Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dan Vera and Pablo Miguel Martínez: A Conversation




A few years ago I attended a conference where a young Chicana poet participated on a panel; she began her presentation with a [somewhat?] tongue-in-cheek imperative, "Don't ask me to write another abuela poem.”

Pablo Miguel Martínez

Why would abuelas, who for many of us represent the primary contact to antepasados, be off the table? Ultimately the important question should be, as it is for all of our work, is it a good poem? Does it speak a truth?

—Dan Vera

We share an interest in historic preservation, something that has bypassed/overlooked too many communities of color and working-class communities in this country.

Pablo Miguel Martínez

Part of this is the hunger for the unknown story that can bind you to place or help you make sense of who you are in this historical point in time. I believe there is a gay aspect to this, because gay people have had their history and their lives expunged from the record.

—Dan Vera

How’s that---as a preview?

As I was reading Pablo Miguel Martinez’s debut volume a couple of months ago, I asked myself: what would happen if this Chicano native of San Antonio were to trade books with, and read, Dan Vera, a native of South Texas born to Cuban parents, with whom he seems to share a poetic sensibility? 

I had a hunch what would happen. 

And now you, Letras Latinas Blog reader, get to see for yourself what did happen. Enjoy: 

***
CHARLA with Pablo Miguel Martínez and Dan Vera

Pablo Miguel Martínez:
Dan, I've enjoyed reading your poems—immensely so; they're lovely—clear and compelling—and that makes me an instant fan. Your love of language, history, culture, and family comes through beautifully.


Dan Vera:
Great.  I’m really enjoying Brazos, Carry Me, Pablo.  I could quickly see why Francisco thought to bring us into conversation, as we share many devotions in our work, and your precise articulation of geography and history resonated deeply with me.  There’s a certain contigüidad between our books and I’m so happy to have read and contemplated it.


PMM: 
The titles of the first three of five sections in Speaking Wiri Wiri begin "The Trouble with [...]," which for some reason reminds me of the title of that Hitchcock film starring Shirley MacLaine, "The Trouble with Harry." Like the characters in that film, all of whom believe they might be responsible for an unexplained death, we, your readers, are wonderfully implicated here: we are all in one way or another responsible, directly or indirectly, for the troublesome-ness of language, borders, and memory. Language and memory, like all human endeavors/traits, are innately flawed, owing to our humanness. It goes without saying that man-made borders are similarly wrong – indefensible, except by geopolitical standards. I'm intrigued by the epigraph that introduces the first section, "The Trouble with Language." It suggests a certain kind of fatalism, that is, that our 'confounded' language, confused and disordered, is preordained (because of our human nature?). Is your poetry your personal attempt to lessen the confusion -- to create order where there is none? If so, do you believe we are fated -- forever doomed -- to confusion wherever language is deployed?

DV:
I'm not familiar with that Hitchcock movie, but I'm easily suggestible when it comes to Shirley MacLaine and Hitchcock and didn't know they'd collaborated on a movie.  So I'll check it out.  As far as being "implicated" in the trouble, we all speak and use language so it's the rules that go with swimming in it. It's helpful to have someone point out the undertows that can pull us down, that do pull us down from time to time. I was drawn to the Babel text in the opening epigraph because of its multiple meanings. I mean, the classic way of seeing the biblical story of Babel is as a cautionary tale against hubris -- building a tower to reach heaven. But it can also be understood as a story against any attempt to squelch multiple voices and languages. In that reading, god doesn't take kindly to any kind of "universal" language, which comes at the price of surrendering multiple languages. Of course I'm a poet writing in mainly English, so where do I fit there? It's one of the things I tried to think about in "Small Shame Blues," that inability to swim in Spanish with the same dexterity and fluency as I have in English. Is it a flaw? I think it is inherently human so it seems part of our programming to wrestle with language and to change it and charge it. If understanding the dynamics we face in understanding one another lessens the confusion, then I'll cop to that. But I'm really interested in bearing witness to what is lost in the midst of the gain. I'm also interested in recording the struggles that people face when they come into the new, when they're the outsider trying to make sense of their place in the culture and on the land.

