Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Young Poets Roundtable: a Letras Latinas initiative

“My poems are constantly struggling with resistance, the expectation that comes with being a Latina poet/performer. Simultaneously my poems are extremely concerned with writing the stories that were never written for me to read”

—Elizabeth Acevedo

“I was born in Reynosa. I lived in Michigan. I live in El Valle. I live in Louisiana. I carry others’ stories and experiences with me, those of relatives, friends, and strangers. I am going to write about all of this. I am going to write about none of this.”

—Nayelly Barrios

 “What I want is to slow the world down to a crawl and from there, with time, meditate on the issues that are at the edges of identity and art.”

—Marcelo H. Castillo

“[I]f there is a Latino/a literature in the United States, I think its value lies exactly in its resistance to the notion of fixed cultural categories”

—Thade Correa

“So, consider for a moment that shift. The shift in not having "documents" in a historical and metaphorical sense to creating them, a shift in responsibility from being a consumer of a text "about oneself," to a creator.”

—Lauren Espinoza

“As much as I tried to run away from my Latina identity in order to blend in and go unobserved, I realized during a recent trip to Guatemala that I had merely come full circle—it took 30 years to figure this out.”

—Lynda Letona

“Poetry is a kind of endless river I can swim in and not drown, as long as I hold onto the float that is the pen.”

—Javier Zamora


So spoke seven poets currently enrolled in MFA programs, representing: Arizona State University, McNeese State University, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, New York University, and the University of Notre Dame, organized and moderated by a poet who has just completed one (Congratulations, Lauro!).

Hopefully, we’ve whetted your appetite to read on. But carve out some time: what follows is a substantive document that, in my view, merits careful and sustained attention, confirming what I’ve suspected for some time now: Latino poetry’s future is alive and well and kicking…

And that's it as far as a "preface"goes: after reading this roundtable, a voice whispered: step aside, you're in the way


Lauro Vazquez:
In the introduction to the The Other Latin@: Writing Against a Singular Identity (University of Arizona, 2011) the editors (Blas Falconer and Lorraine M. López) write:

All Latinos share some Latin American heritage. Apart from this, there is no essential or singular trait of Latino identity; nonetheless, in the United States, Latinos or Hispanics are often viewed as a monolithic and homogeneous group. [….] From such reductive and oversimplified ideas of cultural identity, the Latino writer often appears on the scene as a mediator, translator, or insider ethnographer bearing literary artifacts from the native culture to enlighten and entertain members of the dominant culture. He or she often succumbs to the pressure to support the illusion of cultural cohesion despite multiple variations that challenge, counter, and flat out deny assertions of sameness necessary for promoting even the feasibility of a spokesperson.

Can we speak of a single unified Latino/a identity (and literature) despite the term’s obvious linguistic, cultural and racial heterogeneity?  And how do we—as poets, as makers of culture—help to complicate, reaffirm, and negotiate this unique and changing landscape?

Thade Correa:
Of course, I can only speak to this question as an individual and as an artist. I do not think we can speak of a single, unified, or coherent Latino/a identity; rather, I’d like to identify the multiplicity and diversity that you speak of as what characterizes the Latino/a identity, for me. I think, fundamentally, all identities (cultural and otherwise) are always multiple, unfixed, and in a state of constant dynamic flux and creative negotiation. That is a way of saying that identity does not exist in any essential way, and any essentialist claims to a singular definition of identity are ultimately totalizing illusions.

Growing up with a Puerto Rican father and a German-Polish mother, I never experienced my own cultural identity, or any other identities, as fixed, unchanging, eternal states of being, but rather as constructions created by time, place, and situation. My father spoke Spanish with my paternal grandparents, who had both come to the continental US from Puerto Rico as teenagers; my maternal grandparents spoke Polish to one another, and they were the children of parents who had to come to the US from Poland and Germany as teenagers. So both of my parents came from families relatively new to the US, and the one thing that both families shared was a kind of outsider status, the status of being “other” in the face of the normalized, homogenized, (and ultimately unreal) white American “identity.”

When my parents first started dating in the 1980s in Northwest Indiana, the mere fact that a white-skinned woman and a dark-skinned man had chosen to be with one another caused a great deal of uproar among many ignorant folk, and my father was regularly viewed with suspicion by the largely “white” population and, at times, harassed by the police while he was out and about with my mother. The people of my hometown saw only the fact that my mother was “white,” and my father was “black,” and that they were together was unacceptable, threatening, and downright enraging to them. I do not think the people of my hometown realized, however, that beyond the fact of my parents’ skin color, both were equally outsiders to the idea of a coherent, stable, unchanging American identity. Nor would they have realized that my father, as a Puerto Rican, was a mix of European, Taino, and African ethnicities, and my mother was a mix of German and Polish ethnicities. They saw only the surface of things, and for them, my parents’ identities were not only fixed, but completely opposed.

My feeling is that to be multiple and diverse in the face of a totalizing illusion of coherent “identities” is always to be an outsider. Growing up both “Latino” and “Polish/German,” I was, from the first moment of my life, aware of myself as fundamentally many-in-one. I think we, as human beings, are all fundamentally diverse and multiple, every single one of us. That is something we must celebrate in the face of homogeneity and conformism. Walt Whitman wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Poetry is that medium by which I express my own particular “largeness,” my own individual multitudinousness. And, if there is a Latino/a literature in the United States, I think its value lies exactly in its resistance to the notion of fixed cultural categories—in its affirmation of being an “outsider,” in its celebration of diversity itself.       

Marcelo H. Castillo:
Thank you, Thade, for such an insightful introduction. Because he has been recently on my mind, and because I feel it pertains to our larger question at hand, I am reminded of Robert Hayden’s final poem in his last book published after his death. How the speaker, as an alien visitor gathering intelligence on the human race and in specific, the Americans, ends the poem by saying,

“confess i am curiously drawn         unmentionable  to
the americans    doubt i could exist among them for
long however    psychic demands far too severe
much violence   much that repels               I am attracted
none the less      their variousness their ingenuity
their elan vital     and that some thing       essence
quidity   I cannot penetrate or name.”

