Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Letras Latinas Exclusive: Emily Pérez interviewed

Across the Threshold of Emily Pérez’s
House of Sugar, House of Stone

interview by Sasha West

When poet Sasha West wrote of Emily Pérez’s first full-length poetry collection, House of Sugar, House of Stone, that Pérez “knows how to cast a spell. In this smart, brave book, she uses her honed musicality to enchant the reader while she plumbs the great domestic mysteries: How do you wed and stay a self? How do you both procreate and create? The dark forests of Grimms’ fairy tales pulse through her poems. By the time you leave the wilderness of her singing, you will have been changed. Home will never look the same again.”

The two recently had a deeper conversation about the origins of the book, the boundaries it pushes, and what comes next.


Your chapbook, Backyard Migration Route, examines liminalities in many ways: what it is to be both Latina and white, what it is to live on a border, what it is to belong to shifting spaces. How do you see your full-length collection, House of Sugar, House of Stone, engaging in the same territory?

The primary borders I’m exploring in this collection are the ones in families. I think you said it so well in your blurb; I want to know about the line between the self and the partner, the self and the collective. In families we make ourselves vulnerable to unknowable others—sometimes by choice and sometimes by the accident of when, where, and to whom we were born.

I am especially curious about the border between parents and children: the way their fears and secrets mingle, even if unspoken; the way their inner lives manifest in their outer worlds. In that way, this is also a conversation between the past and the present—how previous generations in a family influence the present day generation. I started the book before I was a parent, and at the time I identified closely with the children in my poems. Now that I’m a parent, my sympathies waver. My hope is that this shifting perspective gives readers multiple entry points.

Your book has an epigraph from the Brothers Grimm version of “Hansel and Gretel” and a number of poems return to the space of this story as a kind of ur-narrative of childhood, parenthood, danger, domesticity, and love. How did the space of the fairy tales guide and inform your work? What is it to write from out of the shadows of a Grimm forest?

Your question made me realize that the “shadows of a Grimm forest” are an odd vantage point for me, since a German forest is almost entirely unlike the place where I grew up, the semi-tropical Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. In fact, my family had a scrubby stand of trees in our side yard that we called “the woods,” and it wasn’t until I left Texas and encountered actual “woods” that I realized the irony in that name. So on a literal level, the Grimm forest is completely foreign, but perhaps this is what makes the Grimm forest a good choice for me on a metaphorical level.

My childhood was rich with all kinds of stories. I found tales haunting; I was both convinced and troubled by the logic and architecture of the Grimms, Anderson, Anansi, and the local folk tales of South Texas. These stories purport justice, and often “happy endings,” but it’s a dark justice, and if there’s happiness, it comes at a price.

Growing up, I had a feeling that my life needed to be “happily ever after” but this did not account for darkness or injustice. Fairy tales, especially Grimms’, captured the seeming paradox.

As an adult, “Hansel and Gretel” spoke to me especially. I originally chose it because I thought I was interested in how a girl and a boy navigated a crisis differently. Several poems into the project, I realized I was interested in the different ways people abandon each other in families.

By transcribing my own concerns onto well-known tales, I felt I could tap something both specific and universal. The stories allowed a certain kind of shorthand—there were things I did not need to explain. I felt liberated from factual autobiography; I could focus instead on the feelings.

While many of your poems come from the position of being a mother or being a wife, these poems seem less about the subject matter than they do about what kinds of speakers can say what kinds of things. Those roles become lenses through which to view the world. How does positioning the speaker in this way allow you to get at psychological material you couldn’t access in another way?

I had not thought of it that way, but you are right: these speakers are yearning to say the unsayable. When they do, however, they are not shouting from mountaintops; it’s more like they are confiding, as if there’s still danger in what they are saying.

The question of who is allowed to say what has always been a big one for me. In my father’s Mexican family, there were different rules for girls and boys. My mother’s white family prized stoicism and strength. Topics like mental illness were taboo.

If I think something is awry but nobody else acknowledges it, I feel like I’m crazy, and I felt that a lot growing up. When there were silences in my own family, tensions and undercurrents about things we could not discuss, home felt like an unsettled place.

Many teachers have told me to “write what scares me,” and what scared me was what wasn’t being said. I didn’t necessarily want to write about the secrets themselves; rather, I wanted to explore the feeling of living with secrets, the feeling of probing for or accidentally discovering knowledge that I did not want.