Perhaps this is a good place to ask you about the interplay between cultures.  You manage to seamlessly weave in Pre-Columbian imagery in a number of your poems, like "A Full Moon Rises Over Juárez," where you address the massacre of maquiladora workers that's been committed along the [U.S.-Mexico] border with the story of Coyolxauhqui, Coatlicue and Huitzilopochtli. For lack of better terms, what do you think is the relationship between the older and newer gods in your work, the Azteca and the Christian?


PMM:
This braiding together of different cosmologies is something poets have been doing for millennia. It's what I do in some poems: selfishly, through the drafting of a poem, I am trying to figure something out for myself. And because of my strict, Mexican Catholic upbringing, I often find myself returning to that tradition, but in ways that are more open, less restrictive. In the poem you reference, I was trying to explain (to myself, mostly!) how work, as in the maquiladoras along the U.S.-Mexico border, has become a sort of cruel, omnivorous god. Young Mexican women leave their rural homes and head north to better themselves economically. But the reality, as we know, is something far less bright—more sinister, in fact—than those young women might imagine. The north's hunger for cheap, dexterous labor, and the goods it produces, has literally killed off many -- too many -- of these young women. And yet we wince at the thought of human sacrifice as practiced by the Aztecs. Such hypocrisy. So I was trying to figure out ways in which history and personal narrative might be intertwined in ways that make for interesting, thoughtful poems.  I was especially drawn to your poem "Commemorations of Forgotten History," a deeply touching, poignant poem. I'm not of Cuban descent, but it speaks directly to me. (Universality through particularity -- I love it.) It's a wonderful example of the musicality of your poems. (That second stanza is gorgeous.) Many of us who were born into families on the margins (racially, linguistically, ethnically, socioeconomically) pay tribute to our overlooked, obliterated histories in our work, as you do so emphatically in this and other poems in your book. This reminds me of ways in which our internalized racism and self-loathing are sometimes responsible for that obliteration: A few years ago I attended a conference where a young Chicana poet participated on a panel; she began her presentation with a [somewhat?] tongue-in-cheek imperative, "Don't ask me to write another abuela poem.”

DV:
I've run across the anti-abuela commentary. First of all, I don't know anyone who goes around telling people to write abuela poems. But I take those comments as a defensive posture against a perceived trope in Chicano/Latino poetics. Why would abuelas, who for many of us represent the primary contact to antepasados, be off the table? Ultimately the important question should be, as it is for all of our work, is it a good poem? Does it speak a truth? Have I done a service to the subject? If you can live with a poem, then abuelas shouldn’t be forbidden from showing up in our work. I have to say I find it a bit troubling too. I mean what is it about our abuelas that sets some people off? It may be a response to a lot of bad abuelo poems, but that’s an issue of quality not subject matter. It’s reminiscent of the hit against “love poems.” There are some who say no to love poems or political poems. And I find it ridiculous. Write about anything and everything. Then look at it and edit it and see if there’s something there. Ultimately poets are about breaking rules, not setting them down and I don't think a poet should be in the business of circumscribing their own subject matter. 


PMM:
Well, I understand the point she was making—we should not narrow ourselves and/or play into heavy expectations. But I vividly recall leaving that event feeling defensive. I suppose part of that is due to my occupying that in-between historical space: I was born too late to be part of the Civil Rights/Chicano movements, but before notions of post-identity began to take hold.

