One of the pleasures of working in this field is encountering new voices.
This space has forged a decent track record of posting author interviews of poets and writers with new books.
The gesture that follows is a bit different.
We’re highlighting a voice that, shall we say, is “pre-book,” “pre-chapbook” even.
All in an effort to support and encourage an early and lively commitment to the art.
Letras Latinas is pleased to introduce Daniel Eduardo Ruiz.
First of all, I want to thank you for agreeing to take a few questions. Will you share with our readers what brings you to poetry?
What brings me to poetry is what brings me to most things: an enjoyment of my personal freedom. I love playing around. Anyone who knows me knows I'm an enthusiastic goofball, and much of the joy I derive from writing comes from exploring the stretchy spaces of language and sentiment. I am and have always been emotionally charged-up and excited by wordplay. Technically, we don’t see with our eyes but with our brains, and that’s where all of the goodies are: memories, little ticks, weird patterns, ideas, and feelings—and it’s all perpetually sloshing around together like a semi-truck full of soup. In this way our perception becomes kaleidoscopic, and wordplay becomes a system of experiential or imaginative plasticity whereby we “stretch the truth,” so to speak. Nicanor Parra says the only rule in poetry is that you must “improve the blank page.” Fear provides an ending. It says, Hey man, none of these lines are worth a damn, and if you stop writing no one will care anyway. From conversations with other artists it seems to be a pretty common belief, an anti-self or arch nemesis we create so we have something to go against—often with a very specific, personal face. I write poetry to confront this reality in a space where I have the ability to improve it—to make it more playful, more human, more mine. There is joy in play, and in this way I’ll always be a child. I want to feel joyous, which, for me, is more about emotional fullness than an embracement of only positive stimuli. Happiness too often feels like a rejection of the negative, and poetry is a lifestyle for me in the sense that I use it to explore the origins of my often-exaggerated reactions to whatever life seems be to torpedoing toward me.
One of the things that drew me to your profile is that you made the deliberate decision to spend time abroad. I know for myself my time in Spain was transformative. Why did you decide to spend time in Chile?
Chile is el país de los poetas. I admire many Chilean writers—Bolaño, Huidobro, and Neruda (sometimes) are my favorites. I applied for the Fulbright with the idea of writing a solid manuscript of poems and came out having produced a lot of writing but no cohesive book. It took me weeks to get settled and transition from Florida to Santiago to an apartment in Valparaiso. I spent a lot of time editing and reading, watching movies and cooking. Fulbright gave me a rare opportunity and one most poets probably dream of: I got to be a full-time poet. I had a salary. It seems like magical realism to type it. Fulbright gave me the space to make of my writing whatever I wanted, and that’s an experience for which I have the utmost gratitude. I spent four years in poetry workshops at Florida State, but for the first time I went to a place and wrote by myself, for myself. In a sense, if you accomplish little during your Fulbright, there aren’t real consequences. I had the opportunity to experience a quiet failure, and I’m elated to announce that I didn’t. I wrote so much, tried out so many new moves, read so many new authors. It was what I had wanted for years: to have total accountability, to be able to blame my success or failure on myself—because without accountability we quell the former and blame others for the latter. I came to Chile to learn to be myself, and I’m proud of the person I’ve become. It’s like a little act of kindness you do for someone else and decide to walk around all day long like nothing happened—but you know.
Will you share with our readers how living abroad for a year has changed your poetry?
It changed my poetry in many ways. First, in a short period of time I experienced so many new things—food, music, culture, street art, a dialect of Spanish about which I knew nothing and had never heard—which means I took the opportunity to write about new things. I wrote a series of odes based on Neruda’s Odas elementales called “Industrial Odes”—doorknobs, credit cards, digital scales, etc. But Chile is also known for its protests (many of which I attended). I lived in Valparaiso, a big-ish port city with five universities only a quick bus ride from Santiago, and the protests were frequent. Universities went on strike often, often because students would take them hostage by sneaking in after hours or bribing the custodians for their keys to lock them from the inside. Because I witnessed and participated in political protests—coupled with the elections in my home country, Trumplandia, the Colombian deal with the FARC, Brexit, Castro’s death, and Venezuela’s new dictatorship—I wrote some more obviously-political poems. I used to think topics like religion and politics were taboo, but now these difficult conversations seem imperative to the re-education of a post-colonial society whose concept of power, when you follow the historical rhetoric of threats, is based on physical superiority and not mental or emotional strength and stability. So I wrote about these things. I’ve decided to be happy for others when I see them utilizing social media as a platform for expressing themselves because social media has given voice to many, many, many people who didn’t even know they had a mouth that could open. Also, more than ever, I did all I could to be honest with myself in my writing and make it truly mine.
