Tag Archives: ire’ne lara silva

A Virtual Interview with Robin Carstensen

Robin Carstensen will be the featured reader Thursday, August 8, 2019 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Robin Carstensen’s chapbook, In the Temple of Shining Mercy received the annual first-place award by Iron Horse Literary Press in 2016, and published in 2017.  Poems are also published in BorderSenses, Southern Humanities Review, Voices de La Luna, Demeter Press’s anthology, Borderlands and Crossroads: Writing the Motherland, and many more. She directs the creative writing program at Texas A&M University-CC where she is the senior editor for The Windward Review: literary journal of the South Texas Coastal Bend, and is co-founding, senior editor of the Switchgrass Review: literary journal of health and transformation in partnership with the Coastal Bend Wellness Medical Center.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? As a young person, what about poetry engaged you? 

RC: Cat in the Hat books, nursery rhymes, jumping-rope rhymes, school yard rhymes, and songs.  I think the pleasure in sumptuous language engaged me.

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

RC: In my early memory scenes, I am writing short letters to my mother. With as much flair as I can conjure, I am asking for something, inviting some reconciliation. Early on, I felt the power of the written word on my livelihood, on gaining parental favor. I wrote stories, plays, and poems well into the night as my parents and little brother slept. That’s when I knew I was a writer. In middle school, I wrote stories by the light of a tall lamp post shining through the fourth story window of our brick quarters in Germany where my father was stationed. At various jobs in my young adult life, I felt compelled to write lyrical exposés of working conditions or real material lives of the people around me who needed better care, or poetic eulogies for the residents and cohorts at a residential care facility who had passed on. People seemed uplifted or comforted by my arrangement of words, and by my mid to late 20s my clear role as a poet was emerging.

CH: What role has your formal education played in your development as a poet?

RC: Very important role in appreciating and developing my craft, and embracing the depth, breadth, wisdom, and teachings of our diverse poetic roots and influences.  My formal education as an undergrad in the mid 90s, after five years in the Air Force and two years at Del Mar college, brought me a dear professor who would become my writing mentor for many years: Vanessa Jackson at Texas A&M University-CC. She introduced me to a luscious sensory world where I fell in love with the Romantics and Wordsworth’s riveting stories in verse in “The Ruined Cottage.” Through other wonderful professors who were expanding the literary canon, I studied poetry. Elizabeth Mermann introduced me to the mind-blowing heart-healing work of Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera, which resonated with my life on the borderlands of heteronormative society.  In another class, I was introduced to Audre Lorde’s poetry, essays, and biomythography, Zami, a New Spelling of my Name. Her lyric, sensual description of her childhood and her mother’s embodied force in her community held me from the beginning. I felt a kindred spirit with these writers and many others, and I felt their welcoming me and my unique voice and thoughts.

My doctoral program at Oklahoma State University where I concentrated in poetry was a rich, invaluable time in my life to study widely, deeply, intensely the history and traditions, theory, movements, and authors influencing our diverse contemporary poetry. I learned the joy in received forms, in reaching for and discovering pleasure in the unexpected through structure and pattern. The pantoum and ghazal in their use of recurring lines and refrain enchant me, as well the bending and fusing of received form with our 21st century concerns and expanded imaginations, consciousnesses.

CH: You teach a variety of topics at the college level, including environmental studies, borderland cultures, and gender and women’s studies. How does this work influence your writing life? How has your writing been influenced by the process of teaching and mentoring others?

