imagine the jazz band when I’m building my sets. The amazing thing about the collective is that it’s the poets that anchor the show. The jazz follows the poetry. We never rehearse! Yet it all works out. It gives me the most prized feelings: freedom and confidence.

CH: Who are some of your favorite poets? What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

GC: I love Saul Williams, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Sylvia Plath less and then more again, John Berryman, Robert Haas.

A Virtual Interview with Liza Wolff-Francis

Liza Wolff-Francis will be the featured reader for the 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) on Thursday, June 9, 2016  from 7:15 to 9:00 p.m.

Background

Liza Wolff-Francis is a feminist poet and writer with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She was co-director for the 2014 Austin International Poetry Festival and a member of the 2008 Albuquerque Poetry Slam Team. She has an ekphrastic poem posted in Austin’s Blanton Art Museum by El Anatsui’s sculpture “Seepage” and her work has most recently appeared in Poetry Pacific, Edge, Twenty, Border Senses, the Di-verse-city anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival, and on various blogs. She has a
chapbook out called Language of Crossing (2015, Swimming with Elephants Publications), which is a collection of poems about the Mexico- U.S.border. Every day she eats both popcorn and dark chocolate and she currently lives in Albuquerque, NM.

The Interview

CH: When did you first become interested in writing? When did you start to think of yourself as a writer?

LW-F: I began writing in a Ramona Quimby diary when I was twelve. At thirteen I had a diary named Felicia, which I named after a popular red haired girl in seventh grade. I confided quite a bit in that diary. From those diaries on I always wrote, but I’m not sure I really took myself seriously as a writer until about ten years ago and at that point I really knew I needed to keep consistently writing. It became so important to me that I couldn’t not do it.

CH: What was your first exposure to slam poetry? How did you go about getting involved in the slam scene? How has that experience shaped you as a writer?

LW-F: The National Slam Championship came to Albuquerque in 2005 and Albuquerque won. I went to watch many of the competitions and realized slam could be motivation for writing and also that my writing could improve with community input. Plus it seemed fun. I began to read my poetry, then to memorize it, then to compete. I was suddenly surrounded by community and art and felt a real push for creativity. Slam has opened my ears to many voices I might not have otherwise heard. It has also shaped my poetic voice to always be conscious of an audience.

CH: What motivated you to get an M. F. A. in Creative Writing? How did you go about choosing Goddard?

LW-F: I wanted to get an MFA to be able to write better, especially in fiction. I chose Goddard because it was a low residency program and it was liberal. I wasn’t able to move somewhere else and liked the adventure a low residency program afforded. I found Goddard at AWP (when it was held in New York) applied there and nowhere else, got in and went. It felt like the perfect school for me.

CH: What changed in your writing as a result of the M. F. A.? What was its single biggest gift? Its biggest drawback?

LW-F: The MFA focused me in on my writing even more. I believe it helped my writing improve. It also introduced me to many wonderful writers I would not have otherwise known. I enjoyed my experience but I don’t know that everyone has to get an MFA to be a writer or to improve their writing, that was just something I wanted for myself.

CH: There often seems to be a schism between “stage poetry” and “page poetry,” but you have inhabited both worlds. What has been your experience moving between these worlds?

LW-F: This is always an interesting question and one that continues to come up. I love both performance poetry and page poetry. I think some performance poetry is really meant for performance and that is where it really shines and there is definitely some “page” poetry that would be enhanced if the reading/performance of it was improved. That said, if there is a meet in the middle coming together of the two, I think it can reach more people, bring people together, and be really fun and dynamic as well as improve the craft. At this point in my life I have people from both camps in my life and enjoy that. I definitely think slam poetry has made poetry more accessible to voices of people of color and that I think is not only necessary but amazing.

CH: I know you identify strongly as a feminist poet. How does your feminism shape your poetry?

LW-F: My writing is informed by the fact that women’s voices, writing, and work is undervalued and often dismissed and ignored. My writing voice adds another woman to the canon of writers and often advocates for gender equality both directly and indirectly.