(American Journal)

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until recently that I began to think I could possibly and involuntarily stand out as a spokesman, however minor and insignificant, to a Latino identity, one that, as the editors of the Other Latin@ say, serves as “an ethnographer bearing literary artifacts from a native culture.” I don’t know what this Latino aesthetic could be, and as Thade points out, it is always changing and unidentifiable. However, to the dominant culture, perhaps there is one definite, or as close to the term definite as we can come to in poetry, identity that can classify Latin@ poetry. Should we set our art as a practice that rejects such classifications or irrespective of how we are received, write the only truths we know? Here I’ll turn back to Hayden, “that some thing  essence / quidity I cannot penetrate or name.” There is a paradox between the intentions of our art and how the larger literary landscape sees our art (though I hesitate to say “our art”). There is a paradox between what we, poets of a different heritage and culture from that of the dominant culture, are doing and what the dominant culture thinks we are doing. The dominant culture within the academy and the larger literary scene, like many anthologies that aim to construct the canon through generalities and movements, is fond of grouping. By which I mean, they like to categorize, and create shortcuts that lead to something meaningful: a meaning-making machine. The key term here is meaningful.  Perhaps our intentions are misinterpreted. Perhaps the general dominant culture, within the literary scene and outside it, believes that they can name that “quiddity” or that “essence” which is at the heart of Latin@ poetry. From the inside, we recognize that we cannot name that quiddity, that we cannot embody it, and that it remains inpenetrable and nameless for a reason. In order for us to complicate or negotiate this changing landscape, we must make it evident to the wider audience to focus less on the subject and more on our intentions behind the execution of the subject. Both should be taken into equal consideration.
I live by Louis Glück’s final lines to her poem Nostos, “we look at the world once, in childhood.  / The rest is memory.” We speak about our experiences the way Plath did, the way Adrienne Rich did, Robert Hass, Frost, and the list could go on. Our poetry should not only be categorized by our subject because it stands out, but by our (and here, I speak mostly about me) approach to the subject, to the image, metaphor and so on. Our experiences are different, which will yield a different subject. But here, what is seen as different in us is taken as the official banner rather than what the underlying structures and attempts our art is performing.
       I have been personally struggling to resist succumbing to the pressure of supporting the illusion of cultural cohesion. However, it should be less a question of succumbing than one of redefining the relations of power that pin us at the intersections of race and culture into a specific type or “mode.” Foucault, for me, has been an appropriate model in terms of resistance to a fabric of power that is ever present and domineering; how the procedures of normalization are ingrained into our very psyche and by strategically pressuring the exact components of society or discourse that are against our favor, we can, in a way, reverse those relations of power and redefine how our work is perceived.

I recently had a conversation with a poet who visited my program in which I asked her the very same question, “how do I create in the fault line of two cultures? Is what I write a confirmation of the type of poetry an editor would classify as Latino? Should I write to that standard because it is all I have?” She replied, and I agree, with an outstanding, “No!” She said that we shouldn’t write to the Latin@ canon, that, in effect, anything we write should be considered the Latin@ canon because it is we who wrote it. More and more, the question of culture has moved to the forefront of my thinking. However, I’m inclined to believe that art comes before identity, whichever way we wish to define identity, or the lack of it. I do not write about my current undocumented status because, frankly, at this point I don’t feel as if it could trump the art of interpreting and rendering an object or experience. Perhaps it is too vulnerable of a subject and too close to myself at the moment. What I want is to slow the world down to a crawl and from there, with time, meditate on the issues that are at the edges of identity and art. Perhaps in the future I may begin to write about my family crossing the border in 1993 through the hills of Tijuana. Six of us in total and my mother being four months pregnant with my youngest brother and my fifteen-year-old sister who was forced to dress like a boy so as to not attract attention from the coyotes. I will write about this because in the experience of being undocumented, there exists an underlying current of myth, or structure that will grant me a unique perspective on what it means to be in this limbo state.
Lastly, I would like to say that there are questions I am asking that my reader isn’t asking him or herself, and that, to me, is a problem. The reader and the poet, however disjointed their relationship may be, should bear at least some semblance of continuity. To put identity before art / technique / execution means that we ourselves are investing in this idea of “spokesperson” for a culture.

Lynda Letona:
I like this notion of being in-between states or having what Du Bois termed a “Double consciousness”—a paradoxical state. Belonging and not belonging, Other and yet “U.S. Resident” (a recent happening that I think will forever feel a bit unreal), niña y mujer (though some friends have jokingly referred to me as “The Man,” so paradoxes abound), dark skinned and “gringa,” tamales and burgers, English and Spanish, the list could be endless. As much as I tried to run away from my Latina identity in order to blend in and go unobserved, I realized during a recent trip to Guatemala that I had merely come full circle—it took 30 years to figure this out. So many triggers: the taste of jocote and mango, taste of handmade tortillas and tostadas con frijoles y queso, the unapologetic cursing in front of children, the boys playing soccer instead of obsessing to do homework like the American kids. There is something about Latino culture that moves, feels, and tastes different. A chaotic rhythm to things. Of course, we’re not homogenous, but I’m talking about a captured spirit, an essence that communes in a way that American individualism can’t quite grasp (or the other way around). Maybe this boils down to economics. For many Latino families the thought of being on your own is unthinkable, partly for economic reasons, partly for cultural. Perhaps economic mobility is starting to change this, but I still think it’s prevalent.

So what does all this have to do with poetry? Well, when I stopped trying to run away from my identity and embraced the troubled past and history of my people, origins, parents (if you want to go macro or micro), I began writing with freedom. I had previously thought that writing was the only place where I could live freely, since legally, I was bound as “illegal.” But there was something holding me back, and I think it was this reluctance to embrace my past and its implications, and also my fears of somehow being found out, even though I knew I could write only for myself. There was a psychic block that translated from not having papers to pen. It’s hard to explain. Maybe as Du Bois suggests, I had internalized this narrative of Otherness, when all along, I had also created this narrative that I fit in, that look—I can speak your language, I can write your language, I can dress, eat, watch movies like you. But there was another narrative I was repressing and it was waiting to burst out from the seams. Remember me, niña? It said. I, your tía, took you to the beach, took you to Los Helados Pops, watched you perform as Moses at Casa de Esperanza. What about Chayanne? Remember how we listened to his tapes and adored his poster in my bedroom? What about your favorite dish? The dish I made you before you left to the states? Tortitas con arroz? What about the mean rich girls from Colegio Lehnsen? What about the time I went all out to get you a discount for your estreno de Navidad, that dress you wanted for Christmas, and I burst out the tears to haggle a good price at the Mercado Central? Do you remember?

Pero tía, how could I forget?

For me, there is a sense of Latino identity that I cannot fully define, but feel as a distinct thread, narrative, or spirit. At the same time, this identity does not entirely define me. I am also American/woman/Other. But at the end, these are just possibilities of being: poetry and literature allows us endless narratives and voices from which to speak and share our particularities.

