Thursday, December 2, 2010

Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (1): Emma Trelles

This is the first in a series of mini-interviews with current and past winners of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. All will be answering the same three questions. These, and a forthcoming interview with writer Daniel Chacón, who has edited a manuscript of poetry by Andrés Montoya that aspires to be a posthumous book, are part of what Letras Latinas is calling the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize Initiative. Stay tuned.


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?

ET: There is a long and ongoing love affair between poetry and visual art:  Blake, Apollinaire, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Patti Smith,  the tradition of ekphrasis, the Sackner Archive of concrete and visual poetry, which is housed here in South Florida—all of these come instantly to mind and I'm certain I could come up with a weighty list of who and what has tethered poems to art over centuries. About five years ago, I began covering the visual arts as a journalist, and the steady viewing and analysis that accompanied this job found its way into my own poems, but not in any overt ways, as of yet. Instead, I find myself wanting to write more deeply into my own work, to not be satisfied with the precisely rendered image but to investigate its relevance within the larger context of perception. Visual art has invited me to consider how language shapes memory in its immediate and distant forms. This focus on texture, I believe, is a direct result of me looking hard at the abstractions of Georgia O'Keeffe or the manipulation of light by the French Impressionists. Visual art, ironically enough, has made me examine not just how poems look, but how they think. Because the best of art, the kind that stays with me, at least, has a brain buzzing beneath its surfaces.

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.

ET: Place, particularly in the form of physical geographies, has been a key theme in my work up until now. South Florida's quilt of city and wilderness is a constant source of interest to me, although I've lately thought more loosely about place, how it can incorporate intangibles such as time or spirit or even be wholly invented and still have heft. It's exciting to consider place without delineation. I do like a poem to possess at least a touch of a setting, though, even if it quickly disappears into a drift of clouds.

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?

ET: Winning this prize has been an honor, and it immediately impacted my writing career, which to me is more of a way of living than a profession.  I've been introduced to a wide community of Latino writers that I had not met or, in some instances, even known about, poets such as Brenda Cárdenas, John MurilloPaul Martinez Pompa, and Silvia Curbelo, who selected my manuscript, Tropicalia, for the prize and whose  aversion to po-business I find sort of punk rock and inspiring.  I feel as if I've joined this vast array of art makers, all of us unified by some facet of Latino/Hispanic culture—perhaps language or music, perhaps the politics of displacement or gender. We are our own distinct voices, but the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize draws us into an unexpected harmony. Although I lived in Miami for a big portion of my life, and I'm of Cuban descent, I've never felt all that Latino, so my arrival to this sphere of writers is filled with a sense of discovery.

Tropicalia (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011) 
will debut at the book fair at the 2011 AWP Conference 
in Washington, D.C. next February

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