profiles in poetics: Maria Garcia Teutsch

winepartypiedterre2Maria Garcia Teutsch

Websites: marialoveswords.com

You are sitting beneath the shade of a coral curtain. The curtain was created by ‘we’ hand-strung ornaments, balanced from sandy trees in the Far East. In the Western hemisphere of the world ‘I’ stretch out my legs on a plush Ikea perch, making sure to check if ‘I’ have enough. Carbon dioxide cartridges for my home made sparkling mineral beverage, for example. Take a step away from the romanticization of these images and ask yourself the following. Does patriarchal structure and commodification depend on its cultural configuration? How does self and subjugation interplay in the conversation? Does identity depend on its soil? We converse today with Maria Garcia Teutsch: a writer whose journey in this interview begins as a young girl planter of wishes.

Teutsch now, self-ascribed as “southern-protestant-pacifist-radical-chicana-feminist-super-pussy-take-no-crap-offa-nobody-no-how-type-of-writer,” is a well-traveled poet, mother, wife, teacher, community builder devoted to “helping artists get their stuff out there.” We speak to her about America’s open markets and how language is “shaped into the image of its maker”. The message is not always easy for readers to digest because of the origin of the earth. She admits, “part of the beauty of poetry is that I can break language down and let it do the work.” Here we glimpse how revolution occurs every day, pronounces and obscures the inscriptions of our cultural framework, and how we learn to respect the nuances of that glass of water.

Teutsch’s most recent work, the focus of this profile, The Revolution Will have its Sky, is the recent winner of the 2014 Minerva Rising chapbook competition. The collection contemplates existential notions of the self. She tells us, “we little beings do all we can to change the world, and the effort is worth it, but don’t confuse good work with importance.” The focus of this book is about “women as subject, object, and ruler.” Here we “invert the social order and in the end, the madame becomes queen. Queen of what? The social order is still patriarchal, the war machine still goes on, but the revolution, well, that may have just begun.” Let us applaud and take part. In the revolution.

Maria Garcia Teutsch is a poet and editor. She has published over 20 journals of poetry as editor-in-chief of the Homestead Review, published by Hartnell College in Salinas, and Ping-Pong journal of art and literature, published by the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California. She teaches poetry and creative writing online. She serves as president of the board of the Henry Miller Memorial Library.

photo credit :  Debi Lorenc : http://debilorenc.zenfolio.com/

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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 inspiration came at age 3 or 4. I wanted to write a letter to god to see if I could get a pony because my father’s stone agenda did not permit the getting of ponies for young girls. I knelt in the back yard with my mother’s silver spoon, dug a hole and planted my letter. What I knew about god at that point was that when you died you were buried and then shot straight up to god’s presence. I figured my pre-literate letter would also find an audience in the divine presence. Still waiting for that pony. Then in fourth grade I became infatuated with Helen Keller, Elizabeth Farnsworth, Anne Frank, Susan B. Anthony and finally, Emily Dickinson. I still love Emily Dickinson.

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

Every woman who has struggled and come before me has inspired me. I loved Anne Frank early on, also Sylvia Plath. I realized the power of the written word through Anne Frank’s diary. Sylvia Plath taught me how to see. Anne Sexton, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, these women shaped my poetics. I also love Lillian Hellman and Anais Nin. Then Patti Smith and Laurie Anderson. These were all my early influences, some kick ass women, no?

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

Well, I have been writing seriously since the 6th grade, so it’s gotten a lot less sappy. Like most beginning writers, I used to only write when I felt depressed, or when the muse arrived on my doorstep. Now I don’t have time to wait for anyone, I just write when I have time. I try to be disciplined and write at least once each day.

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

I have definitely been influenced by music. I can be listening to Radiohead on my way to work and compose an opera which comes out as a poem. I listen to Beethoven and fragments of scenes flow out of me. I love physics, actually married a physicist, and the world of the sciences definitely influences my understanding of poetry. If I am writing a poem about water, I research water vocabulary. I read reports by hydro-geologists. If I am writing about birds, I read up on their habitat. I love the specificity of language. I almost always do a bit of research when I write. I am also influenced by plays. I love to create worlds, scene by scene.

5.) What are your plans for the future?