CH: Tell us about your new chapbook, Language of Crossing. What inspired these poems? How did you decide on collecting this group of poems for the chapbook? How did you go about finding a publisher for your work?

LW-F: I work with Spanish speaking immigrants in the U.S., who are primarily Mexican. I have heard many stories over the years about border crossing and have seen the effects that undocumented border crossing has had on people. I wrote a play on undocumented border crossing from interviews I did in Los Angeles after 9/11 about people’s experiences crossing the Mexico-US border and at the time wanted to bring attention to the issue. When teaching a workshop in southern Tucson at a border conference, I began to write poetry about the border and border crossing and the fence. I was seeing these issues still present and that people are still dying at the border. I wanted to call attention to the issue from a poetic perspective hoping people would be able to feel compassion and learn about the humanitarian crisis that has been and continues to be going on there. I wanted to help push education about immigration- hoping eventually there will be even more of a push for immigration reform. Swimming With Elephants Publications sees the issue as important and one that has been silent; they were excited to publish the chapbook and raise awareness about the issue.

CH: Like many women, you have many roles, including mother, partner, professional. How do you fit writing into your life? What is your writing practice like?

LW-F: My writing practice at this time in my life fits in where I can fit it in. I try to write every day, though that doesn’t always happen. I write best early in the morning so when I can, I wake up and go to a coffee shop or hide out in my office at home for a couple hours before work. Days that I can’t do that, I write at night. I know it is impossible for me to leave writing behind so I make time for it where I can. I feel happier when I write regularly.

CH: Please name some poets whose work has influenced yours. How has your work been shaped by theirs?

LW-F: There are so many poets who have influenced my work over the years, including local poets who I have read with, through slam or at open mics in different places and of course some of the bigger names as well. It’s hard to make a total list so I’ll just name a few who I have been enjoying recently like Lucille Clifton, Sharon Olds, Tony Hoagland, Patricia Smith, Robert Haas but I have also enjoyed Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and many more. Truthfully, there are some poems and poets that call to me at different times and have influenced my writing more at different times, but I think every poem I have ever read or heard has influenced me in some way. It’s that power of poetry.

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

LW-F: Juan Felipe Herrera’s Notes on the Assemblage.

A Virtual Interview with Donna Snyder

Poet Donna Snyder will be the featured reader on Thursday, January 8, from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for November’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.

Background

Donna Snyder publishes work in literary journals and anthologies throughout the United States and on-line, and has presented readings in Sitka, Alaska, Venice and Santa Monica, California, Boston, New York City, Denver, and throughout New Mexico and Texas. Her book reviews appear in Red Fez, the El Paso Times, and other venues. She is a contributing editor to Return to Mago, an international webzine which since 2012 has featured a continuing series of her poems based on the divine feminine principle and the role of women in world culture. Her poetry is featured monthly in VEXT Magazine, a webzine of international art and literature.

Virgo Gray Press released her chapbook, I Am South, in 2010, which was resissued in 2014. In 2014, Chimbarazu Press published her collection Poemas ante el Catalfaco: Grief and Renewal. NeoPoiesis Press will publish her book Three Sides of the Same Moon in 2015. She is working on a poetry collection for Slough Press.

Snyder’s work as an activist lawyer advocating on behalf of indigenous people, immigrant workers, and people with disabilities has garnered multiple prizes and recognitions. She founded the Tumblewords Project in 1995, and continues to coordinate its free weekly workshops and other events.

The Interview

CH: I gather from your biographical sketch that you’ve been in the El Paso area for some time. How long have you lived in El Paso? Where else have you lived?

DS: In my early thirties, while living in Santa Fe, by some fortuity I joined a series of writing groups led by established writers Miriam Sagan, Joan Logghe, Judyth Hill, and Natalie Goldberg. I wrote mostly stories, linked together by recurrent characters and place. Joan gave me a bilingual book of poems by Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo. This book changed my life, introducing me to a type of poetry that appealed to both mind and heart. Another factor was moving to Las Cruces, where I read each week at an open mic. No one there had a preconceived notion that I could only write fiction, so I started writing more poetry. Once I began the Tumblewords Project, weekly workshops that focus on writing on the spot and reading aloud, I found poetry was easier to create in that format.