DV:
I think we're about the same age.  Look, I think people should approach the whole matter with openness and humility, two qualities that are often missing from these conversations.   It would also help if one had a bit more historical accuracy.  The term “post-identity” makes little sense to me.  I understand the definition, but in the Latino context I just don't get it. Perhaps I missed the “celebratory/full inclusion period” when our language and history and contributions were taught, understood, and celebrated. I must have been out that week with the flu when they covered that in college history. I feel like I need to pause here and state the obvious. Even obvious truths bear repeating. There are multiple Latino realities and historical contexts. I know the labels (Latino, Chicano, Cubano, Hispanic) are varied and limiting in their own ways. To speak of a universal Latino identity is as fraught as speaking of any universal "American" identity. My particular cultural setting is immigrant South Texas. My parents were foreigners who shared similar language and found common ties with and in Tejano culture. I was born there.  I grew up there.  It's the history and language I know. My older brother was hit for speaking Spanish in school just like every other Latino kid his age in South Texas.  A few years later I had a Chicana elementary school teacher -- the first of my siblings to have a teacher my father could speak with. This was a watershed moment in so many ways. So that's my generational context. It's my identity.  But if you're "post-identity" whose identity are you? I mean post what identity exactly? This is where Gloria Anzaldúa's concept on identity as multiple and permeable is so helpful. In that context we are never post-identity, we are constantly migrating between them and expanding them, discovering them.  I favor a both/and over an either/or approach to Latino poetics because it's ultimately more faithful to our cultural DNA. 



PMM:
Sometimes, after I finish re-visioning a poem, I'll feel the weight of a chip on my poetic shoulder: the poem isn't new or experimental in any way, or it is simply another "abuela poem." But those feelings are, I'm glad to report, fleeting. The poem is who I am. Sure, I could mimic other, perhaps more experimental styles, but that would be dishonest, and I believe dishonesty and poetry (as I know it) are forever incompatible.
How do you respond to those who have a profound aversion to anything they deem “accessible”? (Oh, that nasty A-word.) I realize this is an old argument, but as a poet-teacher I feel it's my responsibility, among many other responsibilities, to help students become lifelong readers of poetry. And with no disrespect to their intellectual maturity, which is considerable, I can't expect them to go from zero to 60 in a few class meetings. (These are Intro to Lit courses, not MFA workshops.) I see how they respond to poetry that speaks directly to their lives, their experiences. Indeed, in a Latino Poetry course I developed some years ago, the first such course at a Hispanic-serving institution, several students commented that they'd never read poems the likes of which we read that semester. Of course, I made them aware that Latino poetry's tent is large and ever-widening. And we read work that challenged them, but much of the required reading would likely have been dismissed as too “accessible” by some critics and poets. I'm eager to get your take on this.



DV:
Honestly? I try to ignore the accessibility question as much as possible. An aversion to the accessible seems laughable on its face. Certainly “accessibility” seems a spurious approach for criticism. Hidden and unsaid in these criticisms is who exactly should have access to poetry. Should poetry be like law, where only those who studied and learned an arcane language are able to access it and use it? Or do we consign poetry to the state of an extinct language like Latin or Phoenician? So only the experts and the scholars are able to understand it. For me poetry doesn’t live on a cuneiform. It’s a living art and it should exist in as many places as possible. This seems such an obvious position I find it hard to imagine someone refuting it. But this has long been a bugaboo – we find it throughout history when a cultural priesthood attempts to contain or limit access to the language, to decide what’s acceptable and what’s permissible. History is our friend here because it reminds us that poetry is older than current rules or academies.  Galway Kinnell hammers that home in his essays where he offers his writerly advice but has enough humility and honesty to first cop to the questionable academic history he's part of.  We're talking about a history of poetic theory and teaching that's only a few generations old and didn't exist a hundred years ago.  Look, to the extent that teaching assists and expands, I’m all for it. To the extent that teaching limits and pontificates, it betrays its mission and just needs to be ignored.

PMM:
We share an interest in historic preservation, something that has bypassed/overlooked too many communities of color and working-class communities in this country. It used to be that when one thought of historic preservation, images of sprawling mansions and estates came to mind, rarely was it shotgun houses or humble main-street  movie theatres that sprang to mind. Thankfully, that’s changing. One of the things I love about the poems in your book is your literary parallel of historic preservation at work.

