In the spring of 2004, poet Robert Vasquéz selected El Paso native Sheryl Luna as the inaugural winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. In some respects, it's fitting that this four-part series of mini-interviews concluded with the author of Pity the Drowned Horses because the cover art for this volume was created by Andrés Montoya's father, Malaquias Montoya, who produced this image as a direct result of his engagement with Luna's winning manuscript. And it's Malaquias Montoya who has created the silkscreen print that will be the cornerstone of the soon-to-be-launched Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize Initiative...
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.
SL: I have a close relationship with my uncle, Alberto Escamilla, a visual artist. We discuss art being a life-long process and share difficulties, accomplishments, goals and struggles with one another. My mother is also an artist and paints with oils and acrylics and she is always encouraging about utilizing my creativity. Both have been models for me in terms of persistence, time spent towards improving as an artist, and the joy and pleasure that arises from the act of creativity.
Years ago, in the late nineties, I wrote a series of poems about Matisse based on art I’d viewed at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. I’d like to once again find that intersection between visual art and my poems.
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.
SL: My first collection dealt with the El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez as a place. The border was seen as both bridge and barrier. I was interested in the concept of the border and growing up there and having left and returned. So, the border as home was what the book was about initially. I was very interested in music at the time and sought to make my lines musically appealing, and of course the crisp image and careful attention to language were the building blocks for that collection. I found it interesting at the time I wrote it to make associative leaps that were surprising based on the images around me along the border.
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?
SL: I was very glad to have a book published as it proved quite difficult to find a publisher. In terms of my writing career, I think it helped publishers take an interest in later work, particularly a second collection of poetry which is still in the works.
“There’s a weighty mournfulness to Luna’s borderlands, where the stark poverty of Mexico butts against the brash, unyielding sprawl of her American city. Pity the Drowned Horses takes its reader across a ravaged landscape where . . . the last few hares sprint across a bloodied/highway and there are women everywhere/who have half-lost their souls/in sewing needles and vacuum-cleaner parts. In this world of little comfort, Luna is intent on seeking meaning—however bitter—in the emptiness and meditating on the redeeming power of language.” — The Texas Observer
(University of Notre Dame Press, 2005)
by Sheryl Luna
was a finalist for the Colorado Book Prize in poetry
and profiled at Poets&Writers in their annual feature on debut poets.