I have spent a large portion of my life supporting other artists. Most of my spare time and energy have always gone into helping artists get their stuff out there. I serve as EIC of two literary journals, The Homestead Review and Ping-Pong journal of art and literature. I also serve as president of the board of the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California, which is a cultural arts center. I have reached a point now where I am willing to pull back and focus on publishing my own work, spending the time I need to write, edit and publish my own stuff. I have never felt an ego-attachment to publishing, I mean, two of my biggest heroes saw very little published in their lifetime: Emily and Anais. I think it’s easy to get published these days. In an interview I did with Alice Notley she said, “there are a lot of people out there calling themselves poets.” I think this is true. I don’t write to be published, that will surely come after I die (ahem), I write because if I didn’t I’d spontaneously combust.

I recently won a chapbook contest for an obscure group of poems, The Revolution Will have its Sky. Heather McHugh chose my book. Now that’s kind of cool. I like her poetry a lot. So there’s this community out there that I love. It’s part of why I write, to enter into this often insane conversation with likeminded individuals. So I plan to keep writing, publishing, and also publishing others, but in a different capacity than as EIC of two journals.

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

Well, there are some great writers out there. I love Sharon Olds, Brenda Hillman, Lucille Clifton, Louise Gluck, Alice Notley, Anne Carson, Gloria Anzaldua, Joy Harjo, Kim Addonizio, Diana Garcia, Anne Waldman. I love poetry of social consciousness, or poetry that’s just fucking smart. I write because I want to enter into a conversation with these amazing artists. I want to talk flowers with Louise Gluck, I want to talk about social injustice with Lucille Clifton, I want to talk about pre-Columbian goddesses with Joy Harjo, and about Greek mythology with Anne Carson. I want to beat a drum with Anne Waldman.  I see something beautiful in their writing and want to share it, or because I see an injustice and I want to rectify it, or at least cast a light on it. These women have all written words that have changed the world, or at least, their portion of it. Their words matter to me.

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

There are too many to name, but let me try. I see thousands of poems a year but some stand out: Christine Hamm, Cynthia Cruz, J. Hope Stein, Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Brenda Coultas, Joanna Fuhrman, Eleni Sikelianos, Matthea Harvey, Laura Kasischke, Tracy K. Smith, Jennifer K. Sweeney, Amy Lawless, and Carmen Gimenez Smith. There’s more, I suck, I can’t remember everyone.

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

southern-protestant-pacifist-radical-chicana-feminist-super-pussy-take-no-crap-offa-nobody-no-how-type-of-writer.

9.) In your series of worldwide headlines under the title Not a Psalm, each line juxtaposes conversing thoughts such as: “Teenager sells kidney for an IPad.” And “Baby sick, baby sick, baby sick. His father would have given them the finger.” As readers we question how much the language of commodity illusively buries itself into syntactical equations. Often we forget that the language of math and science is built in the marketing of manipulative vernacular. How do you believe the trinity of technology, media and historical structures of thought is built to externalized syntactical structures of speech? Take for example auto correct, which mimics the personal culture of one’s own writing tendencies and learning the pools of our minds. Do these equations change the projection of our thoughts and are they under political and societal influences? What do you believe our capitalist driven ideologies are doing to language and notions of love and intimacy?

Wow, this question is like a dissertation. I don’t think I’m smart enough to answer it, but here goes. I can be a conspiracy theorist when it comes to commodifying just about everything: America makes wars to open markets, corporations are bigger than governments and shape policy etc. I mean, it only makes sense that our very language should be shaped into the image of its maker: Google. My headline poems are difficult for some readers, because they want to talk about what they know about these countries instead of looking at the issues of the poems. It is hard because as an American I also carry the baggage of the industrial war complex on my back. No matter that I am a lefty-pacifist. I travel extensively and have lived overseas, and let me just say, as an American I am often looked at through a narrow lens. Part of the beauty of poetry is that I can break language down and let it do the work. The headlines are real, but what it evokes from me as a poet is something I don’t think about, I just write it down. In the line you quote above about “his father would have given them the finger,” well, that’s a reference to North Korea’s Kim Jung-un. There’s no way a reader of this piece will get that reference, and yet it is there all the same. I remember Bob Dylan saying he doesn’t ever tell folks what his songs mean, because they mean something different for everyone, especially the writer.

10.) The following poem is taken from the same collection, this time under the title “Headlines from the United States”. The poem reads:

Boy Scouts’ say kids safer from abuse in Scouts than at home

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in a house

where mothers make

from Scouts’ abuse of mothers

red-velvet

cupcakes.

