Ruben Quesada and Gary Jackson @ Boxcar Poetry Review
Back in June of this year I had the opportunity to profile Ruben Quesada and his debut collection Next Extinct Mammal (Greenhouse Review Press, 2011), of which D.A. Powell writes: “Like Whitman, Quesada is a poet of motion—journeying to the center of the US… toward “that seam in space” where dream and experience intersect.” And which Gary Jackson confirms in this conversation between the two poets titled “The Aesthetic of Origins Stories: Gary Jackson and Ruben Quesada,” when he observes: “I couldn't stop reading - in part because I found your book has this very natural trajectory, not necessarily narrative, but a succession of moments that move forward, chronologically and towards this inevitable maturation.” Gary Jackson on the other hand reflects on the superheroes in his Missing You, Metropolis and the way in which these characters often come to reflect the social and historical context of our times, and the ways in which recent technological advances have been made in an effort to “communicate with each other—a goal that poetry has been achieving for centuries.”
Rigoberto González and Joy Castro @ Critical Mass
Joy Castro is an associate professor at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln and the author of The Truth Book: A Memoir (Arcade, 2005), the novel Hell or High Water (St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne, 2012. Her most recent is Island of Bones (University of Nebraska Press, 2012), and which is profiled in an interview by Latino/a Poetry Now featured poet, Rigoberto González for Critical Mass. Rigoberto González is slated to read—along with Xochiquetzal Candelari and Lorena Duarte—on October 10 at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Of Island of Bones the reviewers at Kirkus Review write poignantly: “Throughout her life, Castro has had to redefine her identity, both to herself and to others. These powerful transformations form the backbone of this slim volume of visceral pieces.” If in our contemporary society notions of identity have become powerful ideas not only in nation building, but also in the construction of myths, which more often than not exclude or restrict membership for certain groups (I think, from recent memory, of the Obama birth certificate controversy or this year’s Republican National Convention’s mantra of “We built it”) than literature like that of Island of Bones has the power not only to reveal the danger behind that logic but also to offer a way beyond such problematic notions of identity:
“Written literature has an unusually powerful rhetorical opportunity in this regard, due to its intimacy: one person’s story, one person’s voice entering the mind of the solitary reader. We want to connect to the speaker of the poem or the narrator of the story. We want to care, to see things through his or her eyes. We respect the private story of the individual, and we give it credence. (As writers and literary critics, we may problematize personae or issues of reliability, but most readers typically do not.)
Because of this power, literature has tremendous potential to both honor and complicate inherited cultural narratives. In the Latino studies courses I teach, students respond more honestly and vulnerably to literature than to the political, historical, and sociological material we also study. What they remember are the poems.”
Cynthia Cruz @ The Rumpus
Cynthia Cruz is the author of Ruin (Alice James Book, 2006) and a second collection, The Glimmering Room forthcoming from Four Way Books. She is a CantoMundo fellow and the current Hodder Fellow in Poetry at Princeton University. Cruz, a former reader of the PALABRA PURA reading series, (Letras Latinas was once co-sponsor and curator of the series) is currently featured in an interview by Lisa Wells for The Rumpus. Wells describes Cynthia’s poems as “spare, fierce, dark little packages that managed to feel both mystical—almost like fairytales—and contemporary.” And in describing the atmosphere which permeates Ruin—what Wells refers to as the “filth” in Ruin—the desire to turn the “terrible into the beautiful,” Cruz explains this as her aesthetic desire to get at the “center of truth,” much like the way in which the objects we own brutally reveal what we often do not communicate to the world:
“I always tell my students to take notes on their lives: to literally write down, indiscriminately, everything in their world: the Chekhov on the old wood nightstand near the bed, the chipped tea cup, the pile of French Vogue magazines stacked on the floor. These objects reveal far more than we can say about our selves—and more honestly. This is the stuff of our poems. Not necessarily lists or list poems, but, rather, incorporating, in some way, the objects which hold meaning into our work.”
Fred Arroyo @ The Story Prize
Fred Arroyo is the author of Western Avenue and Other Fictions (University of Arizona Press, 2012), and the novel The Region of Lost Names (University of Arizona Press, 2008), a finalist for the 2008 Premio Aztlán Literary Prize. Arroyo is slated to read from Western Avenue on October 4th at the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Arroyo is currently featured at The Story Prize with an interview titled “Fred Arroyo Finds Stories in the Land.” In recalling the reasons for becoming a writer, Arroyo recalls working long-shifts in Midwestern factories and taking long drives and walks through the towns and forests of northern Michigan, where he was “looking for something.” Arroyo recalls reading The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway and liking “the smells and sounds, the images, and the physical sensations and details” of the words but more importantly in Arroyo remember recognizing himself and the people he labored with in that novel. In one of these walks Arroyo finds himself in the town where Hemmingway’s family had a home only to realize that what he had been looking for, the stories that can make a writer and reader confront their real and imaginary losses, where to be found in the land from which he was driving away from:
“My greatest inspiration is probably the land. I'm convinced stories are in the land, they exist within a place, and part of what I must do is listen closely to them. The lived, storied earth is more central to me than an idea or an aesthetic aspiration, as are the people who live and work the land. For some reason certain characters and peoples continue to turn to me, speak to me, and I try to tell their stories. In my fiction, I write of peoples rooted in a physical world—workers living, dreaming, and struggling in their place, even if they are often forced to migrate or question their place because of larger social pressures, or say the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These are peoples I admire greatly, even though I know they are often overlooked, and when they are recognized they are more than likely seen as not belonging, or failures. Their stories inspire me to move toward new emotional borders or regions, where fiction has the power to eliminate borders and entangle us in the drama of the human heart.”
Fred Arroyo is also slated to read—with Richard Blanco—at The River Front Reading Series in Kansas City, Missouri on September 16 (an event co-sponsored by Letras Latinas and Bernardin Haskell Funds, UMKC Dept. of Latina/Latino Studies/UMKC Dept. of Foreign Languages and Literatures, The Latino Writers Collective, Riverfront Reading Series, The Writers Place).
[For more info. on Letras Latinas events check out “Letras Latinas Presents.”]