profiles in poetics: Tamara J Madison

in discussion colorTamara J Madison

Websites:

www.tamarajmadison.com

facebook.com/TamaraJMadison

twitter.com/TamaraJMadison

google.com/+TamaraJMadison

linkedin.com/pub/tamara-madison/73/265/795/

Historically intact structural architecture promotes the climate of our values & bias. The courageous act of deliberating these conservative and experimental systems takes courage and empathy. To converse with dialogue of the past means that we are confronting aspects of ourselves that may affront the traditional view of our perception. In this interview with poet Tamara J. Madison, we access the structural boundaries of her own past, as well as how this creatively motivates the way she is able to address the post traumatic environment of slavery in America and the ramifications of this volatile attack on the most intimate of humanity, family.

Madison states, “Despite the progress and change, it will obviously take continuous personal, social, spiritual, emotional and creative commitment across cultures, races, for decades, scores, and maybe even centuries to heal and eradicate that ripple effect.” This responsibility is personal and public, daily and universal; one that requires continual evaluation of our stories.

Madison accesses her passion for performance and spoken word to extend the conflicting emotional sphere of racism, motherchild relations, violence, and what this means in both the mental health of those who experience the trauma and the way the world is shaded by these warping perspectives. She uses music as a way to break down the emotional urge to reject the uncomfortable. The jazz soaked musicality of her line breaks pause, stretch, and reflect, with syncopation, silence, and melodic lyric. The invitation promotes a communal space for the reader/listener to embody both the message of the idea and the destructuralization of thought.  This illuminates the need to address the whiteness of skin, what the visibility of color and trauma means pertaining to the past, and movement to adjust the spectrum of light to restructure our world with empathy.

Tamara J. Madison is an internationally traveled writer, poet, performer, and instructor.  Her critical and creative works have been published in various journals, magazines and anthologies including Poetry International, Web del Sol, Tidal Basin Review, Temba Tupu (RedSea Press), and SisterFire (HarperCollins).  She has performed and recorded her work for stage, television and studio. She holds a BA from Purdue University and a MFA from New England College and is a former English instructor of Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.

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From Kentucky Curdled

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1.)      What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

Writing seemed to be a pretty natural ability for me early in school.  I understood the magic and power of it at an early age. As a teen for community talent shows and local beauty pageants, I often wrote and performed a dramatic poem for my talent. Everyone else was singing, dancing or roller skating.  I knew that if I wrote my own piece, it would be unique and attention-grabbing.  THAT WAS FUN!  I was doing spoken word on stage before I knew there was such a thing as spoken word!

My favorite writers have definitely changed over time.  I loved the work of Maya Angelou and Ntozake Shange very early on when I stumbled upon them at my neighborhood library.  I later fell in love with the fierceness of Sonia Sanchez and the dense imagery of blues poet, Sterling Plumpp during my years in Chicago. I love the elegance of Poet Gwendolyn Brooks and the wicked risk of Ai.  Home is Lucille Clifton for me.

I am absolutely in awe of the work of francophone poet, Aimé Césaire from Martinique. The density and intricacy of his imagery and the commitment of his life to poetry and the culture of Martinique are a continual inspiration to me. I am a big fan of Toni Morrison, Bernice McFadden, Tananarive Due, and Octavia Butler as well.

2.)      Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

Poet Sterling Plumpp of Chicago was a definite mentor in my youth.  I related to his southern background and mannerisms and his creative focus on the blues. His intensity of imagery blew me away, and I knew that was something that I wanted to do as a writer.

Music was a very potent influence in my writing in the early years and remains so.  During grad school, all of my instructors served as mentors to different dimensions of my being a writer.  I know that is rare, but it is so very true for me.  Poet Carol Frost challenged me to see observations in poetry as brilliant. Writer/Poet Paula McLain strongly encouraged me to “surprise” myself rather than play it safe.  Poet Ilya Kaminsky insisted that I question my feelings about language and be clear about my intimate relationship with it.