I have been thinking of our notions of self and subject. How self-narration is interconnected to the passions: desire, rage, love, and grief. And to confront these senses, in this case trauma, illustrates how self-subjugation can ignore the passions we seek to face. How do you view self and subject? Can you describe how this prism shifts culture to culture? And do you believe that we are able to alter this cyclical phenomenon?

I view self and subject as object and obstacle. I am quite the existentialist when it comes to the notions of self. Or, like Richard Wright, a naturalist. We little beings do all we can to change the world, and the effort is worth it, but don’t confuse good work with importance. In Asia, where I lived for a number of years, it is “we” in America it is “I.” Total paradigm shift. I am not saying one is better than the other, but it changes one’s worldview significantly. If we want to alter this cyclical phenomenon we can, through our words. Change is always possible.

11.) My last question centers on your chapbook, The Revolution Will Have its Sky. The series of poems are based on underlined sections of Jean Genet’s play,The Balcony. As we traverse from character to scene to character, themes, namely a mirror encapsulates a revolution. The revolution is slighted by the mirror. In “The Brothel Trick” we read, “Time to start over again. / Places a watch between / Her breasts. Jewels are / the only thing that’s real. / Life is a brothel trick, no, / one long funeral trick.” Where does the feminine voice find balance in that of her body in one of empowerment and or subjugation? Is the nature of the mirror argument a patriarchal trap, and if so, how do you believe that we can change the structure of the revolution to empower both the real of the body, of the self, and also how it participates in the cross stiches of culture?

Funny you should ask. I recently won the Minerva Rising chapbook competition for this very collection. Heather McHugh was the judge. When I submitted my manuscript it was with this descriptor: My collection is about women as subject, object, and ruler. The poems are inspired by Jean Genet’s play, The Balcony. My collection centers on women who are the subjects of male fantasy, but who invert the social order and in the end, the madame becomes queen. Queen of what? The social order is still patriarchal, the war machine still goes on, but the revolution, well, that may have just begun. Here’s to revolution in all of its varied manifestations.

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profiles in poetics: Caryl Pagel

Pagel-PhotoCaryl Pagel

Websites:

h-ngm-n.com/twice-told/

www.rescuepress.co/

factoryhollowpress.com

From a tiny red notebook, Caryl Pagel watched “improvisational tales unfold in real time”. This act taught her to receive things that “stun her” in a thinking map delineated by structures of physical manipulation in which the brain tucks and pockets content. Twice Told,recently published by H_NGM_N Books, is a flexing flock of poems that gather “the vision and presence of another”.  She states, “To read or listen carefully is—at its best—to inhabit the vision … of another.” The present receiver is altered by the interaction; a multiplication of the self that bears memory, passion, and perspective simultaneously. This metamorphic narrative changes our tales, our recollection; the internal structure of our self-identity. Another associated circumstance with embracing other is empathy. These empathy exams can, if one is not careful, “eventually make a wreck of you,” although at the same time this act carves out parts of yourself for others to find comfort; essentially the same places that you yourself are seeking as well.

The concentrated loop of Twice Told has much to do with the life and death cycle. The repetitive notion of life in a concentric dream is each individual’s interpretative taste. So the reflection of our reception of these qualities shifts from each story, each evaluation; each interaction. As Pagel asks, “how much care is too much? And for what end, and to what purpose?” This “captivation” is savory, but also needs to be regarded with self-care so that the self is not swallowed up in the other. She asks, “Is care the clearest expression of love? How is it related to freedom? What is the right amount of care for someone who is sick, or in danger, or angry, or depressed? Does requited care matter? Can you harm yourself with care for others?” These questions are at the heart of Twice Told. The answers are by no means readily handed to you on your grandmother’s holiday china. They are ones of endless vision. Perhaps the central message is in the permutation of circles.

Caryl Pagel is the author of two books of poetry: Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death (Factory Hollow Press, 2012), and Twice Told (H_NG M_N Books, 2014), as well as the chapbook Visions, Crisis Apparitions, and Other Exceptional Experiences (Factory Hollow Press, 2008). Caryl is a poetry editor at jubilat and the co-founder and editress-in-chief of Rescue Press. Her poetry and essays can be found in AGNI, The Iowa Review, Jacket2, The Mississippi Review, and The Volta. This fall she will join the faculty of the NEOMFA program in eastern Ohio and serve as the Director of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center.

