Tag Archives: Sandra Cisneros

A Virtual Interview with Liliana Valenzuela

Background

Thursday, September 10, 2020  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for meeting information.

Feature Liliana Valenzuela is the author of Codex of Journeys: Bendito Camino (Mouthfeel Press, 2013) and several artisan chapbooks. Her poetry has appeared in Edinburgh Review, Indiana Review, Tigertail, Huizache, Borderlands, Drunken Boat, and other publications. She has received writing awards and recognition from Luz Bilingual Publishing, Austin International Poetry Festival, Drunken Boat, Indiana Review, Austin Poetry Society, and the Chicano/Latino Literary Award, and has held residencies at Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow and Vermont Studio Center.

An acclaimed translator of U.S. Latinx writers Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Denise Chávez, Dagoberto Gilb, Cristina García, and others, Valenzuela was a guest of honor at the Congreso de la Real Academia de la Lengua Española in Córdoba, Argentina, in 2018. An inaugural CantoMundo fellow and a long-time Macondo Writers Workshop member, she writes poetry, essays, journalism, and is currently working on a memoir. She is the former editor of ¡Ahora Sí!, the Spanish publication of the Austin American-Statesman and is now a staff translator for Aparicio Publishing. A native of Mexico City, Valenzuela lives and works in Austin, Texas.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry?

LV: My great aunt Josefina in Mexico City was a practitioner of the art of “declamación,” where people learned poems by heart and recited them to a live audience, in this case, us family. I remember how the room fell silent and she commanded that space with her verses, and held us, spellbound.

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

LV: In my senior year in college I took a course on Experimental Women Writers at UT Austin and it blew my mind. I did not know women could write like this and could be so daring. I bought copies of Writing the Natural Way and The Artist’s Way and spent the whole summer after my B.A. graduation in Anthropology writing. Poetry is what came most naturally to me.

CH: How did you begin your journey as a literary translator?

LV: When I had my first child, I was looking for something I could do from home. Translation work started arriving, and I found that it was easy for me, as I’ve always had an affinity for languages. I speak Spanish, Danish, English, and some French. And, almost immediately, I realized I wanted to translate literature. I reached out to Sandra Cisneros, whom I had befriended when she lived in Austin in the late 80s, and the rest is herstory!

CH: How has your work as a translator influenced your work as a poet?

LV: Translation makes you a very close reader of literature and finely attuned to the rhythms and cadences of language. And, from the start, I was writing my own poetry and short stories in both languages, translating myself back and forth. So, translation was there from the beginning. And it continues to be a big part of what I do. My latest collection is fully bilingual. I translated myself from English to Spanish, and four different translators translated my work from Spanish into English: the late Angela McEwan and Fred Fornoff; and G.C. Racz and Arturo Salinas.

CH: Both titles of your poetry books identify them as codices. Would you tell us a little about the role of the codex in your work?

LV: I’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Aztec codices, and ancient manuscripts in general. I’m drawn to that primordial instinct of our ancestors to leave a written record of their creation stories, myths, historical records, and even basic accounting. This is my own codex, my testimony of an immigrant’s life in the late xx and early xxi centuries.

CH: Tell us a little about Codex of Love. How did the poems of this book come about? How does it relate to your earlier book, Codex of Journeys?

LV: These were actually a single codex, a single manuscript. The opportunity arose to publish Codex of Journeys first as a chapbook, so I went for it. And this year I published Codex of Love, which includes 5 books or sections. Codex of Journeys is really the 6th section. These codices belong together. Codex of Love is the poet looking within, and Codex of Journeys is the poet looking out to the world.

CH: You were for some years editor of ¡Ahora Si! What has your journalistic experience brought to your writing?

LV: It was a tremendous education in writing fast and on a deadline, and in being connected to community. I am deeply honored that people let me into their lives and homes and trusted me with their stories, those unsung heroes who are building Austin’s prosperity. I also got to interview fantastic human beings, such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucía, and the Colombian pop star Juanes, among many others, which was incredibly inspiring.