Javier Zamora:
Thank you all for these responses on Latinid@ identity. As Lydia has mentioned, my approach to poetry was similar to her “psychic block that translated from not having papers to pen” and yes, “it’s hard to explain.” For me, my senior year of high-school (when a poet came to lead a workshop) I could not help but write about “Mi Tierra,” the title of my first poem. There was a psychic block that only the pen could break. My first impulse, my natural impulse, was to write about my frustration with my political status. I cannot leave the United States and legally return. I’m part of a large group of Salvadorans that fall under the TPS (Temporary Protective Status): a card given to us after we pay close to 1000 dollars every 18 months, and there is no certainty if the president will renew this status. Currently, Obama hasn’t approved anything, so as of September this year, I will be “undocumented”.

It was natural for me to write about the place I cannot return to and write about the place I feel “trapped” in. Poetry is a kind of endless river I can swim in and not drown, as long as I hold onto the float that is the pen. A certain freedom. The destination doesn’t matter as much as the ride. I can forget the place I started (El Salvador) and the place I’m trying to end up in (complete acceptance in the US) because I truly don’t belong in both of them. Poetry is my country of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I can relive my past, describe my present, and conceptualize a better future. To me, this is what all writers do. I agree with Marcelo H. Castillo’s comment “we must make it evident to the wider audience to focus less on the subject and more on our intentions behind the execution of the subject.” That my poems are about my Salvadoran past, my present identity in limbo, and my conceptualization of an inclusion into the US; shouldn’t overshadow my execution of poetics, aesthetics, craft, etc. But, I do believe that responding to this society that continues to marginalize us (Latin@s) is part of being Latin@. A response from and to this physical place we live in, the US.
I continually return to my past because it shapes where I am, and where I’m headed. Since my first poem, “Mi Tierra,” I cannot help writing about the US’s influence of my being here. About Reagan’s policies in the 80s that displaced of the Salvadoran population abroad. I continue to write about this topic. It’s my current obsession, it’s what pushes me forward, and I write.

Lauren Espinoza:
I think it's interesting in the descriptions about identity by Lynda, Marcelo, Thade & Javier the idea of documents/documentation came up.  The reason for my contemplation of this being two-fold: 1) as poets (a word which Nayelly will rebuff) we are creating/documenting what it means to be Latino/a. So, of course, there will be some monolithic moments when we are creating a world for an outsider reader.  And I don't think that is something we should be wary of. Rather, we are the heart of the cultural movement within Latinidad. Even now, I go to concerts or cultural events and even though those are very obviously not poetry readings, there is still a poet reading his or her work involved in the event. In reading at these events, we are then becoming the source for what is being added to the conversation about Latin@/Latinidad. The spokesperson, yes; but not the final authority or definition.  2) The question I also wonder about in terms of documentation is how we are (as poets and as Latin@s - because at this point I think it is useful to distinguish between the two) using the master's tools to dismantle the master's house, as Audre Lorde would put it. I say this because there are so many moments in history where marginalized groups do not speak for themselves, history is written without them. I think, for example, of my own family history of my Abuelito being a Bracero; I do not know, in his own words, what it was like. I forever mourn a past I can never recover. As poets working within Latinidad, we have a collected past that we will never recover because it is not documented; and because in terms of history, the Braceros were an “undocumented” peoples. So, consider for a moment that shift. The shift in not having "documents" in a historical and metaphorical sense to creating them, a shift in responsibility from being a consumer of a text "about oneself," to a creator. The possibility of this existing as a way to negotiate conquest may appear singular and static, and reliant upon the master’s tools, but is dynamically encompassing of all Latin@s in its possibility towards phenomenalness.

Marcelo H. Castillo:
I am in love with Lauren's idea of this “shift in not having ‘documents’ to creating them.” I am creating documents that will hopefully last longer than I do, and that means so much more than any kind of documents granted me in this lifetime. Thank you Lauren for making this distinction. My poems are documents that legitimize my being more than anything I can be granted by a government body. Though I wish I could respond to every point made here, I’ll chime in on a few points only. My Abuelo was also a bracero and I completely agree that we share a collective past and that we each execute that past in a manner unique to each of us. Also that uniqueness serves as proof that an archival type, or typology of Latin@ poetry can’t be reduced to a single definition. Our aesthetic choices are 1) determined by our past and personal experience, 2) that gut feeling you get when you read a line, and 3) what we are reading, who we are reading, etc. etc. I’m willing to bet that if we all wrote down our personal canon, say, our top five artists, our answers would be wildly different. Just to throw in my personal canon, I would have to say (and this is in no specific order): Bob Hass, Galway Kinnell, Louis Glück, Cesar Vallejo, and Larry Levis. Just to throw a few artists in the bunch, they would be Jackson Pollock, Barbara Kruger, Andreas Gursky, and Cindy Sherman.  These are the poets and artists I go back to again and again. They certainly play an important part in my poetry as much as my past and heritage, and I feel like my poems that show the least amount of incoherence are those that appropriately find a middle ground between my personal canon and my personal history/past. I feel like our art is very much influenced by our past, but also our present! One question we can ask is where do we see our poetry going in the next five, ten, fifteen years? Our generation of Latin@ poets and artists is contingent on not only the generation before us, but also by our peers.

Elizabeth Acevedo:
As a performer for the majority of my life, being a poet of Dominican descent has been fascinating in terms of the kinds of gigs I book and the opportunities I am offered. It is performing in the in-between as Lynda described, constantly having to juggle artistic integrity, what I want to read in the moment, and the expectation that my audience has of me. I am often asked to perform “The Latino poem” or “The one about your immigrant parents” as if everything I write isn’t navigated through the Dominican-American experience regardless of the subject matter. At the same time, a good amount of the performances and readings I am invited to give are for Latino Heritage Month or Latino-centric events where I am asked to be the spokesperson for all Latinos in this country, for Latin Americans, for all Caribbean folk, and it’s a tough position to say, “I don’t think I can speak for that person. I don’t know that reality.” As a first generation Dominican-American I’m not even sure I can speak for the Dominican Republic, but I still want to share my truth.

My poems are constantly struggling with resistance, the expectation that comes with being a Latina poet/performer. Simultaneously my poems are extremely concerned with writing the stories that were never written for me to read—even if they fulfill what others expect me to be writing.
Like Marcelo, I want to resist the idea of cultural cohesion. I have written as the Latino representative in the past and I find that this does not allow for the truth of specificity, the respect of origins, or the creation of space for other voices. That does not mean that I don’t understand or embrace our commonalities, but if I’m the poet performing at a conference for Guatemalen First Generation Youth, then 1. The organizers don’t realize that there are so many poets and writers they could/should be bringing in my stead and 2. My poems may possess a universal truth but how can I better advocate for poets that would better fit some of the gigs I am taking?