DV:
I've never thought of it that way, Pablo. But you're right. It is a form of historic preservation. Part of this is the hunger for the unknown story that can bind you to place or help you make sense of who you are in this historical point in time. I believe there is a gay aspect to this, because gay people have had their history and their lives expunged from the record. I'm reminded of Will Fellows book A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture, where he writes about the curious aspect of gay men involved in historic preservation, and identifies love of cultural history, as a “gay thing.”  For me part of this is just fascination at the discovery – or in this case rediscovery. I grew up along the Texas coast and I can't tell you how mind-blowing it was to discover the misspelling of Galveston. Galveston was a place name I'd heard my entire childhood and for most of the 19th century it was one of the largest cities in Texas. But Galveston's missing a Z. It was named after Bernardo de Galvez, who in many ways was responsible for the American Revolution's success. Certainly as much as Lafayette or any of the other foreign-born “heroes” we grew up reading about in our history text books. But people don't know who he was. He's been utterly lost and that part of our collective history has been expunged from the record. The surnames have been displaced. This isn't some bit of footnote trivia.  This is exactly how you can get white and black writers posting racist vitriolic garbage at an 11-year-old Mexican American kid, a child!, singing the national anthem at the NBA finals in June. This happens easily because most people in the United States are pathologically ignorant about Latino history in the United States. I should say Latino pre-history in the United States, because we're talking about events and figures that existed before the country existed. Most people think we all just arrived or that Latinos had no role in democracy or a conception of the human longings for democracy. So the historical project can be about retelling and informing and recasting history. We shouldn't be afraid to do that in our work, because it's in our collective interest, not only as Latinos but as Americans, to make sure that our historical knowledge is sound.

PMM:
Do you regard your poems, especially those that pay tribute to historical figures, the famous (Martí, Neruda, La Lupe, Carmen Miranda, César Romero [I love that poem!], et al.) and the not-so, as a reclamation project of sorts?  Do you ever fear those names will be forgotten, as too many aspects of our histories have been forgotten, either by ‘benign’ neglect or through more nefarious means?  Your poems help ensure that kind of erasure never happens.



DV:
I have less fear that these names will be forgotten. I think the more pressing issue is that the names, these lives, get soft-pedaled or pulled out of their historical context. For example, it’s suspiciously fascinating that so many early Latino film stars have had their iconic status taken from them or their legacies have been gutted by outright lies. Ramón Novarro and Lupe Vélez are two clear examples. I’d like to think my work is about returning them to their historical context and truth. Carmen Miranda is all the lovely, whimsical things we imagine about her. But she was also the highest paid movie star of her generation and no one remembers that. Baseline, and I think it’s what connects their stories to so many others I’m interested in; they are beautiful examples of hard persistence in the face of hard odds. That’s certainly the case for Carmen and for Cesar Romero who had such long careers. You know that growing up there were so few examples of Latinos in the larger culture. And just like growing up a gay kid in the closet, when our ears would prick up with any little mention of gay people – even though that wasn’t the word that was used – to see a Latino face or a Latino surname was a big deal ’cause it was a rare deal. That could be big stars or Anacani and Henry Cuesta on the Lawrence Welk Show on Saturday nights. That was a point of pride. So some of this is documenting history in the case of Miranda and Martí, or warping it into a counter-narrative in the case of La Lupe. I’m just fascinated to uncover it and play with it and hope that others find some fascination in it too.  But I’m also interested in these histories because I believe they are vitally American histories. They’re part of the grand narratives and they’ve been missing for too long.

PMM:
I’ve been thinking about what some regard as the anxiety of influence.  (Personally, I don’t feel anxiety around that—I welcome it!) For example, I hear Martín Espada in your poems; is he an influence? One of the things I love and respect about his work and yours is the directness: there’s nothing obtuse or arcane about it, and that, I think, defines its accessible character.  We’re afforded access to the worlds of these poems, whether we’re seasoned reader-listeners or new to poetry.