CH: How has participation in CantoMundo and the Macondo Writers Workshop figured in your development as a writer? What would be your advice to a novice writer who’s looking for writing community?

LV: When I was starting out, there was no real community where I could just be myself, that satisfied all my needs. That changed first with Macondo, where I found artists and thinkers of all backgrounds seeking social change, and then in CantoMundo, where I found poets of our many latinidades, different ways of being and singing your latinx song, in your own voice. My advice is to keep trying until you find the right fit. And the more you give, the more you receive. We are only as strong as our bonds with fellow writers and, ultimately, our audiences.

CH: How do you nurture yourself as a writer? How have residencies, such as those you’ve held at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow and the Vermont Studio Center, contributed to your reaching your goals?

LV: Besides attending workshops at Macondo and CantoMundo, I contribute to the Hablemos Escritoras Podcast (https://www.hablemosescritoras.com/), where I keep educating myself about women writers from the Spanish-speaking world. I’ve contributed book reviews, interviews with literary translators and writers who are also literary translators, like myself. Residencies are also a priceless opportunity to sit back, reflect on your path, and let stories germinate. Or pour out of your heart writing something you’ve longed to write. This summer I was at the Tasajillo Residency out in Kyle, Texas, in a cabin in the Hill Country, where I translated some short stories by Kimberly King Parsons, from her collection Black Light. That time out in nature during this pandemic was heavenly.

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

LV: Tiawanaku: Poems from the Mother Coqa by Judith Santopietro, translated by Ilana Luna (Orca Books, https://orcalibros.com/en/books/)

A Virtual Interview with Viktoria Valenzuela

Viktoria Valenzuela was the featured reader Thursday, October 10, 2019 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Viktoria Valenzuela is a creative nonfiction poet human rights activist whose work appears in such publications as Poetry Bay, Mutha Magazine, AMP (Hofstra University), The MALCS Journal, and A Prince Tribute Anthology: I Only Wanted One Time to See You Laughing. Valenzuela is an educator, a Macondista and the organizer of 100 Thousand Poets for Change: San Antonio, Texas. Her writing keeps keen focus on Chicana mothering as decolonization and political action. Valenzuela and poet Vincent Cooper have six children and live on the Westside of San Antonio.