Your poems work against type in a beautiful way, allowing motherhood and domesticity to be complicated, vertiginous spaces. Did you have particular models in mind as you wrote these? What were you writing towards? And against?

At this point in literary history and feminism, plenty of people have written about darkness within the domestic. My early models were Sylvia Plath, Louise Glück, Sharon Olds, and Lucille Clifton. It was a relief to read women saying the things I felt were unsayable. Later I discovered Anne Carson, Carmen Giménez Smith, Rachel Zucker, Beth Ann Fennelly, and many others. There are several excellent writers exploring the boundaries of motherhood and marriage in radical ways.

There is so much about cycles within families that I wanted to explore. I was writing towards an understanding of inheritance—what we inherit through biology, through community, and even through literature. At first I wondered what I had inherited from my family and from the stories I’d read, and now that I’m a parent and a writer, I wonder what I am passing on.

What was I writing against? I was writing against silence. I was writing against every woman’s magazine article, every mommy blog, and every princess story that packaged motherhood and marriage as pure, sweet smelling, and serene. I was writing against the erasure of darkness.

Your poems have a very rich music to them. I get the sense you’ve spent a long time honing the way that sound and rhythm play out over your lines. Who are the poets (or thinkers or artists) who have been most helpful to you as you’ve developed this aspect of your craft?

I grew up in a family of musicians, and while I am not particularly talented at any instrument, I am certain that I was influenced by listening to musicians practicing, perfecting their phrasing, repeating lines over and over until they contained the ineffable. I generate work by listening for the music that each line creates and reaching towards the sound and rhythm that comes next. The music helps me find the words, rather than the other way around. For that “ear,” I credit the musicians who practiced and continue to practice around me: Rudy, David, Ileana, and Edward Pérez, and my husband, Matt McFadden.

As for poets whose musicality defined me, my parents owned three “adult” books of poetry when I was growing up, so my early trinity was Dickinson, cummings, and Plath. Recently I’ve loved, taught, and returned repeatedly to Romey’s Order by Atsuro Riley, a wildly musical exploration of boyhood in which sound, story, and setting are inextricable.

What’s next for you? I wonder in particular: since your books thus far navigate such rich territory in gender and race identity, how do you balance engaging in the moment of your life and the moment of your country?

The national conversation that feels most pressing to me is about race. As a teacher and a parent this is always on my radar and a part of my instruction, but as a writer I have struggled with where I should enter this conversation. I am a person who looks white and experiences almost every white privilege. I cannot be a voice for “THE Mexican American” experience (not that there is a single experience). However, I’m interested in how my racial identity has shifted depending upon where I am living, and I’m interested in my own internalized racism and its origins. Growing up, even in a Spanish speaking part of the country, my education erased Latinos and elevated whiteness. It’s similar to my experience of growing up as a girl and for many years valuing boys’ voices more that girls’, even my own. It’s an immense amount to unlearn, to wriggle out from beneath. I want to explore internalized oppression in general. Perhaps I’m moving on to Gender and Race identity, part two. Based on a conversation with you a few months ago, I’ve been trying to tackle this in a lyric essay. I have no idea how long it will be. Right now it’s just a mess.

As for being in the moment vs. being a part of a larger conversation, my life is such that I am still more likely to re-read a Curious George story than to read the day’s news. My engagement in a conversation larger than the ones in my household or my work feels superficial and sporadic. For now, I will hold fast to “the personal is the political” and write what’s around me. My children are still young, and I’m still awed by their encounters with language and emotion; they still suffuse my poetry. I don’t think I can escape the influence of motherhood just yet. 

Emily Pérez is the author of House of Sugar, House of Stone (Center for Literary Publishing) and Backyard Migration Route (Finishing Line Press). A Canto Mundo Fellow, she has received funding and recognition from the Artist Trust, Jack Straw Writers, Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop, and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Her poems have appeared in journals including Bennington Review, Crab Orchard Review, Calyx, Borderlands, and DIAGRAM. She teaches English in Denver where she lives with her husband and sons.