Marcelo H. Castillo:
I wish I could be a performance poet, Elizabeth, because I have a friend in my cohort who tours with Louder Than A Bomb and I am envious of the additional dimensions that I see happening on stage with his poetry versus those same poems he brings to the page in workshop. He’s getting more out of the same poem. I do feel like that added dimension of the performance allows you to play with the threshold of what it is you are writing about and what you want the readers to get out of your poems when you read or perform them.

I think I am always writing the “Latino Poem.” By this, I mean that whatever I write is a Latino poem because I wrote it. Jean Toomer felt like he wasn’t a Black poet, but rather, a poet who happened to be Black and who happened to speak of the African American experience but I think that is too limiting. I see myself as being all at once. Mexican, Mexican poet, Poet who happens to be Mexican, Latino poet, Hispanic poet, Mexican poet who happens to speak about issues related to the Mexican experience within the US, poet, poet, poet, etc., etc., etc... I’m less worried about how I am seen than I am with how my work is received. Within each other’s poems in this roundtable, I saw a wide variety of different approaches to our art. None of them were the same and I felt relieved when I read them.

I’ve resisted so many things for so long and I am now just beginning to write about my personal experiences and I believe that’s how I’ll ultimately be satisfied. With a tint of fear, I asked this question to my workshop here at Michigan: “What is an MFA poem, are we all writing MFA poems which we will eventually trash in the years after leaving our program?” The response by my amazing friend in the workshop was, “an MFA poem is a perfectly crafted and well-handled poem about nothing.” Up until recently, even before I came to Michigan, I was unconsciously writing these types of poems. But that kind of writing was essential in order to begin writing poems that were closer to my heart that I couldn’t bring to the page years ago. I have learned to embrace my vulnerability somewhat and though I know I have much more to go, I feel confident that I’ve made some progress. Someone told me that a poet works for 60 years in their art in order to finally say what they want. They said what they had to in their early years and now, they are saying what they want to.
I needed to learn how to structure my lines, my progression, associative language, how to push the boundaries of surreal metaphors and etc. I honestly feel as if I’m in a transition stage between using the tropes and strategies of my earlier work that helped develop my way of thinking, and a new stage in which I have given myself permission to write what I need to write. I recently wrote about how my mother was beaten by my father when I was a child and me looking at her eye which looked like a plum. We have a treasure trove of material that some poets would kill to have. But perhaps there’s a danger in an abundance of this poetic material. And the danger is that we can drown in it. It reminds me of how Eliot ends “Prufrock,” “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown / Till human voices wake us and we drown.” We need to understand not so much how to control our material but how to use it to its greatest benefit. We linger in the chambers of the sea without realizing that we can’t breathe until someone wakes us. Perhaps I don’t want to be wakened; perhaps the best place for my unconscious is at the bottom of a lake, where it’s gently swayed by the ebbs of memory. It is our job as poets to make something that will last and it will last if we are generous to our reader and it will last if we take out small pieces of gold from our bottomless trove to show the world how and unique each one is.

Lauren Espinoza:
I am a bit troubled by the analogy of drowning in material, and us, as Latin@s, having access to "material that other poets would kill for." I guess because having access to this material plays into the current cultural inclination toward a combination of shock, exploitation, and attitudes about "reality." I, like Nayelly, grew up on the South Texas border. The things I have access to haunt me, the reality of young men going swimming in a canal and drowning - and this not happening years ago but within the last weeks (as it was reported in the news from my hometown). Or knowing people who have disappeared because of the drug wars. Or even seeing the immense poverty that people live in, a burgeoning city rubbing up against a colonia. I don't want to write about this to capitalize on the pain of others, or to make my poems "feel real," but I feel like I have to write about it. Not for the necessity of the shock value, that we as a culture have been acclimated to recognize as real, but for the reasons that this is what I know.  Even then, though, I don’t know it as a result of being a part of it; but rather from witnessing it. But I don't want to have witnessed this.  I don’t want to have to be responsible for controlling this wealth of material that I should be thankful to have access to.  But, I will continue to write what is my truth.

Nayelly Barrios:
I don’t believe there is a specific Latin@ aesthetic in poetry. At least this is not what I look for in work, or strive to include in my own work. I write. I am Mexican. I have lived in the U.S. for many years now, the majority of my life. I was born in Reynosa. I lived in Michigan. I live in El Valle. I live in Louisiana. I carry others’ stories and experiences with me, those of relatives, friends, and strangers. I am going to write about all of this. I am going to write about none of this. My poems may or may not contain elements of a Latin@ experience, but probably will. It may or may not be overt.

Javier, I loved your comment, “I continually return to my past, because it shapes where I am, and where I’m headed.” Life experiences, whether or not these are the experiences of a Latin@, will find a way to trickle into some poems. I am reminded of the last two lines in Kimiko Hahn’s poem, “Nepenthe,” “That drug, that conductivity, / that pleasurable sensation of stumbling into memory.” Many times as I write I have stumbled into my memory in a word-drunk stupor. The memories I fold into are not strictly my own. Many times they are others’ experiences as related to me at some point over some lunch, dinner, BBQ day, tamalada, etc. I work from my own and others’ memories and experiences. My favorite thing to do is combine memories and experiences of many into a single poem.

Marcelo, I’m going to have to disagree with you on something. I don’t know that writing about the Latin@ experience/Latinidad is something that I want to/need to/can control. Currently, I don’t say to myself, “Now, I will write a poem about being Latin@,” then another day, “Now, a non-Latin@ poem.” Usually, a line just materializes and lines follow after time, work, and coffee. Personally, I don’t see myself controlling this. I do completely agree, though, that readers should “focus less on the subject and more on our intentions behind the execution of the subject” when reading our work. A good and responsible reader of poetry will do is my hope. I trust my reader. In my poetry, I will strive for a reader to marvel at craft before subject matter, but the subject matter is still important. I agree with Javier that we have the “responsibility to speak of what it is to be Latin@.” That is very important. In the end, though, I want my readers to read my poems and look for a human experience, not a Latin@ experience.

