Category Archives: political poetry

A Virtual Interview with Jim LaVilla-Havelin

Jim LaVilla-Havelin will be the featured reader Thursday, June 14, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Jim LaVilla-Havelin is an educator, arts administrator, community arts advocate, consultant, critic and poet. His fifth book of poems, WEST, POEMS OF A PLACE is recently out from Wings Press. LaVilla-Havelin is the Poetry Editor for the San Antonio Express-News and the Coordinator for National Poetry Month in San Antonio.

LaVilla-Havelin retired in 2013 after seventeen years as the Director of the Young Artist Programs at the Southwest School of Art, to write, teach, and consult. He teaches Creative Writing in the Go Arts Program of Bihl Haus Art, in the Writers in Communities program at Gemini Ink, where he teaches at the Cyndi Taylor Krier Juvenile Correctional Treatment Center, and in the BFA program at the Southwest School of Art, where he teaches The Image of the Artist in Literature and Cinema.

He has offered workshops, classes, and public programs for the McNay, San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio Independent School District, Georgetown Poetry Festival, Gemini Ink, and many other sites . He lives in Lytle, Texas, (the “place”,of  “poems of a place” with his wife, artist, Lucia LaVilla-Havelin.

The Interview

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

JL-H: My mother read me Robert Louis Stevenson’s A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES and Mother Goose rhymes, Burl Ives and Belafonte/Odetta/Makeba  and Lenya/Weill poem songs, and Odgen Nash and of course, Dr. Seuss. (That I’m not writing doggerel is a testament to William Carlos Williams and Walt Whitman.)

I was writing stories and puppet plays in third grade, and from there, never looked back.

CH: When did you begin to identify yourself as a writer? as a poet?

JL-H: Consciously, or probably self-consciously, in high school. It was kind of an affectation,  except I was writing, reading voraciously, listening to Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsberg. And wrote a novel when I was in high school (that is, thankfully lost forever). Went off to college as an anti-war radical and a writer (pretentious).

CH: I’ve recently been reading your collection, Counting (Pecan Grove Press, 2010). I was struck by the way these poems engage with the larger world, their social consciousness. How has the theme of social consciousness developed in your work over time?

JL-H: Social consciousness has been part of the work forever. Levertov and Piercy, Merton, Gandhi, Whitman, the Beats, Dan Berrigan, Grace Paley – they were all a significant part of my writing life, shaping my sense of the engaged, committed, writer. And while that has changed some over the years – as radicalism has shifted,too. My work is always political.

CH: Tell us a little about your newest collection, West: Poems of a Place. What got you started on this project? How does this book differ from other work you’ve done?

JL-H: WEST, poems of a place, is a book by a city poet who now lives (and has done for fourteen years now in the country. It is about adjusting my eyes. It is different from other work I’ve done in the way that country life is different from city life. It Is much more about the space of the West, the look of a place, the time of it. I think my earlier work was grounded in place and places, and in multi-sensory observation, but I think the country has cleansed my palate (or is it the palette that it cleansed?)

CH: You’ve long been involved in the community as a teacher and an arts advocate, and you’ve been very active as a “literary citizen.” How has this public commitment to arts and to poetry informed your own work?

JL-H: I hear new work. I find great energy and inspiration in teaching, workshops, students of all ages. I listen closely to the sounds of the poems of others and am amazed at how many ways there really are to look at a blackbird. The work gives me hope, sound, courage and often outrage to keep working at my own writing. (It isn’t so different from the social consciousness – in fact it may be my 21st century version of social consciousness.)

CH: What are some of the things you have learned from your students?

JL-H: Given that I work with students across the lifespan – and in a variety of settings, the lessons are varied and rich – from my Golden’s (senior citizens) to my Juvenile Detention kids to Young Women’s Leadership Academy girls, to fellow writers in many workshops I’ve taught –so just a few of the lessons

  • rage and loss fit on the page with the joy in letting them loose
  • memory is a sharpen-able tool
  • every writer will crack it open when they’re ready
  • there are ways to help folks get ready
  • my voice, my poems, my solutions to problems posed in work are generally only about half-right for most students
  • that half is good enough

CH: Thinking back to your early work as a poet—perhaps to your first book, or earlier—what’s changed in your writing? What threads are constant?