3.)      How has your own work changed over time and why?

(Laughing) My first response to that is that my work has changed greatly over time because I have changed greatly!  Thank goodness!

In my earlier years, my focus was rhythm, music and the stage. I even traveled with a band was the featured, bilingual (French/English) vocalist and performance poet.  Later, I longed for a different type of intimacy in my work. I also realized that I needed other tools to craft certain stories.  At that point, I committed myself to the page.

On the page, the focus of craft is different. I began to focus more on line breaks, white space, and intentional imagery with clearer purpose. The music remains ever present, but it is less predictable complimenting stronger imagery in my work.

4.)      Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

I have a thing for the paranormal/fantasy, but it has to be rooted in in something earthly and accessible to me.  That’s why I love Octavia Butler and Tananarive Due.  Those fantasy and paranormal elements show up in my writing as well.  I have written poems and stories where inanimate objects talk and people fly away and babies sprout from plants.

Musically speaking repetition, call and response, and rhythm patterns of gospel heavily influenced my earlier work. In later years, jazz, juxtaposition, and syncopation became much more of an influence.

5.)      What are your plans for the future?

My plans are to publish more and travel much more widely with my work. I have two poetry manuscripts that I want to complete within the next 5 years. I have a companion recording planned for one of them as well. The other project, I would like to do a film adaptation of it. In my travels, I want to share my writing and do workshops with others who feel they have a story to share, whether they are professional writers or not.

I love to inspire “the art of story.”  I feel that the intimacy, power, and magic of stories are slowly being lost to our culture.  Many people feel that their stories are not valid or worthy of sharing without the backing of Hollywood or celebrity bling! NOT TRUE!  We come here to experience this life and share our stories with one another whether at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, in the beauty/barber shop, or across the pillow or pulpit. Our stories uplift, heal, inspire, and encourage us to continue dreaming.

6.)      What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

Women are continuing to be more and more adventurous with their own personal writing as well as with the business of their writing and supporting other women writers. Many are no longer waiting for traditional publishing houses and institutions to honor and support them. Women are starting their own networks to grow, support, publish and produce their work. Women’s Quarterly Conversation is an example of that. (Thanks, Jillian.)

7.)      If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

At the risk of possibly not understanding this question, I am going to say “gypsy/griot/cat-o’-many-lives/adventure-poet”…

8.)      Kentucky Curdled grew out of a brutal, tender and gritty story from your true Southern lineage. Can you describe your interview process? How did you poise the illuminative heart of the work: family? How many of these sources are still living and did you find it difficult to unearth non-conflicting concrete sources? How did the research component of this experience evolve your creative process?

I learned the story of Kentucky Curdled (a tragically mother murders her child) as oral history from a relative who shared it with me.  The same relative also had a photograph and portrait of the main character. I later researched and found evidence of the life and death of this woman by way of an obituary.  There were very few details about her life and the crime other than the dark skin of the child.

I decided at that point to follow the advice of writer/poet, Richard Hugo (The Triggering Town) and his quote, “Knowing can be a limiting thing.”  I allowed myself to use the little that I did know as a catalyst or starting block. The rest I embraced as an adventure allowing the muse of the poem to chart and oversee the rest of the journey.  From there, characters came as visions and voices like puzzle pieces slowly forming and finding their place.  Not having “concrete sources” encouraged me to step into very new territory:  persona poems, personification of animals and inanimate objects, and even more intricate form.

As far as managing the darkness of the subject matter, the greatest darkness was the lack of compassion in the way that the story was shared with me. When I asked the storyteller/family relation, why the crime, I was told that the elder auntie was merely, “mean, evil.” That response felt felt heartless and dismissive to me.  It was far too simple.

Illumination came with each new poem in the sequence.  Each poem/persona and the journey of its crafting shed light on the subject matter and on me.  It lightened the burden of carrying the story, which I had done for many years before writing the first poem.  Each new voice, no matter how painful the testimony, lightened the load and carried a bit of the story along with me. The whole process was so new and dynamic for me as a writer that I didn’t have the time or need to be lost in the darkness or grieving of it.