Lynda, my experience moving away for graduate school was definitely problematic with my mother. Before I moved away for the MFA, I taught high school for a couple of years while I still lived at home with my family. When I started applying to graduate school, she would constantly say, “No quiero saber nada de eso.” She didn’t even want to think about me leaving her home. When I started hearing back from schools, she kept reminding me of how incorrect it was that I was leaving her home. She kept reminding me that it is incorrect for an unmarried woman to leave her parents’ home. Those conversations actually happened. In 2011. It is definitely still prevalent in Latino families. When I complete the MFA/MA program I am currently in, I will be the highest degreed individual in either side of my family (there is a cousin with a BS in accounting). If I had a cacahuate for every time I heard, “¿por qué tanto estudio?” or “¿cuándo te casas?” or “¿qué, no vas a tener hijos o qué?” from a family member, I could feed an elephant. I am not fulfilling the expectations of my traditional Mexican family. I am ok with that. Sometimes, this family dynamic threatens my writing. Not going to lie. I feel like I have to be careful about what I write about, but I remind myself that, more than likely, it won’t be read by a family member. At times, I feel like I owe someone an apology. I know I don’t. Such an unnecessary and elementary struggle. I manage. I must say that my mom has grown more and more supportive of the writing, though. My family, with the exception of my sister, has no real idea what I am doing in Louisiana. They know I am in school and that I teach at the university, but that is all. Before I moved away to grad school, one cousin mentioned I could probably get a job where I can make more money once I had a masters degree. I didn’t want to go into the explanation of how that is not why I am pursuing an advanced degree or how inaccurate that assumption is.
Let me briefly explain what I think Lauren meant by “as poets (a word which Nayelly will rebuff):” Personally, I feel more comfortable referring to myself as a student of poetry. I just don’t feel like the word “fits” me at the moment. Hopefully someday I will fit into that shirt.

Lauren Espinoza:
Lolssssss. Nayelly, you started a journal, you read poems, you write poems.  The homeless man I ride the bus to school with calls himself a poet, I should think that you feel able to call yourself a poet now, knowing what great company you’re in.  He wears his shoes on the opposite feet.

Nayelly Barrios:
Lauren, que no, but, yes, I am in lovely company! Also, where can I read that man’s work?

Marcelo H. Castillo:
I see where I could have chosen my words a bit more carefully, and plain and simple I agree with both Nayelly and Lauren. You can’t really turn it off, you can’t and shouldn’t want to/ need to control it. What will come will come if it is yours. What is mine has merely to do with what was in direct vicinity to my “self” growing up. I feel like I have feet on either side. There is a lot of inner conflict that I face when writing and I often think, “is this something only I could have written, or is this something anyone could have written?” Also, I ask myself: “Is this something I can write or something I need to write?” Slowly, I am beginning to let my thoughts wander into looser territories, but so many times, and certainly to my detriment, I try to control what I write. If anything, speaking to everyone here has only confirmed how much I need to write something that only I could write, and I am eternally grateful to everyone here for that.

Javier Zamora:            
Thank you all for such insightful thoughts. Regarding the aspect of “documenting,” let me add that we (immigrants) are only “undocumented” in the eyes of America. Our parents and/or some of us have documents in our homelands. We just don’t have the necessary documents to truly be “free” in this country. The same metaphor can be used for poetry. We, Latin@s, have been writing poetry for years, and only a handful have “made it” into the “American” canon. This will soon change; more and more of our voices will be added to this so-called “American” canon, which I think we should start to spell with an accent, Américan cannon.
Following the discussion of the “Latin@ poem,” let me add that poets often forget that as poets, we are not individuals. I like to think of myself as a vessel or a medium through which our communities, our experiences, our emotions, our hardships, truths, etc, speak. We are not speaking as individuals; we are simply transmitting our communities.
When I write a poem, it’s not mine, it doesn’t and it will never completely belong to me. It belongs to the world from which it came and to which it returns. Our duty as “poets” is to listen to the world, listen to what’s behind us, with us, and ahead of us. We need to approach our craft with this careful attention to the world, outside us and within us. When this attention is achieved, we tap into the universality we are all searching for.
I agree with Nayelly’s discomfort of calling herself a poet. I struggle with the same sentiment because I believe all humans are interconnected. Why should I name myself a poet if I owe so much to the place where I come from?

And particularly because our world has shaped our writing, I always make it a point to show my poems to my parents, their friends, and my friend’s parents. I want to challenge all “poets” to show their family what they’ve published and where they publish and to explain what it means. They do and will understand. The material I write about is not the most comfortable and pleasant for my family. But I apologize beforehand and still show it to them. I ESPECIALLY want my community to read my poems. I write for them.
When I published my humble first attempt at a chapbook, I gave my mom and dad a lot of copies. They gave them to their friends and their friends read them. My dad is a landscaper and my mom is a baby-sitter. I mention their professions because they’re able to understand my poetry and I feel like oftentimes we forget how smart our parents truly are, how smart our communities are. Structural racism has made us doubt this, and we need to challenge these notions as subtle as they may be.
We must create our future market, if my mom’s friends read the book, they will hopefully pass it to someone else. At my readings, my mother’s friends show up with their children. To me, this is why I started writing, so the generations behind me can understand their world better than I understood it. Growing up in El Salvador AND in the Bay Area, I never imagined attending “poetry readings” and/or knowing a “writer.” These children can check both of those boxes. We have to give back to the world that shaped us, what belongs to them.

Lauro Vazquez:
One of the driving principles behind Letras Latinas and by extension this roundtable is the commitment to enhance the visibility and appreciation of Latino/a literature, in particular through collaborations that support emerging writers—as in this roundtable.

One of the niches Letras Latinas has been able to carve out through this project is in identifying and establishing a “network” of sorts that brings together—here—seven diverse Latino/a poets in various MFA programs throughout the nation.  How enriching and important has the MFA experience been for you so far? How has it changed, enriched, diminished, enhanced, degraded your relationship to the world of (contemporary or not) Latino/a poetry?

Javier Zamora:

Niches are essential to a writer’s career because they provide a network to expand craft, critique it, and most importantly build community. In the Latin@ literary world, these niches are crucial to the development of a young writer; in that we learn from other writers how to navigate the intricate world of the larger literary community. Hopefully, the older generation’s experiences can guide us in our own path of understanding what it means to be a Latin@, but as we’ve seen, answering this seemingly simple question is an arduous task. The world of the MFA is akin to the larger literary world, it’s predominantly white. I bring up the issue of race because in my stint at UC Berkeley I learned a random fact: if there are more people of color in a classroom, “minorities” are more likely to participate.  
Now, imagine exposing your writing (one of the most private of acts) to a group of peers where you are not comfortable in. Besides race, class has a lot to do with this alienation inside the workshop setting. Again, I can only speak for myself, but in my MFA program, these two issues have made it difficult for me to cope with the environment.