JL-H: I love language, words, the sound of words banging against one another. I love the look of a poem on the page.

What’s changed? The scene, my sense of time (both the local-rural time, and aging time). I think I’m more playful now (though that’s up for argument. Probably my definition of the “meditative quality of writing” has shifted some. (again that’s about time.)

CH: What are you working on now?

JL-H: Many projects – a double-chapbook called Will Be a House / Will Be a Book –

dedicated to my father (house) and my mother (book) is done, looking for someone to love it; PLAYLIST a ten year project, finished, in the hands of two very good readers – a narrative poem about jazz; the second book of a five book sequence of narrative poems which started with SIMON’S MASTERPIECE. So I’m onward to the third book (hoping it doesn’t take 10 years)

CH: Who are some of the poets to whose work you turn, time and again, for inspiration?

JL-H This list is very long. It starts with William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman, Philip Levine,and Pablo Neruda. But includes local and regional poets, friends.

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

JL-H: THE LAST SHIFT by Philip Levine; VOICES IN THE AIR  by Naomi Shihab Nye and books or manuscripts by Charles Darnell, Linda Simone, Laura Quinn Guidry, and Michelle Hartman.

A Virtual Interview with Michelle Hartman

Poets Michelle Hartman and Ann Howells  will be the featured readers on Thursday, March 9, 2017 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX).

Background

Michelle Hartman is the editor of Red River Review and author of three collections of poetry: Disenchanted And Disgruntled (Lamar University Press, 2013), Irony and Irreverence (Lamar University Press, 2015), and, in 2017, The Lost Journal of My Second Trip to Purgatory (Old Seventy Creek Press). Her work has been featured in the Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas, and appears in such journals as Slipstream, Plainsongs, Carve, Crannog, Poetry Quarterly, The Pedestal Magazine, Raleigh Review, San Pedro River Review, Concho River Review and RiverSedge.

The Interview

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

MH: As soon as I learned to read. Books became my salvation early on and I wanted to be a part of that fantasy. Book reports for school. It was the only homework I didn’t have to be forced to do.

CH: How did you become drawn to poetry? When did you begin to identify yourself as a writer? As a poet?

MH: I originally started with creative non-fiction and fiction. But I really sucked at it. I met Ann Howells at a workshop and she suggested working with poetry, to refine my use of words and voice. When I discovered poetry was no longer dead white guys, and what you could do with it, I was hooked for life. I didn’t identify as a writer until my first real publication.

CH: What was your path to becoming a published poet? As a poet outside of the academy, how have you nurtured yourself and grown your craft?

MH: Well, like everyone else I started with journals getting into more and more and better titles. Workshopping with the Dallas Poets Community, we also help each other with submission info; who’s new, or what kind of stuff they take. Most of my friends are writers, artists and professors. I’m always asking questions and learning. I read incessantly.

CH: Your background in political science and law makes itself evident as subject matter in some of your poetry (I am in particular thinking of the poems of Irony and Irreverence). How would you describe the influence of that background on your work?

MH: Poetry is a fantastic vehicle in that you have a tiny window; in which you have to grab the attention, set up the situation, then lead the person to the point you want to make. I call it the 4g’s of writing: get in, get down, get back, and get away. We live in the land of 15 seconds. We Tweet and Snapchat. If you want to make a point it needs to be fast, easy, and funny. Almost as sharp and quick as a political cartoon, it can go places where the big book or dissertation cannot. Also as a paralegal, I’ve seen slices of life that most have not.

CH: Your poetry is known for its humor, and I certainly find that element in your work. But sometimes the humor is in service of opening the reader to difficult subjects—for instance, the first stanza of “suicide note” (in Disenchanged and Disgruntled). Please tell us a little about the humor in your work.