DV:
Martín Espada's a poet I love and whose work I return to again and again. I've been lucky to come to know him and I admire his dedicated life to poetry and to justice work.  Neruda also was an early, and has remained a lasting, influence. For many reasons, but mainly for his play of language and the adoration of beauty in language. This is probably true of all poets, a shared abiding love of language.  Your “Juárez” poem also made me think of Cherríe Moraga's work. I guess because I first read the Coyolxauhqui dismemberment story through her work. Have mujerista writers like Moraga and Anzaldúa influenced you as a writer? I'd like to think there's a sisterly element in my own work – an indebtedness to their theoretical frameworks that exists in it and I feel that in your work too.

PMM:
Certainly I think of my search, as a younger poet, for authors whose work I could learn from as I tried to find my voice. (A never-ending search!) It was by turns exhilarating (I was introduced to the work of so many poets) and frustrating (why weren't there poets whose work spoke more directly to my experience?). So I gravitated to the work of women poets, especially women of color, and even more specifically, Lesbians of color.  I think of this parallel: young Queer college students, who find themselves at institutions without Queer Lit or Queer Studies offerings (which is to say, most U.S. colleges and universities), sometimes gravitate to Women's Studies courses.   Not as a 'substitute,' but perhaps because those courses offer intellectual sanctuary and a supportive, empathetic environment. So it was that, in the absence of more gay Chicano poets, I went to the work of our poet-sisters in hopes of finding aspects of myself in their work. And I did. There's a keen intelligence in the work of Moraga, Anzaldúa, Gaspar de Alba, Castillo, and Alvarez, Cisneros, Obejas, and so many others to whom I am forever indebted. In their work they were/are true, inspiring path-finders. I like to think my poetry, in some small way, pays tribute to their hard work, without which I most likely wouldn't be writing poems today.

DV:
Pablo, that beautiful sexual imagery in your poem “Ecclesiology” left me curious as to how you navigate the use of religious imagery in your poems.

PMM: 
Dan, I seriously considered leaving that poem out of the book. I'd read some commentary that referred to the intertwining of overtly religious imagery and the erotic as facile, tired, cliché. And because I'm the sensitive, impressionable sort, at one point I deleted the poem from the manuscript. But then I managed to dredge up a vague memory of those wonderful Octavio Paz essays on Eros and poetry—I  was newly emboldened.   “Eroticism is first and foremost a thirst for otherness,” Paz argues. “And the supernatural is the supreme otherness. This is perhaps the most noble aim of poetry, to attach ourselves to the world around us, to turn desire into love, to embrace, finally what always evades us, what is beyond, but what is always there – the unspoken, the spirit, the soul.” I love that. Almost as much as I love this:

“...because two bodies, naked and entwined,
leap over time, they are invulnerable,
nothing can touch them, they return to the source.
There is no you, no I, no tomorrow,
no yesterday, no names, the truth of two
in a single body, a single soul,
oh total being...”   —Octavio Paz

One of the things I aimed for in “Ecclesiology” was allowing myself a sort of overheated excess, which was one of the characteristics of Roman Catholic rites that appealed to me during my growing-up years. (I seriously considered entering the seminary, but now realize it was my attempt at avoiding the pressing reality of my sexual identity.) I love the baroque-ness of it all: the more overwrought, the better. That's what I attempted in that poem. Perhaps I should say that it's the rococo in Mexican Catholicism that I love. And what makes it so intriguing to me now, as a seriously lapsed Catholic, is the fact that all the excess is usually made possible by those who can least afford such excess.

The title also reflects my interest in architecture; it's also a reflection of my deep interest in formal poetry (my poem is loosely – quite loosely – based on the haibun form). A few of the Latina/o poets who were early influences happen to write in form: chief among them, Julia Alvarez, Rafael Campo, and Dionisio Martínez.

DV:
Love Campo's work.  Have you met him?

PMM:
Sometime in the mid-90s, when I was living in New York, I attended a reading at A Different Light bookstore. And while I was a regular attendee at readings in the store's cramped downstairs space, I went to this one without having read the work of that evening's featured poet, Rafael Campo. The name intrigued me. And then I heard him read...I was in heaven. Here was a Latino who wrote unapologetically homoerotic poems – and used Spanish in his work! Of course, I bought his books and read everything that night.  I needed something and someone that spoke directly to my experience, not so much for validation, but for the thrust to take off (as a poet), against what were pretty daunting headwinds.