The Interview

CH: What first interested you in writing? What is your first memory of writing?
VV: My first interest in writing was a natural desire for me. I was a very inquisitive child. I remember sitting on the carpet in kindergarten learning how to spell the word “zip”…. There was a cartoon drawing of a St. Bernard dog who was zipping up his jacket and my old teacher was really putting emphasis on the Z sound to pronounce the word as she read it, “Zzzzip!” I was taken by how easy it was to create sound with these funky lines and squiggles. It was a monumental moment where art met sound in these things called letters… I wrote Zs and Ss everywhere. Later, when I learned to write down words then sentences, I wrote poetry (or songs) about beautiful things like flowers, rocks, or love poems for my dad…
I was always a writer. Dad saved some of those poems in an old suitcase for 30+ years. I didn’t realize I was always a writer and poet until recently when my old high school buddies reminded me that they have journals and yearbook entries with poems I wrote for them. I don’t remember writing these at all but apparently I’ve been a poetry-tagger.
CH: When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer? As a poet?
VV: I didn’t think of myself as a writer until I was in my late 20s. I’d always considered myself an artist. I double-majored in Studio Art and English for a creative writing degree at community college when I went back to college as a single mom. While there, I took to hosting a bimonthly open mic event in 2003. Poetry just took over. I stopped pursuing art to be a creative writing major when I made it to university.
I began to think of myself as a “real writer” when I was featured at The Sterling Nature Center by my good friend, the poet Charles Itzin, who also asked me to speak at his college class as a poet. Before then, poetry had been just a fun hobby but these moments .
CH: I know that you write creative non-fiction as well as poetry. How would you describe yourself as a writer? Do you have a primary identity as a writer?
VV: I don’t believe I have a primary identity as a poet or CNF writer but I think most folks know me as a poet. I have two books of memoir that I’ve been writing. One deals with my hazy teen years and claiming Chicana identity, while the other is more recent and is a hybrid work that centers on my experiences as a mother of nearly nine children. These are both personal narratives and include the political awareness of their times. I maintain that all my work is politically charged.
CH: How has your life as a mother and human rights activist shaped your writing?
VV: There is no divide. I chose to become a mother at 21 years old. I knew having children would affect my work as an activist and scholar but I also knew that if I didn’t have children when I did, I might have no children at all. Writing and activism requires that you give your whole self to it. I have not maintained balance but I have tried my very best even if I fall short I do not quit. I write because, in a hundred years, I refuse to go unread. I exist, I care about other humans, and I have some stories to weave into the fabric of America.
CH: What is your writing life like?
VV: If everyone in my house goes to sleep at 9pm then I have 3 hours to write by myself. If not, I wait until they go to school. I have to be a mom and wife before I am a writer at my desk or agree to do a reading or event. My daylight hours are for the children and at night I might have a reading. I write between tasks or I carve out space where I can. There are times when I wish for more hours in the day but then I remind myself that Andre Dubus III wrote House of Sand and Fog in his truck parked at the job site. He gave himself only 20 minutes a day on his way to work to write as much as he could. The books want to be written.
CH: Tell us a little about the Macondo Writers Workshop. How did you become involved with this program? How has it influenced your writing?
VV: I was always interested in writing for mainstream culture. I remember reading House on Mango Street in my high school English class and then an article about Sandra Cisneros that talked about her moments leading up to creating Macondo Writers Workshop. I had already resolved that I must become a writer “for those who cannot out” but further, I knew I wanted to become a Macondista someday.
I would have applied to be a Macondista in 2015 but I was pregnant and the labor date was within two days of the start date of the workshop. I applied the next year and was accepted. It was a very validating moment for me as a writer. I now serve on the ad-hoc board and am so proud of the work I am doing there. I helped plan last summer’s workshop and this year will do the same.
My writing has grown in craft due to the amazing master writers that lead the workshops I have participated in. Also, being able to workshop with other Macondistas about our work has been key to publishing well.
CH: Tell us a little about 100 Thousand Poets for Change: San Antonio, Texas. What motivated you to become an organizer with this group? What gifts and challenges did you find from your involvement?
VV: The BP Oil Spill of 2011 was the sole reason I became an activist poet organizer. I had been following certain poets on Facebook when it was new to me and I was struck by another poet, Michael Rothenberg, making comments about how atrocious it was to allow the oil spill to continue the way it was. I found a kindred spirit in him and when he said that we should write poems about this I was ready. When he said we should march in the streets and demand they repair the oil spill I was all for it. The more we chatted on these comment threads, we came to debate if having one large poetry event will make a difference. He was able to secure Stanford University to host an archive database of 100 Thousand Poets for Change. Cities from all over the planet contribute photos and poetry to the site and it is considered as one poetry reading even if 800+ cities around the globe participate. I submitted one poem in 2011, in the next few years since I have created poetry reading events and zines of the works read there.
The gifts of these readings is in the amazing networking that can happen. My readings have helped others in many ways, such as when I hosted deportable Vietnam veterans and gained some national attention for them.
CH: What do you do to nurture yourself as a writer?
VV: Time for nurturing myself as a writer is not easy to come by but I am blessed that my family understands the need for alone time. I stay up later than everyone else. When we have time and money, I sign up for writing workshops nearby. This summer I was thrilled to take workshop with the amazing poet, Sherwin Bitsui at Poetry at Round Top and I recently went back to university for my masters in English. When I am actually writing, I tend to sip coffee or ginger root tea while listening to John Coltraine on Pandora radio.
CH: What poetry do you find yourself turning to for inspiration? Who are some of your favorite writers?
VV: My favorite writers are Dorothy Parker for her clever skill and wit. Li-Young Lee is a master writer and I aspire to his level. I also like Gloria Anzaldua, Alice Walker, Jane Hirshfield, Deborah Landau, Sherwin Bitsui, Claudia Rankine and Ada Limón… and more… there are thousands of poets I love.
CH: What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?
VV: I am just started reading Citizen by Claudia Rankine and You Ask Me To Talk About the Interior by Carolina Ebeid.

