Now that installment one of Latino/a Poetry Now has finally come full circle with the kick-off reading at Harvard University by Eduardo C. Corral, Rosa Alcalá and Aracelis Girmay I thought it befitting to present a sampling of the rich and poignant conversation between the three poets on the Poetry Society of America’s “3poets discuss their art” roundtable. More than offering the reader a sampling of this rich discussion, my intent is to contribute a little and expand on this conversation as we prepare to launch installment two of Latino/a Poetry Now which will feature poets William Archila and Ruth Irupé Sanabria at Georgetown University on March 20th and which will also feature a PSA roundtable.
The poets in this conversation are brave and generous in their conversation and engagement with the craft of poetry; and in the process they present us with a colorful tile composing this large mosaic of work being produced by a newer generation of Latino/a poets and which Latino/a Poetry Now seeks to showcase in its various installments. Rosa Alcalá writes of her need to assert and document the unspoken codes of poetry, the “general suspicion of (or disregard for) the female experience.” Aracelis Girmay proclaims her interest “in discarded information, people, places, animals, things. Scraps, first drafts.” She, like Alcalá, is also asserting the need to “write toward” the places, objects and people that have been “monstered.” The poem functions then as a body in transition, as a movement toward the beauty of what has been rendered hideous by those who fear what they do not understand. Eduardo C. Corral on the other hand finds assertion not in the too-often required autobiographical poem by the minority writer and which handles “the bodies of my loved ones with kid gloves, viewed them through rose-colored glasses.” For Corral assertion is found through aesthetic value, through rendering the “stringent spines, the funny bone, the fictitious marrow, or the brutal skin” present in a poem.
Eduardo writes “art does something wonderful to me. It gives me language.” Hinting that while subject matter is fundamental language remains—to borrow a wonderful phrase from Eduardo—queen. Alcalá writes, “the language of poetry is queen, not because it reproduces reality, but because it pushes against all those boundaries/limitations.” Language thus as a process of grafting, a cross-pollination of sorts involving other artists and mediums and which pushes us “toward” something previously thought impossible: the unmasking of the unspoken codes of poetry, unveiling the beauty in what has been rendered monstrous, the affirmation of the self or a particular experience through the containment of aesthetic qualities.
But audience here too is of relevance, as Maria Melendez, who served as the moderator this online discussion, points out Eduardo’s concern for the expectations for minority poets to “speak truth to power” in poems that will more likely than not be read by white audiences. For Aracelis Girmay the issue of audience is best illustrated by a “white center,” a complicated center which imposes its cosmology of the world on all people—whether they are writing for an audience or not. “Because of my white-centered education, because of the media, because of the presidential history of this country, because most of my fellow writing students were white, I had great practice in imagining the white center. One gets educated, quite quickly, in the nuances & range of whiteness—but we don't call it whiteness, we call it being American, human.” For Girmay the act of writing itself becomes an act of breaking and expanding the borders of this center of privilege—a center that renders the white experience as the only human experience by default—to include those in the margins, to validate those experiences as human. But this issue of audience is made even more complicated if we take into account Rosa’s astute observation that to write about issues of race and class is also to “write away” from these experiences, as these audiences are least likely to read our poetry. Like Aracelis, Rosa’s work is and is not for a particular audience but it is rather an act of “moving toward” a "place where my work will be deeply questioned & considered & lived with." And this place is a place of music, a place of tiaras and monsters, of magical tongues. As Eduardo concludes: “But something magical happens when I'm writing a poem, I'm not singing in English or in Spanish—I'm singing in my mother tongue.”
To read the full conversation click HERE.