From my research I believe the story happened in the late 1800’s (post-slavery) yet in the heat of post-traumatic slavery disorder. I also believe that the story relates to oppression, depression, and trauma of all kinds that weaken mental health.  Such has existed in various cultures around the world, ancient to the present.  We often simply do not know the stories of those who have been traumatized. Because of death, madness, illness, etc., many were/are unable to articulate and record their own histories.  Many others have had their history erased or crucially revised.

9.)      Kentucky Curdled is a chapbook and spoken recording. I am particularly interested in how the experience shifts from the spoken word to the written word for both the reader and the listener. As a listener, it was easier to digest the emotive spectrum of the work. Was this intentional? What inspired you to create a recording? I am also interested in why you did not choose to add music, only sparse sound effects?

The aural and oral nature of poetry come natural to me and continue to influence in my work.  Even when revising poems that I may never read to an audience or record, I read them aloud to see/hear if the music and voice I hear in my head are translated effectively on the page.  At various readings, a number of people suggested that Kentucky Curdled would make an interesting performance. Before adapting the poetry for a script or looking at anything on stage, I heard it first, so I wanted a recording or audiobook to be the next stage of development for the work.

When I first heard one of the final stages of the recording, I experienced it differently as well.  I have recorded a number of times before and am used to hearing my voice recorded, but this was different.  It affected me.  This caught me by surprise because I am the writer and was the one in the sound booth.  All that I can say is that this project feels to have a life of its own, and I am blessed to be a part of it.

I agree that there is some “ease” in digesting the project audibly.  Something about the sound ushers you through the pain.  That was not at all intention, but I am most grateful for it.  That is part of the magic of poetry for me. It is a multi-dimensional language in whatever language it is spoken or written.

I purposefully chose not to have a lot of music and background in the project.  I wanted the sparseness to reflect the time period. I also wanted the raw feel of the project.  The final product is reminiscent of an old school radio listen where the family is gathered around and glued to their seats until the story is finished.  It is a sacred and powerful space that our culture has lost. I hope that this project revives some of the power and fellowship of those kinds of moments.

10.)   The processional unfolding of the character Rachel is at the core of the sequence. Rachel kills her child because he is “too black”. We read in “Beulah”, an interrogation of “black”. How black is “too black”: “ass-black”, “ink-black”? We are asked to consider what the linguistic focus is actually masking: the invisibility of white.  We hear from Rachel. In the poem “Rachel:” we listen to her monologue: “What you ‘spect me to say?  Sorry? / Sorry was snatched from me the day / the devil yanked me from my mama’s bed, / from her arms. // Before I could even see my own blood, / the devil seent it, / snapped my body like a twig / as kindling for his fire. / He broke me, bed me, / come with 12 different faces.”  How did working the violence of your family history affect you? How do you believe language has to shift in order to illuminate and make visible the “white” dialogue? How much do you think that the linguistic component of racism constructed in language has shifted from Rachel’s voice to the present? What steps do you believe we have taken and which ones are we missing?

As a person of color growing up in the United States, “white” is always visible in everything. What you describe as the “’white dialogue” is always loudly audible and remarkable for me as a person of color. Part of the intention behind Kentucky Curdled is that it is not at all matter-of-fact or simple. Such circumstances are never that black and white, right and wrong with regards to the human brain, human behavior, and trauma. Add the intensity of slavery, oppression, and racism on top of that and the “matter” is all the more complex.  I don’t believe any of us can fully understand such matters, but we have to try.

With centuries of oppressive and violent racial history, the linguistic and other effects of racism are still painfully existent around the world.  We see the residue of such all over the media, in conversations, and behavior of people of all races. Even within the Black/African American community there is the term, “color struck” which describes a person of color having color prejudices and not wanting to associate with a person who is too dark or too light-skinned.