One of the issues that Latino and Latina poets seem to have to navigate, in one way or another, is identity. Will you share with our readers your take on this subject, as it pertains to you?
In the movie The Rundown, Travis (Seann William Scott) flees to Brazil and tells Mariana (Rosario Dawson), a bartender, that, in the states, Brazil nuts are expensive, and she says, “Well, we are in Brazil, so we just call them nuts.” I’m Puerto Rican and Cuban and was raised in the ultra Puerto Rican part of Orlando, but I was born in Puerto Rico. My dad was born in Cuba and raised in Miami. My mom was born in New Jersey and raised in Bayamón. My grandmother was born in Fajardo and raised in Harlem. My grandfather was born in Brooklyn but raised in Aibonito. To be honest, I don’t even know if I’m considered first- or second- or third-generation, and it’s a tricky roulette many Puerto Ricans play because, for example, though my Spanish accent is very Puerto Rican, in Puerto Rico they can tell I’m boricua from the states—and in the states it’s always, “What, um, what are you?” What I’m getting at is this dual sense of not belonging, of feeling othered, though I actually feel whole and liberated in New York. Until I reread many of my poems in a row, I never realized how much of my latinx upbringing came through subtly in them. To me, the poems had nothing to do with where I was from, but there’s no way for me to change the part of my personal history that’s behind me. Without a doubt, I am a hyphenated person. On the other hand, though, it has to do with what my mom complained about my entire life: that she had to be twice as good and work twice as hard to get noticed a little bit less than just-as-much. I struggle with this because I want to empower other latin@s, especially Caribbean ones, but I also want my writing to be good enough that people who don’t look or sound or dress like me find themselves in it. Salvador Plascencia said in an interview, “I’m not a professional Mexican,” and I was immediately drawn to that logic, though I sometimes think it reductive of the importance and diversity of the Latin-American experience. Other times, I tell myself we’re all equals on the blank page and think about O’Hara saying, “Everything is in the poems.” In short: I’m still figuring it out.
by Daniel Eduardo Ruiz
I am through feeling embarrassed I don’t care if vodka
is the French fries of liquor If push comes to shove
I will stick my hand in toilet water to pull out glasses
for a friend Yes I am mad that David Mitchell wrote
Cloud Atlas before me I’m pissed off that I’m leaving
Alexis says it’s easier than staying— not if you’re a tree!
I am one half of at least sixty people I admire not
my five closest friends It’s my responsibility to help them
fill in their cracks with liquid gold like Japanese china
They need me like water wishing to wash itself of salt
for its awareness of parched lips which is to say
I want to jump off a bridge and watch my back unbend
into wings like a soccer ball kicked so hard it floats
after bursting open Open your hand Here a token
for pinball Here an amulet whose golden wrapper
reveals a chocolate Do you know how many faces
have pressed against each Iron Man mask
in the Wal-Mart toy aisle? Don’t hate on where
I bought all of my childhood lightsabers Don’t hate
on my habit of waking up to make breakfast for roosters
I believe in god most on top of a mountain or tumbling
down a waterfalled river Yes I have ogre ankles
and chapped lips Yes Memory is the key
to combination locks Yes Sometimes I sweat more than steak
Love makes you feel smart the same way feeling
unlovable tells you you’re dumb Some days I feel as degraded
as a Band-Aid on a bug bite It’s okay it’s okay
besides my own death I can make anything useful
Daniel Eduardo Ruiz was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico and lives in Florida. A recent Fulbright Scholar to Chile, his poems can or will be found in Juked, Southern Indiana Review, The Journal, Harpur Palate, and elsewhere.