Incidentally, even though I developed a mad poet-crush on Campo (or perhaps because of said crush), I couldn't bring myself to join the book-signing line at A Different Light; I was schoolgirl-nervous, so I bought a couple books and left without telling him how much his work meant to me. One of these days I'll give him a long-overdue thank-you in person.

DV: 
I think you just did.  I'm curious what you think of the idea of writers being in a constant state of exile, from the past. I know the old adage says to write what you know, but I can't escape the feeling that a lot of what I write is of a geographic and historical past that doesn't exist. What's that experience for you as a writer who lives in Kentucky and just wrote a glorious book that is suffused with the landscape of a life in Texas?

PMM:
Oh, Dan, now you're talking...I love this comment and the ensuing questions. They get to the heart of the work. My partner Hank and I are always commenting that we feel as if we were born in the wrong historical period; sometimes the 'now' feels unfamiliar, even though it is our reality.  I try—very  hard, I try—not to suffuse my understanding of the historical (and personal) past with nostalgia. I mean, I am keenly aware that the historicized past doesn't tell the complete story, a story from which some of us have been systematically excluded.

"A constant state of exile." Yes! As I believe I mentioned previously, I lived in New York City nearly 15 years, which is a relatively extended period, all things considered. It came to feel like home the more time I spent there...it's where I came of age as an openly gay man (it was the late 80s, so segments of the gay community were coming to grips with the AIDS pandemic, which defined and largely shaped so many of my friendships, relationships). Just as I was beginning to celebrate my sexuality in a liberated fashion – reveling in it, really – the specter of dis/ease (as it was widely perceived back then) cast its long shadow over us. That was an exile of sorts. Many of us felt exiled from what had at least in part compelled us to relocate to New York.

But there was, for me, also the more obvious form of exile: a Tejano/Chicano far from the borderlands forming his identity in a cosmopolitan context. (Of course, New York City, owing to its large immigrant, uncommonly diverse population, is also crossed by all sorts of borders...and I was keenly aware of those.)

One of the visual artists whose work I came to love during my New York years is the late Ana Mendieta. She too lived with the notion of exile, not only as a Cubana, but also as a Latina in the predominantly white NYC art world. And, to my mind, most important, she made ephemeral art, art that could not be so easily commodified. Her “Silueta” series reminds me that geopolitical borders are ultimately meaningless, as Mendieta saw them. And that everything passes. Or, as the poet-king Nezahualcoyotl said, "Not forever here on Earth; / here only just a while."

It's unfortunate that Ana Mendieta's untimely, controversial death is all most people know about her. (Our obsession with biography!) I've been working on a short sequence of poems based on imagined conversations between Mendieta and Dorothy Hale, who was made famous by Frida Kahlo's narrative painting of Hale's controversial death.

DV:
That image of Kahlo's is one of the most gripping.  Just haunting and real.  I also love the idea of your imagining Mendieta's conversations with Hale.  Poetry is ideally suited for that kind of speculative work.  How has New York had a lasting influence on your identity?

PMM: 
One of the most important things I learned from my NYC life is the importance of well-informed, fully respectful alliances. A Nuyorican poet friend used to say that I was a tamal in a sea of pasteles. It was the most amazing learning experience. For example, before I moved to New York I was deeply embarrassed about and even constrained by my limited (and limiting!) use of Spanish. But having Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, and South American friends in New York gave me greater confidence. So ironically, it took my leaving the tierra madre to reconnect with the mother tongue. And perhaps more important, it helped widen my lens, which I believe makes me a better poet.  This morning I was re-reading some poems...a promiscuous reading from a few books I've recently unpacked, as well as poems in recently acquired books, such as yours. One of those poems is your lovely "The Borders Are Fluid within Us." The poem's three last lines beautifully sum up what I was trying to say about the deep way in which Ana Mendieta's work resonates: "The body cannot be owned. / The land cannot be owned, / only misunderstood or named by its knowing."    We get ourselves into such awful trouble when we become acquisitive, in the Western capitalist sense.   But as I re-read the title of your poem, I was also stunned by the wonderful double-meaning made possible by the word "fluid." Is is an adjective, or is it a noun? If the latter, the poem is a breathtakingly complex homoerotic poem. And the mention of blood and "feared" in the first stanza also render it an allusion to AIDS. This is what I lovelovelove about reading thoughtful (in the truest sense of that word) poems. They grab us by the collar and force us to pay close attention. And that variety of unwavering attention, Simone Weil says, is a form of prayer. So thoughtful poems, in my mind, bring us full-circle: they sometimes fulfill the poet's historical role as priest, oracle, shaman, etc. Thank you for this, Dan.