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. 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?

When I was little my dad had, or I remember he had, a tiny red notebook that he’d scribble stories in. This is how I learned to read: by watching improvisational tales unfold in real time. We’d practice sentences as he invented them, creating a secret (so I thought) tether between the two of us. I was extremely disappointed when in kindergarten all of the other children began chanting the alphabet and I realized that language was a public and communal tool, not a private puzzle between me and my Pops. Once I recovered from this minor trauma I knew that I wanted to write. A few of my all-time favorites are Inger Christensen, Emily Dickinson, Lorine Niedecker, and W.G. Sebald. They are compelling in part because as I have changed my relationship to their work has become increasingly bewildering and bizarre.

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

The teacher who altered everything was Dan Beachy-Quick, who I was lucky enough to work with at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago about a decade ago. Others whose conversation, presence, and practice have transformed my approach to writing are Amy Margolis, Amber Dermont, Robyn Schiff, Emily Wilson, Elizabeth Robinson, and Madeline McDonnell.

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

My work shifts every time I read something that stuns me. I am frequently impacted by sentence structures or sound, by something that physically manipulates the way in which my brain receives content. Most recently an essay I was working on was affected by Renata Adler’s Speedboat.

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

Absolutely. The poems in Twice Told engage the creepy gothic narratives that I (we all?) grew up re-reading and obsessing over: “A Death in the Woods,” Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, Ethan Frome, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” The Haunting of Hill House, etc. These days I probably read more fiction and nonfiction than I do poetry and most recently I’ve been writing essays. I should also say that one of the greatest gifts to my practice has been the opportunity to work alongside visual and performance artists at both the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where I went to grad school) and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (where I taught some of the most inventive students I’ve ever met). The way the makers at both of these schools dealt with perseverance, chaos, humor, form, and difficulty continues to affect the way I write and teach.

. What are your plans for the future?

I’ve been working on a collection of linked essays for a few years now. The most recent one includes rambling on Sir Thomas Browne, addiction narratives, deception, Fleetwood Mac, Kurt Schwitters’ Mertzbau, George’s Buffet, ice patches, and a particularly bleak year I spent in Iowa City. I’m also in the process of boxing up my books in order to move to Cleveland at the end of the summer where I’ll join the NEOMFA faculty and serve as the Director of the CSU Poetry Center. I can’t wait.

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

Well, it’s hard to ignore the fact that so many of our contemporary game changers—the most compelling formal innovators, risk takers, experimenters, and thinkers—have been women. I think of the rangy, genre-bending, thoughtful and inventive work of Chris Kraus, Joan Didion, Maggie Nelson, Dara Wier, Renata Adler, Abigail Thomas, Lauren Slater, Claudia Rankine, Eula Biss, Lucy Lippard, Rebecca Solnit, Mary Robison, Sabrina Orah Mark, and Lia Purpura, to name a few. And, too, distinctive first books by wonders like Rachel Glaser, Andrea Rexilius, Suzanne Scanlon, and Hilary Plum. I’ll also say that while I (and every woman I’ve ever known?) have encountered the peculiar horrors of gender bias (such silly insult!) in writing and publishing (M v. W!) my spirits are buoyed by the brilliant lady editors who work so hard to shepherd strong writing into the world—people like Emily Pettit, Sandra Doller, Rusty Morrison, Janet Holmes, Kathleen Rooney, and Joyelle McSweeney, again to name only a few.

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

Some of my recent favorite books are: Hannah Brooks-Motl’s The New Years, Amina Cain’s Creature, Anne Germanacos’ Tribute, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, Kiki Petrosino’s Hymn for the Black Terrific, Sasha Steensen’s House of Deer, Bianca Stone’s Someone Else’s Wedding Vows, and Michelle Taransky’s Sorry Was In the Woods.

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

 

. The opening poem, “Old Wars,” in your manuscript TWICE TOLD, negotiates how memory, sense of self, and communication fracture in stifling societal climates. The rupture follows repressive measures. We read, “They were on a dusty / black road being marched to death / and you know this because the / narrator is delivering this information within / a story via another story—a / story told by the same old / woman who may or may not / have existed whom he may or / may not have met on a / train who may or may not / but most likely was a part / of the war             She was not / a hero […] There are no / heroes here.” Could you please allude to how the poem expresses multiplicity in identity, memory as story, and the puzzle as not one of “heroes,” but of “monster and master”?