CH: Living in a border city offers unique opportunities and challenges. How has living on the border influenced your work? What kinds of collaborations occur between artistic groups on the two sides of the border?

DS: Living aqui en la frontera, here on the border between Mexico and the US, has had a major impact on my poetry. I speak, write, joke, argue, and think in el idioma fronteriza, that is, Spanglish. The sound and rhythms of Spanish permeate my writing, without conscious thought or intent. This area is or was home to some of the greatest Chicano/a writers: Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ben Saenz, Arturo Islas, Denise Chávez, Pat Mora, Ray González, Ricardo Sánchez, José Burciaga, Lalo Delgado, Juan Contreras, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Sergio Troncoso, Daniel Chacón, Ana Castillo—the influence is pervasive.

As for bi-national collaboration between artists, from its inception Tumblewords has been a tri-state project, with participants from New Mexico, Texas, and Chihuahua, incorporating Mexican writers, artists, musicians, actors, and playwrights into workshop presentations, performance events, and art shows. For years a young man rode his bicycle across the international bridge every Saturday to write in the Tumblewords workshops. There have been other bi-national projects, such as Free Hole Slam and BorderSenses, to name just two. Moreover, through collaboration with universities and arts groups on both sides of the border, Tumblewords presenters have been from throughout the US, from Los Angeles and San Francisco to New York City and Washington D.C., from throughout Mexico, as well as from Chile, Peru, Cuba, Hungary, Jamaica, and Hungary.

CH: The last two decades, the news about Juarez has frequently been terrible: the murders of hundreds of women; the rise of the drug cartels and violence associated with them. How have El Paso’s literary and artistic communities responded? How have ties between the artistic communities in Juarez and El Paso been affected by the changing social landscapes on both sides of the border?

DS: The Juárez terrors-femicides and narco wars-and the post 9/11 difficulties imposed on border crossers have reduced bi-national projects to some extent. Everyone in Juárez has been affected, and consequently also friends, families, and colleagues throughout El Paso. Many artists I know are also activists. We demonstrate on both sides of the border, on the bridges, in front of the consulates. Our writing and art serve as testament to the lives lost, the disappearances, the terror endured, the anguish suffered.

CH: How has your work as an activist lawyer influenced your poetry?

DS: Working as an advocate for indigenous people, immigrant workers, and people with mental and physical disabilities blew the borders of my small-town-Texas mind to smithereens. I was able to attend college and law school courtesy of scholarships, loans, my tips from waiting tables, and support from my family as was feasible. Nonetheless, working for and with my clients and colleagues provided a much more direct understanding of the cruelty and stupidity of racism and other forms of exclusion. All of my experiences increased my awareness of the defining differences and commonalities of diverse cultures, and expanded my concepts of the nature of reality, spirit, religious beliefs, philosophy, surrealism, and more, all of which has undoubtedly fed my writing.

CH: 2014 has been a busy year for you, with the reissue of I Am South by Virgogray Press and the publication of Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal by Chimbarazu Press. And Three Sides of the Moon is coming out in 2015 from NeoPoiesis Press. Tell us a little about these books.

Virgogray Press, located in Austin, first published I Am South as a chapbook in 2010. Michael Casares had read my poetry on-line and asked me to send him a few dozen poems. He chose the ones he liked, put the poems in order, chose a title and voila! This year Virgogray reissued I Am South as a perfect bound book.

Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal also came about by the publisher’s invitation. Guillermo Echanique, a performance poet from Brooklyn, started Chimbarazu Press by releasing a few digital books. He, too, was familiar with my work from reading it on-line, and had seen me perform in New York City twice. After my husband died suddenly at age 54 in October 2013, Guillermo contacted me with the concept and title, part Spanish and part English, like my poems. The first half addresses grief born from personal bereavement, public tragedies, and catastrophic events. The second half of the book reflects recovery from grief through creativity, productivity, and loving relationships.