Sasha West’s first book of poems, Failure and I Bury the Body (Harper Perennial), was a winner of the National Poetry Series and the Texas Institute of Letters Bob Bush First Book of Poetry Award. Her poems and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including: The Southern Review, Callaloo, Ninth Letter, Forklift OH, Born Magazine, and Third Coast. She is a professor at St. Edward’s University in Austin where she lives with her husband and daughter.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

PINTURA:PALABRA DC Residencies: installment 2

Gina Franco

Letras Latinas, the literary initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, is pleased to welcome Gina Franco—the second recipient of the PINTURA:PALABRA DC residencies. These one-week stints, for three Latina writers, are taking place in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Franco will be in residence June 6 - 13, next week.

She is the author of The Keepsake Storm, a collection of poems “that explore the surrealism of memory and narrative, especially in light of place, faith, and identity.” She has published widely in many journals, including Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Fence, POETRY, Prairie Schooner, and Zone 3, among many other magazines. Her writing has also been included in, A Best of Fence: the First Nine Years, Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing, and The Other Latin@: Writing Against a Singular Identity, among other anthologies.

“The pilot experiment for these residencies was Blas Falconer’s self-directed ekphrastic retreat in January of 2014 when he visited the Our America exhibit at the Smithsonian” said Francisco Aragón, director of Letras Latinas. “As was the case with Blas and Laurie Ann Guerrero—the inaugural recipient of this residency last year—Gina will be staying in the same Capitol Hill apartment for a full week--thanks to one of our benefactors (see below). The idea is to create opportunities for new ekphrastic writing.”

In the case of Franco’s intended project, she offers this statement:

“As I began preliminary research for my PINTURA:PALABRA DC residency, I discovered James Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly. Constructed entirely from found objects, and built secretly in a storage space over the course of fourteen years, The Throne represents the kind of visionary, devotional art that interests me most. Hampton collected the discarded, the derelict, the ruined—the ordinary detritus of everyday life—and reconfigured it into a highly symbolic, epiphanic altar, a place of awaiting, at once welcoming and awestruck, for the end of the world. Hampton was poor, African American, Southern, Evangelical, and never formally trained as an artist. He worked most of his life as a janitor, though it seems he aspired to become a minister after retirement. Most of what has been written about him and his master work focuses on these aspects of his life. I hope to write poems in response to The Throne that discover more of the theological and existential realities at work in Hampton's complex eschatological vision of the profane made sacred.” 

The Throne is part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum:

For this second installment of the PINTURA:PALABRA DC Residencies, Letras Latinas is partnering with The Los Angeles Review for eventual publication of work that emerges from Franco’s time in Washington, D.C.

“I’m thrilled at the prospect of working with Letras Latinas and Gina Franco, whose poetry I’ve admired for years. This also feels like a good fit because I participated in a similar ekphrastic residency with Letras Latinas,” said Blas Falconer, who took over as the new poetry editor for The Los Angeles Review in the last year.

The PINTURA:PALABRA DC Residencies are part of the larger, collaborative, multi-year initiative by the same name, which is fomenting the creation of art-inspired writing through workshops and special commissions, in tandem with the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s traveling exhibit, “Our America: the Latino Presence in American Art” and partnering literary journals. Thus far, portfolios of art-inspired work have appeared in Poet Lore, Notre Dame Review, and POETRY. Forthcoming portfolios are in the pike at Western Humanities Review, The Los Angeles Review, and The Packinghouse Review.

Gina Franco will also be doing an audio recording for the Library of Congress’ "Spotlight on U.S. Hispanic Writers," a collaboration with Letras Latinas which continues the tradition of the LOC’s Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape. Writers recorded in the Spotlight series thus far have been: Fred Arroyo, Richard Blanco, Brenda Cárdenas, Eduardo C. Corral, Diana García, Carmen Giménez Smith, Rigoberto González, Tim Z. Hernández, Juan Felipe Herrera, Valerie Martínez, Maria Meléndez Kelson,

Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the Institute for Latino Studies, strives to enhance the visibility, appreciation, and study of Latino literature both on and off the campus of the University of Notre Dame, with an emphasis on programs that support newer voices, and foster a sense of community among writers.