Despite the progress and change, it will obviously take continuous personal, social, spiritual, emotional and creative commitment across cultures, races, for decades, scores, and maybe even centuries to heal and eradicate such a ripple effect.  I think that understanding is what is missing—the fact that it is ongoing, daily personal, interpersonal, cultural, social, political, etc. work and commitment to change these things. It does not disappear because we have “friends” of a different race or because legislation changes. It takes more work than most of us are willing to imagine.

Kentucky Curdled’s process was enlightening and invigorating.  The lack of compassion around such stories was/is the most challenging for me.  Rachel might have been abused or traumatized, especially given the time period in which she lived. How might that have affected her choices?  What about the possibility of post-partum depression or mental illness?  For us in this age to not consider such regarding our ancestors and their challenges is absent-minded and irresponsible. We can and should afford to be more thoughtful and informed regarding their histories simply because they survived in order that we might be here.

I had a very prominent literary journal send me a rejection letter telling me how respectfully they read Kentucky Curdled but ultimately refused to publish it because it reminded them too much of Toni Morrison’s, Beloved.  I was initially offended because it said to me that we should only be allowed one such story when in reality for everyone that we may catch a glimpse of, there are hundreds that we may never know, yet they haunt us.  Kentucky Curdled is poetry, not a novel. There are no slave catchers hunting this woman down at the time of this act.  There is no jealous or vengeful ghost here. This is not a reminder of Beloved, though it reminds us all of the horror in our collective history. One story is simply not enough.  Many thanks to aaduna and And/Or for taking the risk and publishing very generous excerpts of this work.

My intent is to honor those who endured such horror, to give them all a sacred space to come forth without my judgment or anyone else’s.  I wanted to share and release the story and those haunted by it without exploiting anyone or anything.  I also wanted to creatively illustrate how our choices affect the environment (living and inanimate) all around us, thus we must move responsibly.

I hope that somehow the story inspires productive conversation and behavior around the issues of racial/cultural oppression, domestic violence, and mental illness and moves us to greater health and wholesomeness in our human experiences.

Lastly, I pray that it makes the souls of my ancestors smile and the souls of my children enlightened.

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profiles in poetics: Rosebud Ben-Oni

Rosebud Ben-Oni 2013Rosebud Ben-Oni

Websites:

RosebudBenOni.com

How much does language and cultural influence affect the unique visibility of core identity? You know, those surreptitious elements of ourselves we romance into the most endearing and particular parts of our self?  Poet Rosebud Ben-Oni’s first creative stimulus was musical; “electricities and soporifics … something between sleep and meditation.” This exonerates her personal mosaic. Ben-Oni explains, “I grew up hearing English, Spanish, Modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew and each seemed impossible to claim as my own.” The explicative spread of perspective enumerates the weight of history and how this affects one’s own sense of self. The stipulative task, “[unpacks], all the misunderstandings, fears and questions that I still harbor from my youth.”

Ben-Oni’s work SOLECISM out from Virtual Artists’ Collective provokes perspective-painted-supple-threaded strokes; ones she describes as, “that wiring, went awry since birth”. Ben-Oni accepts the displacing diversity of this music. It is how the complications and alternative experience of different languages occurs, stating, “the only weight that exists after experience is her language— what else could she carry, in order to make her own? She takes another’s perception of her skin, her family, her way(s) of speaking, and responds. She had to begin there.” The act of reclaiming one’s own language and perspective is necessary to how we connect and encounter others. There are historical elements whose visibilities alight important aspects of our identity.

This is how we communicate and accept otherness. She continues, “I don’t know why we need one voice to identify a country [America] that’s multicultural and divided in so many ways. Rather than try to conform or copy, we should be open to ideas beyond singular definition.” A particular emphasis in this interview is how, what is “quintessentially American,” is a fabricated false construction, which many times becomes authoritative and leaves diversity out. HER KIND addresses how some use these strains to overt power over others in questionable positions of authority. She says, it “has been a wonderful experience in honoring the diversity of women’s voices,” just as we listen to and honor Ben-Oni’s own respective story.

Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a 2013 CantoMundo Fellow. A Leopold Schepp Scholar at New York University, she won the Seth Barkas Prize for Best Short Story and The Thomas Wolfe/Phi Beta Kappa Prize for Best Poetry Collection. She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan where she earned her MFA in Poetry, and was a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2010, her short story “A Way out of the Colonia” won the Editor’s Prize for Best Short Story in Camera Obscura: A  Journal of Contemporary Literature and Photography. A graduate of the 2010 Women’s Work Lab at New Perspectives Theater, her plays have been produced in New York City, Washington DC and Toronto. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Bayou, B O D Y, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Lana Turner Journal and Puerto del Sol. Nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, her debut book of poems SOLECISM was published by Virtual Artists Collective in March 2013. Rosebud is a co-editor for HER KIND (herkind.org) at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts (vidaweb.org). Find out more about her at 7TrainLove.org

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1.)    What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?\

My first inspirations, I suppose, are a mosaic of electricities and soporifics inducing something between sleep and meditation. Hearing Max Janowski’s arrangement of Avinu Malkeinu for the first time. The chill of the synagogue on the morning of Yom Kippur. Reclusive, unproven beings like Bigfoot and the Yeti. The decadence of poinsettia red, whiskey on my grandfather’s breath as he sealed a kiss on my forehead and each cheek, Naomi Campbell in George Michael’s “Freedom.” I had so much desire as a child. At the same time I had this distrust of desire and languages. I grew up hearing English, Spanish, Modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew and each seemed impossible to claim as my own. I wanted to strip something bare one moment, and another I wanted to wrap the same thing in gossamer, make a secret, only to unwrap it again, slowly, hoping for some kind of metamorphosis. I turned to Edmond Jabes often; he was the first poet that inspired me to write. Every few years The Book of Questions changes for me. Its words weigh heavier now. I internalize further the frustrations, the skepticism, the faith in the blank page and the marks we make in word and action. And the weight of history that’s carried over in my faith and in my own experiences. My family also inspired me to write, although that was not the intention. My father is a riddle that unfolds into another riddle without an answer, and it takes some kind of woman to accept this My mother raised her brothers and sisters because her mother was ill; she didn’t have a childhood. I never gave much thought to their dynamic, my parents’ commitment to each other, when I was younger; coming from two different races and faiths, I only knew her family was from Mexico and his, mostly absent from our lives, was Jewish. I didn’t see until later that kind of love and history can be hard to explain to a child who they just want to look forward; only recently have I decided to reflect on the history we built together, and not together, as a family.

2.)    Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

Norma Cantu, one of the founders of CantoMundo, is a mentor for me; she reached out to me at a time when I was filled with doubt. She reminds me listen to those little grey areas between waking and consciousness when the spirit level is alive. I’ve been doing a lot of unpacking, all the misunderstandings, fears and questions that I still harbor from my youth; this was Norma Cantu’s advice to me at my first CantoMundo retreat this summer.

I like the work of a number of CantoMundo founders and poets including Eduardo C. Corral and Carolina Ebeid. Charles Simic, Gwendolyn Brooks and Orhan Pamuk were the poets I consumed in college; Pamuk’s “On Living” was a truth the instant I read it. Arisa White’s Hurrah’s Nest is incredible; it tells a story and moves beyond it at the same time, and her use of language is exciting. Metta Sama is both an inspiration and a guiding light. I really like Amy King’s work. Jared Harel is hilarious— I just discovered his work after reading with him here in New York. The Body Double is brilliant and I’m trying to read it as slow as possible because I don’t want it to end.

3.)    How has your own work changed over time and why?