Three Sides of the Same Moon is slated to come out next year from NeoPoiesis Press, of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. They issued a call for submissions and I sent a manuscript relates to women’s roles as goddess, crone, and oracle, the source of abundance, law, writing, healing, and wisdom, and the erasure of those concepts by a violent and misogynous culture.

My most recent good news is that Alicia Winski has informed me that she wants her press, Seattle-based Nightwing Publications, to publish my next book, whatever it might become.

CH: Talk a little about the collection you’re working on for Slough Press. Are other collections also in the works? Do you see your series in Return to Mago eventually becoming a book?

DS: Chuck Taylor asked me to send him a hundred or hundred and fifty poems. He chose several dozen and sent them back to me with instructions to edit them as I saw fit and put them in order. The manuscript contains earlier poems, and so needs more work than my more recent manuscripts. I have great respect for Slough Press, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, and want to transform this pile of papers in a manila folder into a strong collection worthy of publication.

I am a contributing editor for poetry for Return to Mago, an international webzine that addresses the divine female principle and women’s roles both currently and throughout history. The other editors have honored me by publishing a number of my poems that address these issues, several of which will be included in Three Sides of the Same Moon.

CH: You’ve had quite a bit of success finding publishers for your work. How have you gone about identifying candidate publishers for your work? What is your process for readying a manuscript for submission to a publisher?

DS: I have been extraordinarily fortunate that three publishers have solicited manuscripts from me. The book with NeoPoiesis Press is the only manuscript I submitted in competition with other writers, and without denigrating the value of my work, I consider myself lucky to have mine chosen. I have been reading NeoPoiesis authors for almost a decade. I own several of their books. I also have Slough Press books, and scads of other books from small, independent presses and far flung writers. I contribute to anthologies and journals, and have over a hundred publication credits to my name. “Cast your bread upon the waters” is the single Bible verse that has stuck with me these decades after leaving church behind me. If you want to be published, you need to buy books by other writers, support independent publishers, and submit individual pieces of your work for publication.

As far as preparing a manuscript, I begin by combing my computer folders and throwing potential poems into a folder with some general title such as goddesses or physics or raza. When I feel that I have gleaned most of the poems pertaining to the subject, I print them out and read them, revising as I go, then shuffle them like cards, shuffle and read, shuffle and read. The sequence of the poems is fluid, and I’m not sure where it comes from, some intuitive place, I think, more than calculation. I print out the revised versions and read them through. At this point, I create a Word document and copy and paste the poems into that document, hard page breaks separating each poem, and making the font, spacing, margins, and other format matters uniform. I create a prior publication list a page for a dedication and another for acknowledgements, then add pagination and a table of contents. All this said, I’ve only prepared two manuscripts of my own, and one chapbook for another person. So my advice may or may not be of value.

CH: Name five of your favorite poets.

DS: This list can change from day to day, or even hour to hour, but perennial favorites are Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca. At the moment, high on my list would be Will Crawford, Petra Whitely, Phibby Venable, Luke Buckham, Eduardo Galeano (who is technically a historian, but his histories are poetry). Oh, I see I named seven. Math has never been my strong point.

CH: 2015 will be the 20th anniversary year for the founding of the Tumblewords Project. What inspired you to found it? What has sustained you in continuing to be engaged with it?

DS: I modeled it after writing groups in Santa Fe using a series of timed writings, each followed immediately by each person reading aloud what had just been written. After attending my workshop at the first Border Book Festival in Las Cruces, two women from the New Mexico Arts Division took me to lunch and on the basis of a handshake and a subsequent telephone call, I received funding for my first series of weekly workshops. From the beginning prominent writers were willing to both present and participate. In 2001, after the death of my 44 year old partner, I quit writing grant proposals, and ever since have paid presenters by passing the hat. Nonetheless, renowned writers from across the US have been willing to present workshops and give performances year after year.

Tumblewords is a gift to the community, but also a gift to myself. New people continue to come to the weekly workshops I organize, while others have been coming throughout two decades. Writing and reading aloud improves a person’s craft. Hearing other writers read aloud is a learning experience. Weekly participation creates a large body of work and extensive lists of publication and performance credits.

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

DS: Lupa and Lamb by Susan Hawthorne