Monday, August 8, 2011

Letras Latinas welcomes Lauro Vazquez

At the inaugural CantoMundo gathering at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuqurque, NM, I had the pleasure meeting Lauro Vazquez:

 CantoMundo Fellows reading, 2010

Little did I know that one year later I'd be welcoming him to the Notre Dame family as an incoming M.F.A. candidate in poetry. It's also with great pleasure that I welcome Lauro to Letras Latinas. He has graciously agreed to answer a few questions.


As you know, we had the pleasure of meeting at the inaugural CantoMundo gathering in the summer of 2010. At the time, you were slated to enroll in an M.F.A. program in California. Why have you decided to pursue an M.F.A. and what do you hope to gain, as a writer, from this experience?

Yes, I was going to enroll at Fresno State right after I had graduated from Dominican University in San Rafael, California where I did my undergraduate studies. At the time, I was unsure if I wanted to follow the MFA path. I wasn’t unsure about my identity as a poet but about what I wanted to do as a recent graduate.
 As an undergrad I had worked at my university’s kitchen and this experience profoundly shaped my ideas on art and poetry: A poet needs no official training or recognition to validate his or her identity as a poet. In fact, I believe that such training can sometimes be stifling to a poet’s creative process. I started to write poems because I wanted to make my co-workers visible to the rest of the college community. I needed no approval from anyone; if it humanized the kitchen then it was poetry.
A poet, however, is not a community of his or her own; she needs the space and right guidance to develop her craft, to grow. For me this is an opportunity to belong to a community of writers and to have the privilege of the time to write. Writing, for me, is ultimately a weapon for social change and thus my interest is in how best to intersect my social consciousness with aesthetic consciousness of the language; to better understand and go beyond the limitations of writing for change.    
Could you share with the readers of Letras Latinas Blog how you came to poetry—the circumstances and experiences that led to that moment when you said to yourself: this is what I want to do?

I came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico at age nine, and never imagined or even considered the possibility of higher education, or of becoming a poet. My junior year in high school I was fortunate to stumble upon Luis Rodríguez’s poem “My Name’s Not Rodríguez.” And for the first time in the U.S. I felt a sort of recognition (being undocumented not only translates to being subjected to poverty but also to the violence of anonymity). That poem was for me like a mirror. I felt for the first time a sense of identity and validation. It was then that I fell in love with words and history, and that I realized that where there is artistic creativity there is human dignity; that the ability to create art is an assertion of the self where such an assertion is not permitted.
Are there particular projects you hope to work on during your two years as an M.F.A. student, both as a writer of poetry and a reader of poetry? If so, could you talk about them here?

Yes, of course I’d like to work on my own poetry. There are a few projects that have been simmering in my blood and head. Most of all I’d like to hammer out a complete manuscript, something that feels like a roller coaster ride, that reads and feels like a Mexican mural; that awakens and incites a reader’s imagination. I’d also like to read more prose, I don’t often read or write prose.
As writers we are part of a privileged and specialized class. As much as we like to think we are writing for the “common people” we are, more often than not, writing for and being read by other writers. Writing for change is a delicate balancing act: on the one hand a writer cannot be too hard on him or herself. Writing is an act of solidarity which has consequences that cannot always be measured.
On the other hand, however, if a writer goes beyond his commitment to putting pen to paper—if, for example, a poet is convinced that poetry is not made of words alone but also political actions, he or she is often rewarded with censorship or exile from the realm of poesy.
The ability to be a revolutionary and at the same time a working and successful member of society is not only a poetic undertaking but also the most meaningful and challenging project for me. 
Stay tuned as Lauro becomes a regular contributor to Letras Latinas Blog, and helps us carry out Letras Latinas' mission.
Lauro Vazquez 
(M.F.A. class of 2013
University of Notre Dame)


Read some of Lauro's poems

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