Letras Latinas
would like to thank

Molly Singer
Martha Aragon Velez

whose generosity makes
DC Residencies

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

This Blue Novel: An interview with Valerie Mejer Caso

This Blue Novel

by Valerie Mejer Caso and
translated from the Spanish by Michelle Gil-Montero
interview by Ae Hee Lee

On the preface of This Blue Novel, Raúl Zurita writes “My experience with Valerie Mejer Caso was one of startling revelation, of wonder: I knew nothing of her book, and hardly an hour later closing it, my life was another.” And indeed, Mejer’s poetry does more than address the subjects of homes, family linage, and identity— it revisits and reinvents memory. It is a poetic narrative of weaving loss and hope, past and future. One that surpasses “the logic of the world.”
Note: The book by itself was a delight to read, but the answers Mejer gave me for this interview threw another yet wonderful light upon my reading of her poems. There was so much wisdom and poetry in the process of gleaning and creating this book that I could but admire and reflect. I realized her answers were like the blue in this book, a water lamp that illuminated every word and memory, drowning it and saving it at the same time.


  1. A family tree of open mouths
seeps the dizziness of time. (45)

To large extent This Blue Novel is described as autobiographic. And we notice several family members of different nationalities (German, Spanish, etc.) making an appearance. To start this interview off, could you tell us more about your heritage and how you were inspired you, or maybe even drove you, to write this book?

I still have the notes I wrote down before writing the book. I did this for three books, I drew or outlined them beforehand, thought about their systems. This Blue Novel was also created this way. Zurita has repeatedly told me in many occasions an incredible phrase by Pacheco: “The past is a foreign country, the people there do strange things.” Now if to this we add that these people are not only foreign because they exist in the past but because in fact they were... they become doubly foreign to my understanding, as they were figures I had known in their old age and of whose past splendor I was aware of, “but I did not know them.”

Look, this is what I wrote on my notes: “the purpose of this book of poetry titled This Blue Novel is very simple: tell my story, the story of my mother, the story of my father and their respective genealogies. Tell what happened in the three houses of my childhood: my house, the house of the mother of my father, and the house of the mother of my mother.

When you are a child, the events have a phenomenological halo, that is, you see them pass by you and you don’t understand them. This book, then, has the intention of revealing the events of my childhood, of connecting this amorphous phenomena, beautiful, tragic; of tracing between them invisible strings that in their togetherness make a novel, using a poetic point of view, the mythology of this family of immigrants.

When I was a child and I would see my German grandfather eat a raw egg at 4 a.m., destine a gigantic room to set a collection of ships; when I would see my grandmother from my mother’s side (Luz) copy paintings by Goya everyday from 5 to 7, these actions were the phenomena, because they did not belong to the logic of the world, but to a poetic universe.

On the other hand, there were the stories I would listen to as a child: one day, after 8 months of being married, my grand uncle and aunt were returning from mass when they were caught in a shootout related to the Cristero War, which he had been involved with. My grand uncle fell onto my grand aunt’s lap, she moved the body and ran to the home she lived in with her ten siblings, she shoved her hand into the coat to take out the keys, and took out instead her husband’s eye. That eye occupied a central place in the imaginary map of my childhood: how did it slip into the pocket, how did the eye transform into the key, that is, in all these stories I found a poetic dimension to those phenomena without logic. My family, these people I did not know, the things they did, the inexplicable part of their lives and actions, are the crucial ingredients that will construct the plot of this book.”

A last thing regarding how I had already been a kind of spectator of them and how there were enormous gaps in their stories— writing a book presented me with the possibility of embodying them, of turning them into proper nouns. “I will introduce you to my dead,// one by one” I say at one point.

  1. Starting from the very title of the book, “This Blue Novel” is a phrase is peppered throughout the collection of poems. Breaking the fourth wall constantly, the book references itself various times:
And at the end of the autopsy,
at the door to our room at the Golden Motel: this blue novel, (29)

This created for me a fascinating effect of the blue novel weaving itself into existence. Could you tell us about how you approached working with the individual poems as you envisioned them as a collection, that is, this blue novel?

To start, this is what I wrote back then: “The fact that the title of the book includes the demonstrative “This” hopes to give the feeling that this book, that is to say, this mythology, has already been written in the sense that everything it talks about has already happened.” And that feeling I had in writing the book influenced, I think, the fact that I wrote the book as if it were really already written.