But, at the same time the MFA atmosphere has been a safe-space for my craft in that I’ve found a group of poets I share my poems with. Prior to my first semester, I was never part of a “writing group” where I shared my poetry. For the most part, writing has been a private endeavor. I only shared my poems with my mentor and my girlfriend (my apologies to them for enduring my poems at their earliest of stages). I’ve attended conferences, but I’ve never come out of one with a writer I’m comfortable enough to share my poems with. I’m weird that way, I have to truly trust a person to open up, let alone share my poems.
At NYU, although the number of Latin@ students is minimal, I’ve found my “niche.” And let me go on the record of saying that I chose to attend NYU because it was one of the most diverse MFA programs I got admitted into; this is a problem of the MFA system that we have to fix “on our own terms.” ¿Why haven’t we been recognized or why don’t we bother to apply to some of these programs? Surprisingly, the niche I’ve found had nothing to do with race but had to do with class. The two people I trust and most connect with in the MFA program are a poet from the Blue Ridge Mountains and another from Llano, Texas.
We connected because we write about “place” and from “place.” Which, if I may add, I believe is an essential aspect of Latin@ identity. You could argue, most Latin@ writing deals with understanding the marginalization of our identity in relation to the physical boundaries of the United States. Consciously or subconsciously, when we take the pen, we make a statement against the hegemony that rules a physical place we reside in (the US), a place that has marginalized Latin@s to the point it created a Nixon-presidency-designed term some of us still use to refer to ourselves—Hispanic.
These two poets and myself have a common understanding that place is the backbone of our poetics, thus we are part of a collective called “The Localists.” By place, we also mean more than the physical place; place is historical, mental, subconscious, etc. Within us, camaraderie has formed, to the point we not only share poems, but we also sit down and submit poems and manuscripts to contests. Something I would’ve never imagined prior to the MFA.
Besides the friendships that form with unexpected individuals, we as Latin@s have to understand that in “the academy,” we are taken from our communities and that because of this, we not only have the privilege, but the responsibility to speak about what it is to be Latin@.
Since our numbers in the MFA are currently more than in previous decades, we also carry the weight of our people with us. For example, a few years back, this conversation would’ve been unprecedented. And we also have to understand that as much as we want to run away from this responsibility, when a “Spanish” term is used in class, we know everyone in that workshop is going to look at us for “approval,” in the best of cases; and in the worst, we will be asked to “let go” of our obsession with identity, place, class, etc, all that defines us.

Elizabeth Acevedo:
The MFA experience has been really challenging for me. I really respect the program and my fellow poets, but I wonder at how often the goal is to “break down” a poem and never to “build-up” a poet. That doesn’t mean I want a sugar-coated writing process, but I am so surprised at how destruction-oriented workshops become. It’s strange because often the comments written onto the poems are kind and provide great suggestions but I wonder at the way in which the actual space of workshop is navigated and if it is inherently focused on deconstruction.

Often times I am the only woman of color in my workshops and classes, although there might be one other person who identifies similarly. Like Javier, my poems are often dealing with place but often that place is urban, brown, poor. I’ve had to learn how to give my fellow workshop participants the benefit of the doubt and I have been lucky to have some great readers who are often spot on with what a poem needs... However, being part of a program makes me wonder, who am I writing for? Who reads poetry in America? In this journal I want to submit to? Not the block I come from. Not the people I’m writing about. I don’t mean that to limit my community but there is a reason why I gravitated towards Spoken Word and not the page. Workshop makes me wonder if I’m writing for the people in the room critiquing me.

I think I’d like to say I’m writing for the me that never had my poem to read. But I don’t know if that’s entirely honest.  Especially given that I’ve heard or witnessed poetry more than I’ve ever read it. I am oriented to the orality and narrative of a performance poem and I find a huge divide between what I write for workshop and what I perform at gigs. I am finding more and more that the distance between page and stage is larger than I thought and a lot more intentional. This is another in between space I am learning to navigate.

Marcelo H. Castillo:
For me, my experience at Michigan has been strange and amazing at once. I don’t feel like I’m left out or that I’m the only person of color because my cohort is very diverse in terms of minorities and women. I do feel that I have good readers of my work in my cohort. My only struggle of entering an MFA program was a rude awakening into a completely new world that I had no idea existed. I mean, I knew there were people out there as (or certainly more) involved and invested in what I do, but I didn’t know to what extent. Now, I’m one of them and I feel like I have to play catch up sometimes because I haven’t read a specific essay for my theory classes and everyone else has, or I haven’t read this poet and everyone else has. I’m slowly catching up and informing my poetry with my other classes that are mostly theory based. My concerns arise from my inner demons and fluctuating emotions of self-worth and validity. My struggles have been personal and I am glad that I have my wife Rubi with me; otherwise, I would have cracked months ago. I feel as if I’m inundated with a flood of poetic stimulants and different ideas and I need some time alone with my thoughts to process them. My mother, who raised me by herself, is very supportive of me and always has been. She never really understood what I was doing and like Nayelly, I was asked some of the same questions, but mine were, “Porque poesia?” “de que escribes?” and the ever popular question I get from my father, when I speak to him over the phone, “que vas hacer, cuanto te van a pagar?” My family is one hundred percent behind me and my mother is now beginning to write a memoir of her life because I’ve been speaking to her about what I write. I’ve infected my family with the writing bug and it has manifested with my mom writing in notebooks about her life in Mexico, crossing the border since the 70’s back and forth, and raising three boys by herself. My older brother and sister have gone back to school after a 13-year hiatus, and my younger brothers are finishing their undergrad degrees. If I didn’t have my inner demons of self-worth and high anxiety over so many things, my experience in grad school would almost be ideal. I do enjoy my time here tremendously and the conversations I have with my cohort and a few faculty over drinks, coffee, and food are priceless. We drink and laugh a lot; soon it will end, but I’m confident that I’ll have these friends for a very long time.  Going into my second year in the fall and teaching creative writing, I hope to get past some of my self-conscious doubts and tap into a part of myself that only I could represent, to write something that only I could have written. I know that sounds like a cliché but in grad school, if it weren’t for clichés and listening to Los Cadetes de Linares while grinding through Foucault, I don’t know how I could survive.