DV: 
You're the first to make the connection between that poem and AIDS.   I can only say that my friends who have struggled with AIDS, a few who have died, but all of them, have taught me a deep appreciation for the body, the very lived vessel of everything we experience as human beings.  I was especially instructed on life by watching friends struggle with death in those early years before the life-sustaining treatments, I witnessed men who had reached an astoundingly intimate relationship with their bodies, who were forced due to the limited and experimental nature of those early medical treatments to move beyond the traditional doctor/patient interaction to truly become partners with their doctors in their treatments.  It was a remarkable sense of self-possession and self-preservation.  That poem probably stands apart from the rest of the book as a bit more elemental.  I was reticent to include it but ultimately felt it expressed a longing that made sense in the arc of the book itself.  So much of our lived life feels separated from the surrounding landscape; that very cultivated and manicured landscape in the city.  I wanted to take a moment and meditate on the activity of naming, which is a way of understanding, and yes, possessing a place.  It's good to remind ourselves that there are very slow and cumulative ways of coming to love a place, to have it grow inside of you like a treasure.  If “you are what you eat,” then we need to recognize that we are what we breathe and what we see as well.  Our bodies are the land and we are bodies in this land and over time of this land.  I don't mean this in a nationalist sense, but in a lived-in, communed, sense.  I also don't mean it as some kind of fuzzy woo-woo idea but very much a scientific fact.  We are the water we drink and the air we breathe.  We are not separate from it as much as we keep being told it.  It's what Neruda was referring to when he wrote “This is the land./ It grows in your blood/ and you grow./ If it dies in your blood/ you die out.”


**

Pablo Miguel Martínez’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including Americas Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Harpur Palate, Inkwell, North American Review, the San Antonio Express-News, and in the anthologies Voices without Borders 2, Best Gay Poetry 2008, and This Assignment Is So Gay. Martínez is the recipient of the Robert L.B. Tobin Award for Artistic Excellence, the Oscar Wilde Award, and the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize. His literary work has received support from the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation and the Artist Foundation of San Antonio. Martínez is Co-Founder of CantoMundo; he has also participated in Sandra Cisneros’ Macondo Writers’ Workshop. Martínez’s first book of poems, titled Brazos, Carry Me, was published by Kórima Press in 2013. He teaches English at the University of Louisville.


Dan Vera is the author of Speaking Wiri Wiri, (Red Hen Press, 2013) and The Space Between Our Danger and Delight, (Beothuk Books, 2009). His manuscript, The Guide to Imaginary Monuments was selected by Orlando Ricardo Menes, for the 2012 Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize. His work has appeared in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Notre Dame Review, Delaware Poetry Review, Gargoyle, Konch, and Red Wheelbarrow. He serves on the boards of Split This Rock Poetry and Rainbow History Project. He founded Brookland Area Writers & Artists.Vera is the Managing Editor of White Crane. He publishes other poets through Vrzhu Press and Souvenir Spoon Books. He lives in Brookland (Washington, D.C.)

3 comments:

Grace said...

This was a gold standard in interviews. NEW things were said (thank you) and although I had to look up the word "ABUELA," my abuela heart was beating along with both of yours all the way.
Grace Cavalieri

Nic said...

Phenomenal interview. Thank you so much to both authors and the moderator. I now have a wealth of new stuff to read!

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