My daughter was very young, I had little time, and I locked myself up in two occasions in order to write it. Without crossing anything off or erasing it, as if I were simply reading it instead. In my first try, I covered my father’s family, in my second, which I think it goes from section XI to XXV, my mother’s and that final elegy in which the ships sink. “Two houses sink like ships”... and that is why the book starts saying “They sink, I ascend.”

But I also see that in that apparition in the line you mention is the fragment that occurs in Texas. It was a frightening journey in which we accompanied my father to buy weapons, and I think it was then that the idea that one day I would write became related to my survival. This is why I put it there, never have I ever been in need of more saving than then. And what was going to save me was my own book. I think later I was much affected by that novel by Unamuno, which he called “una nivola” instead of “una novela,” Abel Sanchez, where the character rebels against the author. This is in a secondary way, but I recall having read it many times in the fascination of discovering a new way of writing.

  1. Time is a subject that hovers over the entirety of This Blue Novel. In my reading, I found it breaks the conventions of linear narrative, challenging the traditional connotations of a novel, and it creates a poetic space of past and present in which stories of objects and the house go hand in hand with prophecies:
            It already happened (but not on this page).
It will happen as right words arrive.
The date will arrive. The dart will fly.
Meanwhile, fog circles my waist. (115)

Other times, time also seems to loop in the page. For instance, the speaker cannot seem to escape Sunday. It comes again and again:

I knew the infinite was flat, with no distinctive smell
in the pool, on the road, in the desert,
that white arithmetic, miles from all piano… Is it Sunday again? (27)

How did you visualize time in the scope of your life and the book? What kind of role did you see it taking as you wrote the book?

What comes to mind is an incredible phrase in Forrest Gander’s novel As a Friend (a novel that has a poem at its core): “Time is what the stars shine through.” I think that in the physicality of poetry and literature, time is the great subject of study. In my case I think I made it into a character. It turns into such, little by little, from when you are a child: you feel an hour passed as if it were five minutes, and that one minute felt eternal… and it starts to become a question mark. And later it never stops being one, and even more so when existence happens in time.
I also think that one of the most important books in my life is “Sculpting in Time” by Tarkovsky, a book that seemed more about how poetry works than any other theories directly addressing poetry. I think it is a way of flooding, of seeing that life. I think it is a way of tackling/confronting how life, like cinema, occurs in a medium, time, which we are ignorant of. We try to take it in all at once, as I specifically did in this book.

On the flipside, there are the dates. I found I wrote about these in a note that existed before the book: “The dates will be very important like markers throughout the poem, as they will indicate the places in time where events happened and ended up being milestones in the stories of these families. The dates are clean daggers that write a text in another language. Fatality is a date because it was a Wednesday when the library of my grandmother’s house caught on fire, and from then on that date became a milestone, it crystallized. In this the book, the date will approach itself as if it were an object in itself.” I think that tragedies are what make of time something else, they encapsulate it. In the last section of the book I have this feeling “There is fate, beginning that Wednesday,” “Fatality is just a date” and phrases in a similar vein accumulated in section XXIV, when the library burned.

  1. The Blue Novel invents nothing. Neither is everything true.                         Its wildest improbability is life. (31)
This is probably one of my favorite moments in the book. You also wrote in the postscript “History enters with the image,” which caught my attention in a different way. It made me want to ask: how would you say you reconcile the relationship between truth in those memories that dwell in the mind, the concrete pictures that photographs offer (which are so wonderfully woven into the book), and the surreal imagery you paint? Or maybe you think it is not necessary to reconcile at all?

It is an important fact that I did not have access to the pictures that appear in this book until two years after I published it in Spanish. It was when I returned to see Maria Cristina Caso, to whom the postscript is dedicated. Upon reading the book, she gave me the photographs. Maria Crisitna my aunt and her daughter, also called Maria Cristina, were “corroborating” the story, recognizing the stories in the images. I think when I said “History enters with an image” it has to do with the process of memory. In the back cover’s inside there is the photo of children petting a deer, and next to it, a dog. They were the pets of the house, and it was maybe 1924. The younger of the sisters of my Grandmother Luz (the one who made copies of Goya and to whom I dedicated this book) is called Teresa, and she had been born in the year when the revolution was coming to an end but when the Spanish flu was making its way in. These children grew up with a mental injury, and remained children forever. All of this brings me back to the deer, which one day came into the house and broke something that was important to my great-grandmother, and then when Tita (Teresa) walked into the kitchen, they were beheading it. From then on, Tita did a hand gesture that pretended to be a knife on her own neck every time someone died… People who had died from then on, were referenced with this gesture as well. Her father who died in the sugar plant, Ramón who dinned so much a Christmas thirteen years ago and was found dead in the morning. In the book, a deer crosses the garden without a head. I think that’s what they said, that the body kept walking for a moment.