Yes. There’s more humor in the poems for my second collection. I think I’m also taking stronger ownership of biblical narratives, retranslating them into the narrative of being mixed, in the post-Benetton era. My first book SOLECISM already feels ages ago to me, and some of those poems were written in 2011 or 2012. It’s strange how a single year can bring so much insight; I got engaged this year, became a CantoMundo fellow, and did quite a bit of traveling with my fiancé Brian; we went to Hong Kong, China, Toronto and many places in the U.S. in less than a year’s time. I became part of his family. I spent one night in Hong Kong drinking sake with his mother and talking for hours; we both ended up tearful and happy and gripping each other’s hands. It was an electric night. It is an electric city. All of that makes me excited about the rest of my life. For the first 18 years of my life I had friends but felt very alone. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Only recently have I really opened up, and I’m so glad I met Brian and his family now, at a point in which I’d already tried to live in a place like Jerusalem and failed. That I’d addressed that failure myself, that it’s part of my identity to question things like, what is a Jew without practice?, to not have an answer, to present that to them candidly. These experiences affect my work. Sometimes these experiences are my work.

4.)    Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

Absolutely. I’m working on my first full-length play after success writing one acts, and I return often to August: Osage County; I had the good fortune of seeing it on Broadway a few years back, and was devastated by what I’d witnessed, the complete disintegration of a family in three acts. I read a lot of fiction and nonfiction as well; I’m reading Ha Jin’s A Free Life at the moment. I’ve just finished Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. It left me breathless. The North Korean defectors she interviews for the book all faced incredible obstacles, especially in trying to assimilate to South Korean culture. It’s important to tell these stories, so that they are remembered, that these things really did happen in the 21st century.

5.)    What are your plans for the future?

In the near future, complete the final revisions on a novel I’ve been writing for the last five years. It centers on the migrations of a young woman of mixed heritage and a man from Fuzhou, China who meet in New York City just they are both at the end of their respective rope. I’m fascinated by family dynamics, how they shift in place, time and cultural norms, and the novel explores how two very different people live in constant motion, always on the move, even when they are still. I’m also writing a play about the influence of the drug cartels on the U.S.-Mexican border. In the next 2 years or so, I’m planning to move Hong Kong for a while, and travel around Asia as much as possible with my soon-to-be husband. We’d be there now if it was possible.

6.)    Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Tara Betts and Rachel McKibbens who are already off the charts; their performances will blow you away. I love the Belladonna Collective, which published both LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’ TwERK and R. Erica Doyle’s Proxy. LaTasha’s book is a treat if you love languages and all its possibilities. As for Erica’s book, I need a cigarette after I read Proxy. It’s another one I can’t put down. And watch out for Kamilah Aisha Moon; she’s absolutely brilliant.

7.)    If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

Labels are tricky when you’re mixed and dip into different genres. I am many things, a Chicana/Latina/Hispanic, bisexual, Jewish skeptic poet who also writes plays, fiction and nonfiction. I adore my neighborhood here in New York, and all the neighborhood along the 7 Train. I do my best writing whether I’m home in Sunnyside, or in Woodside, Jackson Heights, Flushing. I guess then you could say I’m 7 Train Love. Does that work?

8.)    The opening poems of your book, Solecism, have shifting collocative values that displace cultural affects of worth and tradition. We read about “the jellyfish outlining beer bottles,” moving to “shells gather like cemetery flowers,” and “the ashes / fed to our mothers in molasses”. The enchanting myth entangles us with mermaids “accessible as the savage / wants some howling / girl against a narcotic wire.”  This archetype is addressed further as it juxtaposes the poem, “The Mixed Child with Pale Skin”. Here we read, “always too sexy–off–the–shoulder / even in suits— your mentor interrupts: // writing this makes you rather juvenile. She tells you race / is no longer taboo.” The self-beliefs placed upon her here are invisible as the weight they assume in language. Why is it so important for her to write and in what ways do you see her addressing these archetypes? Is she successful?