RC: Radical feminism intensely influenced my work before and during my studies in Oklahoma. A few in this long list include June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich, Marilyn Chin, Lisa Lewis, Ai, and the lyric poetry in the novels of Jeanette Winterson. They teach me through their poetry, teaching, and lives to be daring and speak my truths. I learned that to create and expand knowledge is to demand and imagine better lives for everyone. It’s worth it to reach for the images, sounds, tone, the shape, pause, space, and breath of a poem to precisely convey our demands as well as our celebrations, to stand up for decency and create momentum that dissolves the rhetoric of fear. It’s worth our lives to know that if language can be used to breed the hate and violence that we see daily manifested in tragic forms, we also have language to imagine and manifest life-giving force. In the poetry of witness and resistance, especially in these borderland regions as we experience harmful political policy and rhetoric, I feel myself a part of a gathering force that is creating urgent change and that will not allow the pendulum to swing into full madness. In the meditative poems and poems of eros, in poems that soothe and poems that disturb, I also find love letters to humanity and am moved to write my own that might comfort, inform, shake someone up, help someone, including myself, connect to loving energy, community, and possibilities.

Teaching college courses and editing two journals especially brings me close to work from new, emerging, and established writers. I find much wisdom and inspiration in students, and am moved by their poems and narratives, which speak to our intersecting lives and complex challenges on a planet heaving through radical changes. I’m encouraged by their higher consciousness, daring affirmation in themselves and faith in better worlds to come, in the beauty they uncover and the love and fulfillment they envision and create.

CH: Tell us a little about In the Temple of Shining Mercy. Over what period of time were these poems written?

RC: These are semi-autobiographical poems that explore the landscape, culture, and history of Oklahoma and Texas. Intimate friendships and solitude help the speakers in these poems confront violence and embrace wild uncertainty. I’d been writing and publishing these poems in individual journals for over a decade, between 2004-2015. Since the full-length poetry manuscript had not found a publisher yet, I decided to try sending a much shorter version to two admirable chapbook series. The 30-page limit pushed me to discover a tighter shape of intertwining themes.

CH: What was your process in selecting and ordering the poems of In the Temple of Shining Mercy?

RC: Finding a story, a thread to pull them together, and which poems seem to speak to one another, and roll into the next pairing, unfolding a new conversation. (Really, sometimes it’s a mess trying to arrange, but in the end, after arranging and rearranging, something comes together that feels whole, and it’s a mystery and a relief!)

CH: What was your journey in getting this book published?

RC: Long journey over a decade. In sending the full length to many presses, I learned to embrace rejection, and to find strength and resolve from that space. I’m learning from wise poets, such as Ire’ne Lara Silva and Odilia Galván Rodriguez, who reminded me during one of her stirring workshops, to keep focused on our writing and not become preoccupied with the fame or status of publication or become disheartened by comparing ourselves with those winning the accolades. From wisdom, I’m encouraged to stay steady on my course. And I learned there are many ways to share our work, which is the whole point of “getting published.” We all want to share our thoughts and ideas, stories, and emotions. In the process, I have joined poets all over Texas and Oklahoma at writing conferences, readings, and festivals. I help coordinate the People’s Poetry Festival in Corpus, with our fearless leader and talented Tom Murphy. I enjoy helping writers find a place for their work in a journal that I co-founded, Switchgrass Review:  A Literary Journal of Health and Transformation.  I also enjoy leading a team of students to publish a journal of voices from South Texas and the Coastal Bend, the Windward Review. Along this community of energy and collaboration, I gathered the sustenance to continue working on and submitting my book, believing it would eventually speak to an editor who would want to help bring it to a wider audience.

CH: How do you nourish yourself as a writer?  

RC: I’m fortunate to have a circle of close friends who are my family and who are each uniquely artistic, kind, and encouraging. I’m also nourished through road trips, reading, music, swimming, watching clouds, movies, meditating in many forms, being with my community of poets who are my extended family, and the beautiful island campus where I get to create new curriculum, and be inspired by students and colleagues.

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

RC: Remember to enjoy doing your art. Be fearless in your writing, leap across chasms. Read other poets and writers across the spectrum.

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

RC: Michael + Josephine: A Novel in Verse by Jo Reyes-Boitel. An inventive, enthralling lyrical love story, gorgeously written, offering an expansive vision for the many shapes and possibilities of love.

A Virtual Interview with ire’ne lara silva

Poet and fiction writer ire’ne lara silva  will be the featured reader on Thursday, June 11, 2015 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for June’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.