This happened not a week after a headless deer
ran through the garden.
In this house, the true stories seem like dreams.

“She is real only to the point where I can imagine her” writes Gloria Gervitz about her mother in her book Migraciones. This is of course a point of paradox between the real and the surreal. I recall that book that Lorca’s sister wrote clarifying that almost everything that her brother had written “had really happened.” This is what I proposed to myself about reality before writing This Blue Novel:

In This Blue Novel, the words will form connections that currently are nothing but empty spaces in my memory. In this way, with the necessity of revealing these lacunae, these vacuums, between story and story, this book happens not in the known stories but in the effort of going through them, of embroidering all of that unknown territory.

“In my house the dead were more than the living,” writes Octavio Paz in his book Pasado en Claro. The objects belonging to my father’s first wife surrounded my childhood. She died while giving birth her first child, which is why I never met her. She is one of those dead that were more than the living. The invention of these unknown living and dead with whom I grew up is one of the purposes of this book. Only the poetic language can trace reasons and connections between all these events.

What I do know is that this story ended in tragedy, but this tragedy is only the denouement: my father destroyed all the ships in my grandfather’s collection. This tragedy, like all tragedies, asks why? And I chose the poetic route to answer the question. This is like what Paul Auster does in his book The Invention of Solitude. From this same question that emerged from the way his grandmother murdered his grandfather, that is, from a tragedy, the author dedicates himself throughout his book to attempt to write the portrait of an invisible man, inaccessible, a man who had been his father and whom he did not know. Auster chooses prose to write it all, absolutely everything that he remembers in relation to his father. I would choose poetry as my medium.

This book of poetry starts when the denouement of this tragedy is already inevitable: my father has already destroyed that large collection of ships that belonged to his father, my mother has already died from cancer. The image that would best describe would be that of encountering a box of damaged photos and make sense of the fragments through words. In this sense, the book doesn’t have truth as purpose: “Language is not equivalent to truth; it is our way of existing in this world,” writes Auster in the Invention of Solitude.
  1. Translator Michelle Gil-Montero expressed her thoughts about the “blue” in the book, the azul. In her own words, the Spanish word for the color “in fact comes from, ‘lapis lazuli,’ whose own etymology conflates stone and sea and sky…” To this she adds the blue of fire and the blue of death. For my part, I have always associated azul with the color of the fantastic and fairytales. And indeed, the book refers to Snow White and the Hunter, Hansel and Gretel, Christian Saints, characters from Greek and Roman Mythology, and more. The more I read, the more I felt you inserted the seemingly unreal to real living spaces and lives. This long introduction boils down to me being very interested in hearing more about the color azul and what it means to you.
 I think that an invention in the moment in which it occurs comes from multiple places, all of the ones you mention, but the fact is that when I told myself the title would be “This… blue… novel” the blue appeared alone. In this book the title existed before any of the poems. All of the epigraphs in this book elucidate the references (debts) that were already existing for me. These are some of them:

The houses are all gone under the sea. – T.S.Eliot            

Le bleu est une couleur propice à la disparition. – Jean Michel Maulpoix  

 ¡Todo a voces azules el secreto de su infantil mecánica! – José Gorostiza

And to end, I think the one by Eliot became the main key: the houses sank in the blue of the sea. The book then could not be anything else but blue.

  1. I am aware you are a translator yourself, having translated works such as Tremble, Temblar by C.D Wright and Apalaquia, Apalachia by Charles Wright, and Torn Awake, Arrancado del Sueño by Forrest Gander (2005). Could you also tell us how did you find yourself as a writer and translator engaging with the published translation of your work? Especially as you write in This Blue Novel that “English is a language of water and good for recounting disasters” (31).       
The violent family spoke in English. This is why they returned to that scene, making the whole first part of the book return to its original medium for me. And Michelle Gil Montero was someone whom C.D. Wright asked to do this translation. And I think among the innumerable debts that I have with C.D. that I will never be able to pay back, there is the one in which she picked Montero, who not only did a detailed job but also did so with a great perspective on the ensemble, and with an artfulness that made the broken cup in this book one that could be drank from.