A Virtual Interview with Leticia Urieta

Leticia Urieta will be the featured reader Thursday, January 11, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Leticia Urieta is proud Tejana writer from Austin, Texas. She works as a teaching artist in the Austin community. She is a graduate of Agnes Scott College and holds an MFA in Fiction writing from Texas State University. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Cleaver, Chicon Street Poets Anthology, BorderSenses, Lumina, The Offing and others. She has recently completed her first mixed genre collection of poetry and prose and is currently at work completing her novel that tells the story of a Mexican soldadera caught up in the march to Texas during Texas’ war with Mexico.

The Interview

CH: What brought you to poetry? What is your first memory of it?

LU: My grandma was a poet who wrote in English and Spanish, but was unpublished. As I got older, she gifted me several books of poetry by Pablo Neruda, and encouraged me to write in both languages. Because of this, I became more interested in experimenting with poetry and reading more in the genre at school.

CH: Do you have a primary identity as a writer? How would you describe yourself?

LU: I don’t like to limit my writing to labels or genres per say-it makes life unexciting if I feel I can only identify with one genre or style. However, much of my writing is a hybrid of genres and styles, and I explore Tejana identity and womanhood in my work because that is what feels vital to me right now.

CH: You recently completed your MFA in Fiction writing at Texas State. What was this program’s greatest contribution to you as a writer? its greatest challenge?

LU: I think what I took away from that experience was the mentorship of other graduates and friends, such as Sarah Rafael Garcia, who brought me into the community at Resistencia Bookstore and provided me with the opportunity to become the program coordinator in Austin of the youth writers workshop that she founded called Barrio Writers. I also sought out support from professors like Jennifer DuBois and my adjunct reader and friend Natalia Sylvester, who always met my work where it was and worked with me to make it better.

CH: How does your work in fiction intersect with your work in poetry?

LU: Studying poetry and its forms has helped me to think about the structure of stories and how I enjoy emphasizing images and experimental language in fiction to the points where I think the genres merge, and some stories feel like extended prose poems and some poems feel like ongoing narratives. I think that often these distinctions are arbitrary. I want to write something engaging, that feels meaningful to me, and ultimately the form will be dictated by the content of the piece.

CH: Tell us about your recently-completed mixed genre collection. How long did it take you to write? How did you decide on the mixed genre expression?

LU: The collection is called Las Criaturas. It took me about six months to write all of the stories and poems in it. All of them explore the word “criaturas,” which in Spanish has several meanings roughly translated as “baby”, “animal,” “monster,” and “creation.” Most of the stories, both in traditional structures or poetic forms, explore traditional storytelling influenced by fairytales, fables and the indigenous stories of the feminine across multiple cultures. As a mixed woman, this representation of hybridity feels very right to me. I was reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ seminal work “Women Who Run With Wolves” and that work greatly influenced the subject and structure of the stories.

CH: How does place figure in your work?

LU: My novel, which is still in progress, is heavily influence by place because it is about a Mexican woman marching in Santa Ana’s army during the Mexican-Texas war in 1836. That physical movement of the characters across space and time is central to the narrative, as is the spiritual space that the heroine and narrator inhabits in the afterlife. I have completed, and plan to complete further research on the subject. What is challenging about this process is that so little is written about these women, called “soldaderas” who travelled with the male soldiers during the war. This, however, also gives me quite a bit of freedom to invent and play with space and time as I imagine it, which is energizing.

CH: Who are some of your favorite poets and fiction writers?

LU: I both love and hate this question. There are those writers I go back to over and over: Sandra Cisneros, Leslie Marmon Silko, Toni Morrison. I try to read widely. I am a multifaceted person, and want to read multifaceted books across many genres.

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

LU: I am currently reading “Lessons on Expulsion” by Erika Sanchez, which is fantastic. I read a little every day. When I read collections of poetry, I want to take my time with each poem.

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

A Virtual Interview with Joe Jiménez

Poet Joe Jiménez will be the featured reader on Thursday, March 12, 2015 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for March’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.