Nayelly Barrios:
I am so grateful and fortunate to have the peers I have in my MFA program. I have found friendship, family, and trustworthy readers amongst Benjamin Sutton, Lori “LoMo” Mosley, Danielle Grimes, and Nate Friedman, amongst others. They look at my work as they would anyone else’s. They don’t expect me to write a specific way because I am Latina, or from the Rio Grande Valley, etc. To top it off, they are phenomenal poets and I take great pleasure in their work.

Workshop has been beneficial to my poetry. The poets have been receptive to the work I have turned in which happens to have Spanish, as well as the poems that don’t. They understand how to read my poetry and its instances of Spanish, even if they may not understand Spanish. They don’t dabble in a large and pointless conversation about the use of Spanish in it, rather they focus on the craft within and around it. Not too long ago, one individual did tell me to italicize the Spanish in my poem since it was a foreign language. The language was evidently not foreign to the speaker of the poem. This assumption on the individual’s behalf that I was not familiar with the implications and traditions of italicizing Spanish, bothered me greatly. I calmed down and figured his experience reading writers of diverse backgrounds must be limited. In retrospect, I should have lent him a book.
As for diversity in my program, I do wish there was more diversity, I started counting and was shocked at the numbers. I would definitely appreciate more diversity. Who knows, maybe it will happen in the upcoming cohort. There is a healthy number of women in my program and I appreciate that.

Lauro Vazquez:
We all read each other’s work prior to this roundtable. The diversity of form, style, voice, theme and other defining characteristics employed in these works reflect not only a tantalizing variety (here present in microcosm through these seven young poets) of the possible expressions of contemporary Latino/a poetry; but also a group of emerging poets that are fully committed to exploring the many possibilities of poetic subject and of language.

What poems or poets in this roundtable did you find yourself to be constantly returning to, to be in conversation with? What poems or poets opened up any particular insights or possibilities for your craft that you had not yet considered? What poems or poets in this roundtable did you find particularly enriching, challenging, insightful vis-à-vis your relationship/definition of Latino/a literature or to your own work?

Lynda Letona:
There were so many favorite poems I read from this roundtable and comments I had that my blog entry would be too long to address all of them, so I will just note a few here. Two of my favorite poems were Nayelly’s “Recurring Dream as a Tire” and Lauren’s “Birth Control Method.” I thought Recurring Dream was very good & creative. It captured the absurdity of border crossing, but also the inability to forget this event. “Recurring…” Great title. As if the poet is reliving the tale through the dream, embodying her father’s crossing by contorting into the tire. Physically “fitting” into the narrative. What is the term when someone identifies so much with the victim? They feel the pain themselves…

Lauren’s “Birth Control Method” was funny and a great visual poem. The box “Sex During Your Menstrual Cycle” made me go HA! Because I knew a girl who got pregnant in college, since she believed this was a sort of birth control method. She was a straight A student, but I think she was given an abstinence type of sexual education that horribly misinformed her. I laughed out loud during the box entry “Sex Standing Up/Being on Tip/Jumping Up & Down” and also the entry “Placing pebbles in the Vagina.” I was on my way to the doctor to get a prescription for birth control to deal with PMDD symptoms and hopefully stop the monthly blood flow that I loathe when I read this poem, so I could really relate to it. I thought about giving the poem to my doctor but when I met him, he was all business and rushing me out of the office, as doctors tend to do, so I didn’t think about giving him the poem. I wonder if he would have cracked a smile if he read it.
Another line that I really liked of Lauren’s was from the poem “after ‘Border Wars’”:

in the infrared it’s difficult to distinguish the agents
from the immigrants.

I found it an interesting merging indicative of pluralism or assimilation. I also found “non-sequiturs” very funny and thought it would make a great performance poem with lines, such as, “did you just/clean the cat?” and “if there is a formula to bag yourself a professor,/I’d like to do that.”

I was also drawn to the formatting and stanza structure of Elizabeth’s poems, such as, “He Tells Me My Body Be Temple,” and “On a Bronx Bound 2 Express Train” (another favorite). I really liked the way Elizabeth managed to write about nostalgia through images, such as, “I don’t cook at home anymore/because I’ve been told that all my dishes/are too heavily seasoned with nostalgia.” The previous line when the mother makes the brother’s plantain and cries when she finds them on the counter was also very striking and reminded me of a scene in the film The Savages.

Other favorites were Javier’s “Void and Cold Thing,” great opening stanza. “God’s Message to Glue Sniffers” was fascinating structurally as well as content-wise. I liked the way Javier played with language and voice. Marcelo’s “The Night Fire” was great; I loved the imagery in the opening stanza. And finally, I liked the philosophical approach of Thade’s “At Dowling Pond” in the stanza:

Regarding the question of suffering:
it may be that your own life
is the answer, resounding
silently throughout time.

On the line: “I am forever that/which I seek,” I wrote in a bubble comment, “Ha! I wrote the same line in a poem once.” I also loved the line, grief’s rain-drenched wolves from “Anthem.” Beautiful work everyone!

Nayelly Barrios and Lauren Espinoza (joint response):
When we found out we were both part of this roundtable, we were elated and relieved. We have been working together, in a physical extension of this roundtable for a long time. We’d like to think that we are the OG (Original Gangster) version of this roundtable. We actually sat together both in Emmy Perez’s creative writing class at UTPA and when we were going through the application process to get into MFA programs (we created an application support group and called it, “Road Trip to MFA”). So, when the opportunity came up to actually sit together and talk about these poems, it was a natural “duh” moment. So this write up is a text version of a few conversations that we had while we were both in the same place at the same time.
Lynda Letona: In Lynda’s poem “MARTE Y VENUS,“ as readers we are bombarded with images of a Guatemalan street scene, image after image: the theme and the tone match the form. The sense of being in a place that is familiar but distant is made clear through this onslaught of images. This makes the landscape of the poem all the clearer, and the barrage of images is a direct move towards excess in immediacy. So many things happen at once, that in the end we come to rest with a visually arresting move - “We all desire collusion in dark spaces” in italics. Which takes the reader into the last stanza where the speaker rests upon a quiet moment, a moment that is internalized within his or herself - a move towards the body rather than the image. The quietness of the swooshing seed in the speaker’s mouth is the silent comfort amidst the poem’s earlier cacophonous state. How fitting in the sense of a larger Latin@ landscape of poetry.

