Here is our second installment of mini-interviews with winners of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, a collaboration between Letras Latinas and University of Notre Dame Press. Paul Martinez Pompa, it so happens, is currently tweeting for the Poetry Foundation.
LL: How, if at all, are the visual arts implicated in your work as a poet? Or, can you talk about the relationship between poetry (yours or the work of others) and the visual arts.
PMP: In the sense that written art and visual art are created with an assumed audience, I see their common ground as texts that depend on their respective readers/listeners/viewers to fulfill or produce meaning. I used to approach the two mediums as mostly dissimilar, but that was maybe because the former, to me, involved a slower kind of meaning-production-process while the latter immediately imparted meaning to its audience. That assumes a lot of passivity on the part of the visual arts’ audiences. In reality, just as a poem isn’t finished until the reader engages with it, so is the case with anything visual. On a somewhat related note, I wasn’t able to title my book until I engaged with the artwork that eventually became the book’s cover. I gave the artist, Lauren Levato, my manuscript, which at the time had a less satisfactory title; she read the poems and came up with the cover image. When I saw her work and thought about its implications, it provided me with the distance and perspective to arrive at a title that better fit what was going on with my poems. In other words, I arrived at the book’s title only after a visual artwork reported/exposed/communicated back to me what I was doing.
LL: Please pick one of the three following topics/themes, and share what relationship it has with your work as a poet: place, voice, community.
PMP: I suppose the most immediate topic/theme I engaged with in my first book was place, not only in the sense of, say, an imagined city, suburb or bathroom stall as a place, but also the body as a place, as a site that acts and is acted upon, as a place that empowers and disempowers. For most of the poems, voice and community begin with an awareness of place.
LL: What did winning the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and, as a result, having your first book published mean to you? What effect did it have on your writing career?
PMP: Winning the Montoya Prize meant a lot. While I write poems primarily out of emotional and psychological necessity, I have the hope that someone will eventually read the poems, so the Prize and subsequent publication provided an opportunity to reach a larger audience and create further meaning. The Prize has also afforded me the opportunity to travel and connect with other writers and artists around the country who I would not have met otherwise. Writing can be a very solitary endeavor, so the Prize helped me to gain a better sense of community. And considering the historical marginalization of Latin@ voices, the Montoya Prize is an empowering platform that allows us to shape and revise ongoing conversations pertaining to art and politics. Lastly, and unexpectedly, the Prize upped the stakes for me as a poet; the visibility that it provided has served as a welcome challenge to keep evolving as a writer and as an artist.
My Kill Adore Him (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009)
was a finalist for the 2009 Book of the Year Award
at ForeWord Magazine.