Background

Joe Jiménez is the author of The Possibilities of Mud  (Korima Press, 2014) and A Silver Homeboy Flicka Illuminates the San Juan Courts at Dawn (Gertrude Press,2011), which received the 2011 Gertrude Press Poetry Chapbook Prize. Jiménez is also the recipient of the 2012 recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Poetry Prize.

Jiménez holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and lives in San Antonio, Texas. More information is available at joejimenez.net.

The Interview

CH: How did you come to writing poetry? How has the focus of your work changed over time?

JJ: I studied English at Pomona College in Claremont, California. I preferred prose over poetry at first, finding poetry oftentimes pompous and inaccessible.

Sandra Cisneros’s Loose Woman changed how I saw poetry. After reading Cisneros, poetry became someone I knew, someone who would talk to me at HEB or as we waited for the bus in the rain, and this was the real electric moment for me. I realized I could write poems about my America, poems that needed to please no one but only speak something true about and for people living lives like mine.

CH: What made you decide to get an MFA? How was the MFA experience for you at Antioch University? How has the MFA influenced your work?

JJ: Antioch University LA’s MFA program was perfect for a poem-maker like me. I attended a low-residency program, which allowed me to keep my full-time job and complete most of my coursework at home, while visiting the campus residency twice a year.

At the time, my sister and her two boys were living with me, and my former partner and I supported them. Not working full-time was not an option. People depended on me, and yet, I wanted to explore this thing called poetry, which was calling to me. AULA offered a program where I could satisfy both responsibilities—the one to people who relied upon me for survival and the one to myself. This program was particularly fitting for me, as it focused on Social Justice.

Writing with social justice in one’s consciousness, then, shapes the poems I make. As a Chicano writer, this means I want to craft poems that are accessible, that ask questions to engage us in the political moment or the pleasure of our survival.

CH: I understand you are a native of South Texas, and now live in San Antonio. Where else have you lived? How do you see the interaction between your interior landscape and the landscapes in which you have lived?

JJ: My first full collection of poems, The Possibilities of Mud (Korima Press, 2014) focuses on the Texas Gulf Coast. I grew up on the coast, in small towns near Corpus Christi. In 2012, I exited a violent relationship, and I found myself trying to make sense of my life in the only place that really made sense for me to do so: the Gulf. I spent hours among the fish and the heron, observing the pelican smash their full faces into the green waters in search of a fish. I learned the names of plants and trees, and I watched birds with a patience I had not previously known. I learned to ask questions and to let those questions quest.

I wrote the poems from TPOM during my final semester of my MFA program, and after accessing services at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center’s Domestic Violence Program, I moved with the commitment to craft poems that might offer solace or at the very least pose questions to someone trekking through a darkness similar to mine.

CH: Your chapbook, A Silver Homeboy Flicka Illuminates the San Juan Courts at Dawn, has an intriguing title, and its cover is both beautiful and startling. As winner of the 2011 Gertrude Chapbook Competition, did you have a hand in the cover design? How does the cover design relate to the chapbook? 

JJ: The chapbook title came from a poem about a guy I once knew who lived in the San Juan Courts in San Antonio. We met while playing handball one Saturday afternoon at Escobar Park on San Anto’s Westside, near the fruit terminals, not far from downtown. This guy was good at handball, much more skilled than I was, and after defeating me soundly that first afternoon, we went our separate ways. I ran into him a few more times, and we played handball a few more times, too. I lost each time. It was a frustrating connection. He liked my tattoos, and one afternoon, he asked to take pictures of them “to show his homeboy who was going to be giving him a few new placazos.” I was okay with letting him take my picture.

I didn’t really have a hand in the cover design. I’m not terribly fond of the cover, and still, I am grateful for the opportunity to have published these poems with Gertrude Press. At the time the book was being published, I had just left my ex after he tried to kill me and kill one of my dogs. It was difficult time. I struggled to pull myself through it, and negotiating a cover for my chapbook was not a priority. I let it happen. I believe the cover connects to the collection in that several of the poems reference deer.