Background

ire’ne lara silva lives in Austin, TX, and is the author of furia (poetry, Mouthfeel Press, 2010) which received an Honorable Mention for the 2011 International Latino Book Award and flesh to bone (short stories, Aunt Lute Books, 2013) which won the 2013 Premio Aztlan, placed 2nd for the 2014 NACCS Tejas Foco Award for Fiction, and was a finalist for Foreword Review’s Book of the Year Award in Multicultural Fiction. Her newest work, Blood Sugar Canto, is forthcoming in 2016 from Saddle Road Press

The Interview

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

ILS: For a very long time. Since I was eight, at least. I was taking an afternoon nap and had a nightmare that shocked me out of sleep. There wasn’t anyone to comfort me, and for the first of many times, I reached for pen and paper to write it all down and get it out of me. We didn’t have any paper in the house, so I ended up writing my story on a brown paper bag.

Until that moment, I hadn’t known I wanted to write. I fell in love with the alphabet my first day of kindergarten. Words and books came soon after. I was a reader in love with every new book.

CH: You have published full-length books of both poetry and fiction, in addition to chapbooks of poetry. How would you describe yourself as a writer? Do you consider yourself primarily a poet or a fiction writer … or does your identity as a writer lie in a different area?

ILS: I like being described as a poet and short story writer, but before it’s all done, I want to add essayist, novelist, and children’s book writer. I’m good with WRITER, but I think other people might always think of me as POET first. Which I don’t have a problem with—sound, music, and intensity will always be my first concerns in relation to language. As Jeanette Winterson says in her collection of essays, Art Objects, I don’t think there has to be such a strict division between poetry and prose. It can all be poetry. And it can be prose when it needs to be.

CH: How does your work as a poet influence your fiction? How has your fiction writing influenced your poetry?

ILS: Each of them give me room. Poetry gives me space to be personal and auto-biographical. Fiction gives me the space to be imaginative and to write stories that are like the long and involved story problems that poke and prod at different scenarios and resolutions. They both use concentrated and rhythmic language, but they give me space to enter the other freely. I’m never confused about what a piece is going to turn out to be. Whatever it looks like at the end, whether it’s poetry or prose, it’s free to be what it is.

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?

ILS: No practice—other than what I call my guerrilla writing strategies. I write whenever and wherever I can, in as much time as I have. No special time, no special place, no special rituals. I always have a pen and my composition notebook on me, though I much prefer to write on a computer or laptop (mostly cause I can’t read my own handwriting!). I’ve written poems and stories and eventually, entire books this way. My work schedule and my caregiving responsibilities don’t give me the ability to dedicate long hours or entire days/weeks to my writing.  My greatest dream as a writer is a very simple image—a shelf of books with my name on the spine. I point myself in that direction to focus and get oriented.

Each book has been a different journey and a different experience, but each one, at the time I was writing it, was vitally important to me as a person—sometimes as a release, sometimes as a way to figure out what transformation or healing meant, sometimes as a way to strategize my next steps. I think life and writing inform and enrich each other.

To become a writer, I’ve lived. And struggled and rested and had my heart broken. To become a writer, I’ve read voraciously and pursued friendships with others who have also loved language and all the questions this life poses us. I’ve gone to workshops to learn from others and I’ve challenged myself to expand my skill set—as a writer setting words on the page and as a writer living in the world—promoting work, writing reviews and interviews, coordinating readings, offering workshops, all of that.

CH: I have attended workshops where you have had participants throw a grito—a very visceral, powerful experience of embodied voice. How does the grito figure in your work?

ILS: A grito—thrown while sober—is pure voice, pure essence. My thinking with the workshop has been that if you can find the place inside you where your unique grito resides, then you’ve found the place where your unique voice resides. And if you can learn to pull and throw out sound from there, then you can learn to pull emotion and language from there too. So much of the struggle to ‘find’ our voices is actually about learning how to release it from all the constraints that we, our families, others, and our society has put on it.