Elizabeth Acevedo: In Elizabeth’s work there is an arresting intensity created by the language. Particularly in the way that opening stanza of “He Tells Me My Body Be Temple” slings the reader into the poem, and the way that this poem moves on the page, like a waterfall, does the same thing. Each time the reader reaches a stasis by having a square footing in the poem they are moved forward, almost by the force of the spacing.
The “he” in the poem wants the speaker to succumb to a persona that the speaker is not: the “he” in the poem tells the speaker that her body is like a temple, and his idea of a temple is something that is clean & pure, etc. Yet, the speaker is portraying a different sort of temple than the person being indicated understands it to be. The speaker in the poem says that temple isn’t quite like you imagine it, chipping paint, shaky scaffolding, but there are moments of reverence to be had here; and the people who come to worship at this temple don’t come for purity, they come for the opposite.

Marcelo Hernandez:
“You carefully unravel another crab so small,/ laced together like the fingers of a nun/ that it could pass for the moon”
These lines from Marcelo’s poem, “Thanksgiving with my Father,” are characteristic of the reliance upon well crafted imagery present throughout his work. In this poem particularly, his voice echoes that of “Those Winter Sundays,” wherein which the father provides warmth for the family, yet this scene has a distinctly different understanding of warmth. This poem allows for the reader to understand the way that poverty is embodied in the 21st century, using 20th century methods. The poem doesn’t rely on the reader knowing that experience of fishing for food firsthand.

Thade Correa: The “me” in the poem, the speaker, is so concentrated in recovering a loss, much like an archaeologist. This is moving in the way that this loss is familial, the archaeology being done is that of the self; and what is more compelling than that -- the search to recover one’s own self that has been lost through the process of assimilation/acculturation/colonization, etc.

“Grandfather, you are not history/ and absence.”

There’s a pseudo sense of absence because the poem is about the grandfather’s absence; not just his absence alone, but the strength of his presence through his absence. To conceptualize absence, you have to have a notion of what is present/what could have been present/ what was once present. This poem, moves beyond the opposition of presence and absence to create a larger truth about existence, resonance, and history within the poem.

Javier Zamora: “[...] Stop dressing/ in order to understand burials.”
Oftentimes when one brings up surrealism or surreal in terms of poetry there is a move toward being dismissive. We are considerate of this fact and want to point out how these particular lines are surreal without being gimmicky, heavy handed, or laughable. Much like the surrealists there is a question of the shifting notion of the subject, and this is subtle yet powerful. The way he’s relating death, how it’s laid on the bed of surrealism, speaks to the notion of a person displaced from their homeland. In the third line, “I miss the river of your mouth,” there is a sense of longing and there is an evident void that seeks to be filled as the poem progresses.

Heartfelt thanks to Lauro Vazquez, who was solely responsible for putting this together, from beginning to end. As the project progressed, we agreed that this roundtable was his "Letras Latinas thesis"! 


Elizabeth Acevedo is the daughter of Dominican immigrants, proudly born and raised in the heart of New York City. Through poetry that is infused with hip-hop and bolero she uses her words as a way to translate the world. Slamming since she was 14, Acevedo has featured at several prestigious venues such as the The Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts, The Kodak Theatre, and Madison Square Garden. She has graced the stage besides such renowned artist as Lupe Fiasco, M1 from Dead Prez, Stacyann Chin and Lemon from Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. She was a featured poet for BET’s You(th) Speak Out national public service announcement, as well as a featured poet in their political slam during the 2008 elections. Other television appearances include the third season of Mun2’s The Chica’s Project as well as season 3 of BET J's Lyric Café. Elizabeth was also a featured poet in the publication Off the Subject: The Words of Lyrical Circle, featuring a foreword by the Grammy nominated Sekou Sundiata and an afterword by Nikki Giovanni.


Nayelly Barrios is a Rio Grande Valley native. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Puerto del Sol, and DIAGRAM. This summer she will be attending the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.


Marcelo H. Castillo is an MFA candidate at the University of Michigan and a CantoMundo Fellow. He was born in Zacatecas, Mexico and earned a BA from Cal State Sacramento. He has served as artist in resident at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and has held residencies at the Squaw Writer’s Workshop and the Vermont Studio Center. In collaboration with CD Wright, his translations of  the Mexican poet Marcelo Uribe’s latest collection of poetry is forthcoming and with Robert Hass, he co-edited the Squaw Review 2011. He was a finalist for the 2013 Theodore Roethke Prize and recent work can be found in Poetry Quarterly. He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife Rubi.


Born and raised in Northwest Indiana, Thade Correa received his BA from Indiana University, Bloomington, and his MA in the Humanities from the University of Chicago. Though he considers writing his primary artistic vocation, he is also a composer and pianist. His poetry and translations have appeared in various journals, both in print and online, including Paragraphiti, Ibbetson Street, The Aurorean, and Modern Haiku. A chapbook of his poetry, Anthem, appeared in 2010, and a collection of his recent work earned him the 2012 Billy Maich Academy of American Poets Prize. 


Lauren Espinoza is currently a graduate student in the M.F.A. Program in Poetry at Arizona State University.  Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, her work investigates the intersections of language, sexuality, border-identities, humor, and culture. Her poetry has appeared in an anthology selected by Naomi Shihab Nye entitled Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25, in print at The Mas Tequila Review, online at The Acentos Review and Whole Beast Rag, and she has a poem forthcoming in NewBorder: Contemporary Voices from the Texas/Mexico Border published by Texas A&M Press.  She is a member of The Trinity, a poetry cliqua from the Rio Grande Valley; and holds a graduate certificate in Mexican American Studies from the University of Texas-Pan American.


Lynda Letona, a current MFA student at Notre Dame and Creative Writing Instructor, received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of South Dakota. Her poetry and nonfiction has appeared in Liternational,, and The VLP Magazine.

As a previously undocumented student also referred to as a “DREAM Student,” Lynda underwent the risky legalization process (during the summer of 2011) known as the “consular option” that requires applicants to return to their home country. Not knowing whether she would be allowed to return to the U.S. after living here 23 years, Lynda spent much of her time writing poetry and a series of blog entries to her friends. She turned this “adventure” into a third-world writing workshop. Lynda was allowed back in the country after five months in Guatemala; she has enjoyed being a U.S. legal resident for the past year and half.


Javier Zamora was born in San Luis La Herradura, La Paz, El Salvador. At the age of nine he immigrated to the “Yunaited Estais.” His chapbook, Nine Immigrant Years, is the winner of the 2011 Organic Weapon Arts Contest. Zamora is a CantoMundo fellow and a Breadloaf work-study scholarship recipient. He has received scholarships from Frost Place, Napa Valley, Squaw Valley, and VONA. His poems appear or are forthcoming in Interrupture, NewBorder, Ploughshares, Poet Lore, Spillway, among others. 

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