CH: How did the title and cover design for The Possibilities of Mud come about?

JJ: Originally, I’d titled the collection “The Meaning of Fire,” however after Francisco Aragon, who was writing a blurb for the book, read the manuscript, he suggested another title, since the one about fire was too abstract. “The Possibilities of Mud” made more sense, as the poem with this title spoke to the notion of becoming unstuck, the idea “To pull out, with the entire vessel/ of Love, mud-covered, dank and more wise./ And how is mud not part of this marvelous life?” The newer title echoed the arduous lesson many of us pick up, which is the one about embracing struggle as a necessary and invigorating process toward growth.

The cover of TPOM features Rafa Esparza, an LA-based performance artist. Dino Dinco, an artist I’d previously worked with on “El Abuelo” took the photograph of Rafa during Rafa’s performance *STILL*, “a meditation on Manifest Destiny” delivered at LA’s Elysian Park on Thanksgiving morning in 2012. For more info on *STILL*, here’s a great write-up from *Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies*.

CH: The Gertrude Chapbook Competition site bio contains a link to the short film El Abuelo, which was commissioned as part of London’s 2008 Fashion in Film Festival, and in which you star and narrate the poem that makes up the film’s narrative. How does performance figure in your current work? Is the text of Homeboy Beautiful (and Other Things I’ve Nearly Forgotten But Am Throwing Punches Not to Forget) currently in print?

JJ: Yes, I would love to perform. Ever since watching Luis Alfaro perform Pico-Union in LA in the mid-90s, I have carried a desire to enact such a moment. In my most secret moments, I craft a one-person show about queer desire in the fracking fields of South Texas. It’s a commentary on small towns’ economic dependency on industries that may not have the peoples’ best interests at heart. And yet, there is need. And yet, there is hunger. And yet, people somehow manufacture happiness from scraps of opportunities. Much like love, sometimes, for some of us.

CH: El Abuelo locates itself in both San Antonio south side sensibility and queer identity, and I love the way the poem navigates and integrates those worlds. What kind of responses have you had to your work from different communities? What was the response to this film in London?

JJ: El Abuelo was the catalyst for my decision to join an MFA program. After reading a few articles about the film, I felt moved to better equip myself with the craft of poem-making. One of the first responses that comes to mind referenced me as an ex-con writing about men’s affinity for domestic work, namely ironing. The assumption that I’d done prison-time, based on what my body looks like, troubled me, of course. But there also have been fierce and empowering critiques, including the scholarship of Liliana C. Gonzalez from the University of Arizona whose essay “Queering Chicano Vato Memory in Dino Dinco’s ‘El ABuelo’” was presented at last year’s American Studies Association conference.

CH: How have you gone about identifying candidate publishers for your work? What is your process for readying a manuscript for submission to a publisher?

JJ: I’ve recently completed a second collection entitled The Goat-Eaters + Other Poems. I am hoping to publish this collection with Korima or another independent progressive press.

What I learned about preparing a manuscript was shared by my mentor Jenny Factor. She suggested cleaning my kitchen table or the floor, which is the less desirable option in my household of four dogs who believe they own everything in the house, and spreading my poems so that I can begin to see relationships between and among them. This works for me. It’s amazing how one can see connections, or how poems call out to one another as if they were lonely or needing to belong.

CH: Name five of your favorite poets.

JJ: Mary Oliver, Anne Carson, Natalie Diaz, Carmen Giménez Smith, Danez Smith.

CH: What are you working on now?

JJ: Revising a series of Juan Diego persona poems to be included in The Goat-Eaters. “Juan Diego Holds a Sign that Reads, ‘Stop Bill Cosby’” is the first poem I wrote for this sequence. I became especially interested in Juan Diego when someone asked me whether I thought he had made the whole thing up, the apparition, the roses, the miracle. I’d never fathomed it, and it has sat inside me for years. I read a Maxine Kumin poem about what if Emily Dickinson was alive today, and I was tuned it.

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

JJ: Renato Rosaldo’s The Day of Shelly’s Death. I heard him read a couple of weeks ago at the Guadalupe Center here in San Antonio.