To read or listen carefully is—at its best—to inhabit the vision and presence of another. Through this process one necessarily multiplies the self and bears many memories (or passions, or perspectives) at once. One can be, in fact, possessed by a story; their very body taken hold of, which is simultaneously a gift and curse. Empathy, although rightly associated with a certain kind of bravery and courage, can also eventually make a wreck of you. A many-selved monster. When writing “Old Wars” I was thinking about (or am at least now thinking about) the ways in which we are transformed by the narratives we read and recall, the ways in which stories become us, and us them, and how one might begin to remember (or suffer) others’ tales as if their own. I’ve long been enamored with writing that acknowledges this act of captivation.

. In “The Traveler,” the opening stanza reads, “The only fact to continue to / bear is suffering and the suffering / itself is what one requires to / exist—it is purely grief that / prevents one from vanishing completely.” Some of us our survivors, some of us are not. The traveler evaluates this wisdom from a stranger, but the intimate encounter surpasses the definition of someone we do not have physical personal history with. How is this poem addressing the personal / public sphere of intimacy and how does this relate to suffering?

I’m fascinated by the role of the traveler, often the first indication in gothic fiction of a framed narrative. In so many 19th century novels, for example, the reader receives the story through a stranger’s point of view. In Wuthering Heights we learn of Heathcliff and Catherine’s tumultuous romance through Mr. Lockwood, a stranger, who hears of it from Heathcliff’s housekeeper. In Ethan Frome, too, the narrative is conveyed by an outsider passing through town who hears it from, if I remember correctly, a shopkeeper. Story as rumor or hearsay; as something that necessarily includes both the personal and public spheres of intimacy.

. In the poem, “Four Dead Men,” we meet four individuals. One man, “He needs someone to circle his / sickness He needs you and only / you to circle his circles and / he needs you and only you / to attend to his sickness.” But the “you” in the poem does not. One man dies from a suicide and returns to help is friend. He has the hope that, “the third dead man— could inhabit again the tone and / humor and luminous brilliant beautiful significant / wonderful loving tortured sorrowful stagnant angry / awesome puzzled tragic hurtful magic difficult / mind of his dear friend during / the time in which he still / survived—when this man was not / yet ill but lived instead to / write about architecture and remarkable buildings.” The juxtaposition of these two life stages presents the desire to embrace the remarkably complex stifling and incredible beauty of our darkness and our light, love and madness, linear and dissonant multifarious experience of both life and death. I am interested in how you pair patriarchy to this conversation? How do you believe the fear and embodiment of death to also be the stimulus to “circle his circles,” not in the approach towards death, but as a vehicle later negotiated in death towards life?

The various circles—“the first of forms,” so says Emerson—that occur in “Four Dead Men” via repetition of subject matter and phrasing mimic an obsessive sense of looping that I found inescapable when writing this book. The cycle of life and death of course and also the circling that occurs in the at-times faulty and obsessive logic or repeated narratives of those who struggle with mental illness or addiction, and how easy it is to—purposefully or not—slide into someone else’s orbit of anxiety. Dependency shifts one’s experience of time, whether that dependency is on another person (many new mothers, so I’ve heard, experience an alternate sense—or speed?—of time after giving birth) or on a substance or idea. I was curious about this manipulation of time as well as the relationship between dependency and care, which is perhaps an idea related to your question about patriarchy. How do women—willingly or accidentally or reluctantly or forcefully—inhabit care-giving roles that threaten independence or creative autonomy? I have no answers, only more questions, some of which were the impetus for “Four Dead Men,” such as: how much care is too much? And for what end, and to what purpose? Is care the clearest expression of love? How is it related to freedom? What is the right amount of care for someone who is sick, or in danger, or angry, or depressed? Does requited care matter? Can you harm yourself with care for others? And on and on. You see the loop. I was also at this time steeped in the work of Thomas Bernard, who I find to be a fascinating writer, and whom I had just discovered was a hero of my hero, W.G. Sebald. In part this poem responds to fictional relationships in his novel Correction. I was interested in investigations of the disturbed, addicted, possessed, and pathological, and how those investigations might be expressed through relentless and oppressive sentences, creating—through endurance, doubling, recollection, endless revisions of thinking, second-guessing, and duplication of phrasing—ripples of paranoia and a sort of frenetic or frantic engine.

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.