CH: I understand Saddle Road Press will be publishing Blood Sugar Canto next year. How would you describe this new book? What motivated you to write it? How long did it take you to write it?

ILS: Blood Sugar Canto is a full length collection of free verse poetry that discusses diabetes, family, and individual and communal healing. I was diagnosed as diabetic and started on insulin 7 years ago. I wanted to write about my experience of diabetes and illness—but also I wanted to talk about the need to vanquish fear and all fear-based approaches to healing. I profoundly believe that fear is never healing, that we do injury to our spirit and our lives if we do everything out of fear. I started writing it in the beginning of 2011 and finished it by the beginning of 2012. I spent three more years revising it and looking for a publisher.

CH: How did you find the publishers for furia, flesh to bone, and Blood Sugar Canto? What advice would you give aspiring authors about finding publishers for their work?

ILS: The writing of each book has been completely different—and so has each experience of publication. I actually had a poetry manuscript that I gave up on. I spent seven years sending it out without success. I did put together two chapbooks, ani’mal and INDiGENA from poems in that collection. In 2010, I saw a call for a chapbook contest from Mouthfeel Press. I decided to put together what I would want for a third chapbook, and I decided that if this chapbook didn’t win, I would publish it myself. Furia won. As it was too long for a chapbook, Mouthfeel decided to publish it as a full-length collection.

I wrote one of the first sentences for the short story collection in 1993 and the first draft of the first story in 1996. It wasn’t until 1998 that I decided to jump into the story-telling with both feet.  In mid-2004, I’d finished the first draft of the entire collection. Over the next eight years, I revised it—added stories, deleted stories, tightened the language, transformed the stories. I didn’t keep count but I received at least 20-25 rejections for it, though the rejections became more encouraging in tone with time. I submitted it to Aunt Lute Books in 2011 and heard back in 2012 that they wanted to publish it.

As for Blood Sugar Canto, I spent 2012-2015 revising it and submitting it to different prize competitions and presses. At the end of those three years, I signed a contract with a press. Sadly, we had different visions of the book. Fortunately though I soon found another publisher, Saddle Road Press out of Hawai’i.

I have no idea what the journey’s going to look like for the next book. I am curious to see if it ever gets easier.

My advice for aspiring authors looking for publishers: Read. Find the publishers who are publishing the books you love. Work your ass off learning about the kind of journey you want your book to have and what kind of journey you want to have as a writer. Lastly, trust. Trust that if you hold true to what you believe, then your work will find the right home.

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

ILS: Toni Morrison. Audre Lorde. Jeanette Winterson. Francisco Alarcon. Ana Castillo. e.e. cummings. The Bronte Sisters. Lorca. Juan Rulfo. This list could go on for a very long time. They’ve impacted me at every level—from how I think about language and what I think language can do to the choices I make about which stories to tell and how to tell them. I love them all for their brutal honesty and rawness and music.

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?

ILS: For some reason, this is the most difficult question to answer—especially if I have to figure out when the beginning of my writing career was.

At 8 and up until I was 21, writing was succor and escape. I needed it to survive. There is no advice to give myself other than “write.” I didn’t fully commit myself to writing until I was 23. For my 23-year old self, I would say, “Keep on writing, and follow the story you want to write.” I spent many years facing what felt like heated opposition to my way of writing and to the stories I wanted to tell.

Or, if the beginning of my writing career is just before any of my books were published…when I was 34, then I would say, “Hang on and keep on going, because writing books is crazy and wonderful and you’re going to learn so much.”

CH: What are you reading now?

ILS: I just finished Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child, and while it was wonderful to slip backinto her language, I just wasn’t all that moved or affected by it. (So disappointing.)

I’m in the middle of reading Deborah Miranda’s poetry collection, Raised by Humans, recently published by Tia Chucha Press. Amazingly fierce personal and political poems. Truly astonishing. And I’m about the plunge into Rios de la Luz’s  The Pulse Between Dimensions and the Desert. I am so intrigued by the description and it was recommended to me very highly.