MH: I learned to be funny early in life. If you could make mother laugh, you had substantially better chances to avoid a beat down. Same influences caused my humor to be very black in nature. The British would say dry and classy but I’m thinking more Sahara and white trash. Using humor, you can get away with more. Take Stephen Colbert. If he just opened each night with a straight list of all the things Trump does wrong, he wouldn’t last a month. But he makes it funny and Bam! Ratings out the wazoo! Humor is that little bit of sugar Mary Poppins use to sing about making the medicine go down. As far as “Suicide” I’ve always laughed at Death. I find its place in our society is hysterical.

CH: Lamar University Press published your first two collections, Disenchanted and Disgruntled and Irony and Irreverence. How did you go about finding a publisher for these books?

MH: Wow, you caught me on this one. I actually was rocking along with journal publications and happy as a fat tick on a big dog when out of the blue this guy contacts me on LinkedIn. Says, I see you are a poet do you have a book? Well, I was gonna say no, but I talked to Ann and she said you have plenty enough poems. Sure enough there was about 84 in the first book and most of those had been published. Lamar was just starting their press and wanted to find writers without going through the slush pile experience. So I’m really an example of how social media is playing a bigger part in the writing life now. The second books came about at the Langdon Review weekend reading. I had the room rolling and afterwards Jerry Craven of Lamar came up to me and said, do you have a book of those funny poems?

CH: Tell us a little about your most recent book, The Lost Journal of my Second Trip to Purgatory. How does it relate to your previous work? Over what period were these poems written?

MH: It is probably impossible for Lost Journal to be any more different than my first two books. But they were great training grounds for that type of writing. Some of the poems in this book appear in earlier works. I’d been dancing around this topic for years. But a few years ago I got very ill and was stuck at home in a really low period. No time like the present as they say and I really didn’t think I could get any lower so I let it all out. It took about two months to write all of the book and organize it. Took three years to get it published.

CH: You’re currently publishing collections at a pace of one every two years. What is your writing practice like?

MH: Again this is probably not what you want to hear. I binge write. I once wrote an entire chapbook when the cable went out! But in my head, it is constant. That second voice commenting and describing. I have a chapbook coming out this April based on the works of Edward Hopper. I wrote it in one week.

CH: In addition to being a poet, you’ve also long been an editor of Red River Review. How has your experience as an editor shaped your work?

MH: It makes me want to be a better submitter so another editor is not cussing my name in absentia. But usually it makes me feel very inadequate. All my reading makes me say why can’t I do that.

CH: Who are some poets whose work has influenced yours? What is the last book of poetry that your read?

MH: Alan Berecka, Tony Hoagland, Travis Blair, Alan Gann, Ann Howells, Wilfred Owens, Siegfried Sassoon, A.E. Housman, and T. S. Eliot. Last read was a manuscript by Travis Blair, based on his life in Hollywood.

A Virtual Interview with Victoria Garcia-Zapata Klein

Poet Victoria Garcia-Zapata Klein will be the featured reader on Thursday, July 9, 2015 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for July’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.

Background

Victoria Garcia-Zapata Klein is the author of 3 collections of poetry: Peace in the Corazon for which she won the Premio Poesia Tejana, Another Water Bug is Murdered While It Rains in Texas, and her latest book, Te Prometo, which debuted in February 2015. Her work has appeared in the anthologies, This Promiscuous Light, Cantos al Sexto Sol and Penguin Press’s first Latina collection ¡Floricanto Si¡; it has also been featured in the San Antonio Express-News, The Current, Backbeat MagazineThe Texas Observer and by NPR. Originally from San Antonio’s west side, Garcia-Zapata lives and writes in San Antonio’s Art Deco District with her family.

The Interview

CH: How long have you been writing? How did you become interested in writing?

VGK: I’ve been writing since grade school. I first became interested in writing in Ms. Evans’ 2nd grade class where she had us memorize and recite poetry. Before that I became interested in language when my father first introduced me to Shakespeare at the age of 3. This was also when he taught me how to read. Then I was able to sneak into my mom’s bedroom closet and read her original poetry. She was my first influence as a poet who code switches.