I don’t think she’s worried about being successful; her mixed heritage, that wiring, went awry since birth. The composite of her experiences is unruly. She tries for understanding, but knows that she has to tell her narratives in the most real way, and each time as they occur (red) and exist within her. The only weight that exists after experience is her language— what else could she carry, in order to make her own? She takes another’s perception of her skin, her family, her way(s) of speaking, and responds. She had to begin there. This is a lot of frustration in those poems, at the different hierarchies of literature, social class, even love; this is both a response to and an exorcism of those places that aren’t as static as they seem. In SOLECISM, she is just beginning to see that.

9.)    The term Sal Si Puedes translates to leave if you can and is often ascribed to colonias and other neighborhoods found in the US and other parts of Latin America. We converse with this neighborhood. In, “Over the river from Sal S. Puedes,” we unwind musical lines, “swarms of mosquitos and matted beds / of water,” between “hyacinth and hydrilla.” And then fiercely, “The Reply of Sal Si Puedes,” who is fierce; “I’m not a foreshadow of the divine. / Quit photographing my children … I am not in your worldly terms. // Your first word was remembered. / I was born a muerto. / You— / Have yet to let me finish a sentence.” There is a tendency to romanticize tradition in a manner that assumes an othering gaze. Feminism breaks open the argument and allows the othered to have voice. Alternatively, ascribing the word “Feminism,” also boxes in the opening of this cross-cultural communication because it is largely misunderstood. Do you think that this is changing? Why or why not is it significant to attribute Feminism to this change? Do you see the world globally listening to more of her sentence?

When I wrote these poems, I was thinking of my own experiences as much as those of my mother and her sisters, as they related them to me. In college I remember a professor telling me that writers like Gloria Anzaldúa and Americo Paredes were “supplemental” and not necessary to understand the Western Canon, much less American Literature. That they were “regional” writers and wrote in specific dialects that did not accurately reflect the American experience at all. I also remember this same professor saying he had “read books about Mexico” and then citing D. H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent and Malcolm Lowery’s Under the Volcano. He could not see the problem with that thinking. I wrote those poems in response to that thinking, and certain things I had seen happen to the women in my mother’s family, things that I escaped perhaps because I was different. You know, my mother and sisters would not call themselves “Feminists;” my mother always brought up the point that Mexican-American women were largely left out of the Feminist Movement in the 1970s. I think now there’s more awareness when one invalidates another’s experience as not “quintessentially American.” I don’t know why we need one voice to identify a country that’s multicultural and divided in so many ways. Rather than try to conform or copy, we should be open to ideas beyond singular definition.

10.)    I would also like you to take some time to describe how your work and how you identify yourselves in the world affects the work that you do for VIDA. How do you see the literary community changing to include more voices for women and how and why is this so vital? What in your point of view needs to happen in our larger cultural communities to continue to address these topics and promote change?

Working with VIDA: Women in Literary Arts really opened up my eyes to gender disparity in publishing, especially for women of color. I’ve gained invaluable experience working with VIDA, and I realize now that my experiences with gender and race date back to when I was in college at NYU. I remember taking a Literature of India class back in 2000, and my professor, an American woman, opening the class with Orwell, Kipling and Forster. She couldn’t understand why a particular classmate of mine, who was Indian-American and female, was outraged that the class began from a colonialist perspective. Where was, for instance, the Urdu poetry? The professor replied that the student was “cherry-picking.” They argued all semester. During our last class, the professor had the “final word” stating that she believed she was right, that she had no regrets about the way she had taught the class. My classmate raised her hand, but we were out of time. I remember the tension walking out of the room, of seeing this young woman fuming in the elevator next to me, of being silenced. That left quite an impression of me. Women silencing other women. The questionable use of authority. I wished I had said something, but I was young in many ways. Now, as much as I concrete on my own work, I want to create numerous spaces for honest conversation and as fairly as possible—VIDA (and Cate Marvin particularly) gave Arisa White and I the space to do this as editors. It has been a wonderful experience in honoring the diversity of women’s voices.