Painter and poet Valerie Mejer was born in Mexico City. Her poems explore containment and fragility, layering loss and possibility over a once-familiar landscape. She is the author of the poetry collections THIS BLUE NOVEL (Action Books, 2015), translated by Michelle Gil-Montero, RAIN OF THE FUTURE (Action Books, 2013), translated by C.D. Wright, Forrest Gander, and Alexandra Zelman; de la ola, el atajo (2009); Geografías de Niebla (2008); Esta Novela Azul(2004), which was translated by Michelle Gil-Montero as This Blue Novel (2013); and Ante el Ojo de Cíclope (1999). Her book De Elefante a Elefante (1997) won the Spanish Government's "Gerardo Diego 1966" International Award. Her etchings appear in Raúl Zurita's Los Boteros de la Noche (2010), and her paintings appear in Forrest Gander's Ligaduras/Ligatures (2012) and in Antonio Prete's Menhir (2007) and L'imperfection de la Lune (2007). Mejer is also the recipient of two CONACULTA grants as well as a grant from Sistema Estatal de Creadores for her translations of Australian poet Les Murray's work.

Ae Hee Lee is a South Korean by birth and Peruvian by heart and memory. She is currently an MFA candidate in the creative writing program of The University of Notre Dame and works as a graduate assistant for the university’s Institute of Latino Studies. You can find (or will find) her poetry in Dialogue, Cha, Cobalt, Spark: A Creative Anthology, Ruminate, Day One, Silver Birch Press, and The Margins.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

LETRAS LATINAS is pleased to announce....

Felicia Zamora

Felicia Zamora wins 2016 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize

Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies is pleased to announce Felicia Zamora of Fort Collins, Colorado as the winner of the seventh edition of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize—an initiative which supports the publication of a first book by a Latino/a poet residing in the United States. Noted poet, Edwin Torres, was the judge.

In its constant unhurried evolution, Zamora has crafted a work that celebrates the impact of form as human revolution — the poem’s breath, the poet’s body — passing over time in a landscape thirsty for passage. The lungs between the lines, one continuous vertibration, page to page, word to other. Zamora’s reminder, is to affect each part of the poem by the organized assemblage of its gathering. Implementing a profoundly gentle humanity that connects to the shifting external across borders, continuously returning to invention — with a charge to the ‘think’, a dare to the heart, that brings the reader to the reader’s own voice. With a language that lives to be lived, she brings about ‘other’ as ‘in’ — to affect change by knowing that change needs to happen underneath our organized paradigms, beneath layers of cognition. This is quietly revolutionary work that throws a gauntlet to the social diaspora. A living palimpsest to newly awaken our social engagement by breathing in a simultaneity of opposing forces — as tectonic plates of hearing that create new fissures inside the unfolding kinetic,” read Torres’ award citation.

Felicia Zamora is the winner of the 2015 Tomaž Šalamun Prize from Verse, and author of the chapbooks Imbibe {et alia} here (Dancing Girl Press 2016) and Moby-Dick Made Me Do It (2010). Her published works may be found or forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review, BOMB, Camas, Cimarron Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose, ellipsis…literature and art, Harpur Palate, Hotel Amerika, Indiana Review, Juked, Meridian, North American Review, Phoebe, Pleiades, Potomac Review, Puerto del Sol, Tarpaulin Sky Magazine, The Burnside Review, The Carolina Quarterly, The Cincinnati Review, The Laurel Review, The Journal online, The Normal School, The Pinch Journal, TriQuarterly Review, Witness Magazine, West Branch, and others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Colorado Review and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Colorado State University.  

“This prize is a huge honor for me. The work of Letras Latinas and the Institute of Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame impacts Latino/a poetry around the country, and for an emerging poet like myself, helps bring dreams into fruition,” said Zamora.

Zamora’s winning manuscript, Of Form & Gather, will be published in 2017 by University of Notre Dame Press.

Letras Latinas strives to enhance the visibility, appreciation and study of Latino literature both on and off the campus of the University of Notre Dame, with an emphasis on programs that support newer voices and foster a sense of community among writers.