CH: You have had success in both slam and page poetry worlds. How do these two worlds come together in you? Do you consider yourself primarily a spoken word artist or a page poet – or some combination of both?

VGK: I feel that I am a combination of both page poet and spoken word artist. This comes together for me in that I only write about what I feel passionate about. Although I respect and admire slam poets, I don’t consider myself a slam poet. I simply read with emotion.

CH: Your new collection, Te Prometo, came out just this year from Paloma Press. Tell us about this book and how you came to write it.

VGK: I started writing my latest collection of poetry, Te Prometo, with the title poem, after I’d been contemplating how I came to be suicidal and enraged. I knew I needed to write in order to heal. At first I had the poems all mixed up and lumped together. Then it started to formulate. The book is in four parts. The first section, El Amor, starts out with an erotic love poem for my husband, “Ode to Your Giving,” and ends with “A mi mujer,” which explores my bisexuality. The second section, La Verdad, is about my paternal grandmother and ends with a prayer-like poem, “La Virgencita Speaks to Immigrant Children.” The third section, La Muerte, is mostly political poems and the last section, El Horror, deals with child sexual abuse.

CH: You have been writing for some time, and Wings Press published your full-length collection, Peace in the Corazón, and your chapbook, Another Waterbug is Murdered While It Rains in Texas, in the 1990s. What was different for you in publishing Te Prometo from the earlier volumes? How has your writing evolved over time?

VGK: It was so much harder to publish Te Prometo than my earlier work. Due to the subject matter and content, publishers were afraid of getting sued. So I felt silenced all over again when it came to any abuse I had endured. As for the evolution of my writing, I spent so much more time editing and revising. Almost a year producing it and getting it ready for publication.

CH: What is your writing practice like? How have you gone about envisioning and creating your books? What have you done to develop yourself as a writer?

VGK: I usually write late at night. I write with a pen in journals. Then if I feel a poem has come from the writing I rewrite the core of the poem then revise it. I don’t usually type until I’m ready to polish and finalize it. After I’ve written something I feel needs to be shared I put all of my time and energy producing a collection to formulate into a book. My first book addresses domestic violence, the second one, mental illness and the third, child sexual abuse. These are all subjects which people don’t like to talk about, and that is what I’m trying to change. I want to create dialogue and awareness. As far as developing myself as writer, I have taken master classes in creative writing with Pat Mora, Gary Soto, Joy Harjo, Martin Espada, and Sandra Cisneros. I was part of Macondo before it was named Macondo.

CH: Your work has appeared in a number of anthologies, including This Promiscuous Light: Young Woman Poets of San Antonio (1996) and ¡Floricanto Sí! A Collection of Latina Poetry (Penguin, 1998). How did these experiences shape your life as a poet? Where do you like to submit poetry (outside of manuscript form)?

VGK: I don’t usually submit my poetry anywhere. I know I should. I’m just terrible about it. The last anthology I submitted to was the forthcoming, Dress Codes co-edited by Tammy Gomez and Crystal Dozier. I’m really honored to be included in this project. Being included in the other anthologies helped shape my life as a poet in that my poetry reached a larger audience.

CH: Name at least three writers whose work has influenced yours. How would you describe their influence?

VGK: There are so many writers who inspire me. Three writers whose work has influenced me would be Sandra Cisneros, Tammy Gomez, and Robert Karimi. All three writers write from a deep and genuine place. The honesty is what inspires me. It gives me the courage to write raw to the bone. I write for people not academia, not for awards but to be rewarded with having an impact on someone else’s life through poetry. I want to give others the courage to share their stories.

CH: If you could go back to the beginning of your writing career—before any of your books had been published—what advice would you give yourself?

VGK: I’m not sure what advice I’d give myself other than to make more time to write more often.

CH: What are you reading now?

VGK: I’m currently reading The Pulse Between Dimensions And The Desert by Rios De La Luz.

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

VGK: The last book of poetry I read was The Possibilities of Mud by Joe Jimenez