Saturday, March 23, 2019

Endeavor: An Interview with Cynthia Guardado


an interview with Cynthia Guardado
conducted by Therese Marie Konopelski

Endeavor is a tender and sorrowful work, opening old scars and healing them with love and retrospective wisdom. There is a respectful and appropiate sense of nostalgia that permeates the narrative; for Inglewood, CA before gentrification, for innocence, and freedom of days gone by. It does not grieve, rather it treats Latinidad, womanhood, and abuse survivors with compassion and understanding. Guardado offers sincere meditations on injustices that affect women every day. Ultimately, the reader is renewed, and finds a sense of freedom in remembering these lived scars. 

Reading this as a Latina woman, I was affected by how immersive and engaging the collection was. Guardado treats unfortunately common traumas that women suffer through silently in their relationships with candor and solidarity. Guardado is a poet to be reckoned for her authenticity and balanced masterful storytelling, maintaining space readers to project their own emotions from shared experience on the page.
-Therese Konopelski, University of Notre Dame (class of 2020)

[Therese Konopelski]: Endeavor partakes in the sorrow of women caused by the many injustices perpetuated upon them; including domestic violence, sexual assault, classism as well as racism. In many ways, it is their endeavor to resist depression from oppression. What is the significance of love and worthiness in this bleak narrative to you?

[Cynthia Guardado]: The first section of Endeavor is full of poems about women’s experiences in a world that is machista and possessive. Many of the poems are about my experiences as a woman because I too have been diminished and hyper-sexualized. For example, each moment of sexual harassment and assault described in the poem “To All the Women You Say You Love,” has actually happened to me. In the poem I really wanted to convey that every time this happens to a woman it stays with her. 

I don’t forget being twelve years-old and riding the bus home from school. A grown man sat next to me and kept hitting on me. He wouldn’t leave me alone. I finally said loud enough for everyone to hear “I’m twelve!” and he immediately stood up and moved to another part of the bus.

I had to learn early in life, that I needed to protect myself from men. And so, I got tough and which is why the audience for some of these poems are men, because I want to make them uncomfortable. I want them to think about how their behavior impacts the women in their lives. 

And I am completely aware that this impact is overwhelming which is why I intentionally began the book with “How Women Grieve” because I wanted to show the immense weight that women (including myself) carry every day. Our experiences something we’ve carried for generations. And that’s why I wanted to remind women to love themselves as completely and fully as they can when I wrote, “only you can love you like this.”  

[TK]: The poem Endeavor: Inglewood Just Another LAX Flight Route tackles issues of white supremacy and the environment. The space shuttle Endeavor, for which historic trees were cut down, is at once a symbol of success after the Challenger tragedy, and a sinister reminder society’s devaluation of nature. What led you to investigate Inglewood’s past and how do you believe your findings shed light on Inglewood’s future?    

[CG]: I am originally from Inglewood and when the Endeavour space shuttle came through Inglewood I was living there. Plans for the Endeavour space shuttle were released and it was obvious to me why they had chosen to take the space shuttle through Inglewood and South Central. These were neighborhoods where residents would have little to no access to information about the space shuttle’s route. I was opposed to the space shuttle coming through Inglewood because I knew the city had agreed to cut down all of the trees on Manchester Blvd that were along the route. 

There even were a few protests, and someone even chained themselves to a tree. On the night the Endeavour came through Inglewood, I felt I had to witness what was happening in my own neighborhood. My friend and I rode our bikes to a local laundromat that used to be a Wonderbread. I remember it was 3AM on a Friday or Saturday night, and we (childhood friends) were surrounded by hundreds of people. The streets were full of cars with out-of-state license plates. 

As I watched what was happening I thought, since when do people care about us? And it was that feeling that inspired me to write this poem and to really reflect on the land I lived on and how the city I grew up in was founded.  

[TK]: What does the word "Endeavor" mean to you? 

[CG]: I chose Endeavor as the title of the book because an endeavor is a journey you do make it through. No matter how much darkness you had to fight through, how much grief, you’re still standing at the end (even if you are not whole). 

[TK]: Alcoholism casts a dark cloud over many of the poems. As you say in Inheritance, we carry this addiction in our bones, Loving an alcoholic and knowing the self-destructive quality of the disease on all the other alcoholics in your life takes a large toll. What were your thoughts about writing in such an intimate space about something that can undermine even love?

[CG]: When I first started writing these poems about love and alcoholism, I didn’t realize I was writing a collection of them. I just kept writing about the alcoholism prevalent in my family and life. I don’t think alcoholism is a problem for the Latinx community in particular but I do think that alcoholism is a huge problem in our society as a whole. 

My poem “Inheritance” asks readers to take a closer look at what they inherit from their family. I wrote “Inheritance” after the death of my uncle who died due to his alcoholism. I explore his death through a series of poems in my manuscript Cenizas, a collection of poems centered around El Salvador. 

Many of the poems in Endeavor, were written as a way for me to process my daily interactions with the alcoholics in my life. The alcoholism of my partner became a central focus. There are even several poems that I wrote while I was still in the relationship and I think these poems show how alcoholism undermines love. 

My poem “Please” begins with the lines: Heal me with your love, I want to tell you this/every night I lose sleep over what I've already lost. I literally wrote this poem in the middle of the night while my ex was passed out drunk. Earlier we’d had a fight, I don’t remember if we were both drinking (but it’s likely we were). He was always a black out drunk, and I was beginning to understand that what was happening between us was not love. I’m still writing poems about him, I guess I’m never really going to be over how alcoholism changed our lives.

[TK]: How do you discover the rhythm of a poem? All of them translate beautifully to the stage. They are unapologetically forceful with almost no barrier between reader and author.

[CG]: When I revise my poems, I always read them out loud to myself in order to find the rhythm of the poem. I allow my voice to guide how my line breaks. For example, in the poem “This is Terrorism” each line is forceful, and each line reveals new information. The beginning reads: 
News of mass murder in Charleston, North Carolina finds me in another country. I read about another enraged white man with a gun, who was protected by cops with a bullet-proof-vest. 
I wanted the reader to read each of those lines slowly and to feel the power of each of those words that unveil a reality of white terrorism in the United States that is so often glossed over by our media.  

[TK]: Your El Salvadoran parents’ cultural heritage formed your earliest conceptions of family, love, and womanhood. What are some uplifting and perhaps damaging beliefs that you have discovered within their culture? What values do you see from your upbringing surfacing in your poetry?

[CG]: The poems in Endeavor specifically tackle misogyny but I do approach misogyny from a more global point of view because we woman have to confront machismo and patriarchy at every turn. I think I am hyper-aware of this because I was fortunate enough to come from a family with really strong women. I’d even dare to say that we are a matriarchal family. My abuelas and vis abuelas were very strong women and most were single mothers. They instilled their strength in both my parents. I do think this strength has impacted my life tremendously as I was raised to be strong and independent by my parents. And I even push them now, to think beyond what they thought was normal or expected. It is this speaker who appears in “What Nature Intended” when I write, “I will no longer bleed for humanity./I will not procreate. I am not here for/what you say I’ve come here for[…].”  

[TK]: Poems with subjects such as love, El Salvadoran heritage, and accounts of family interweave together in the work. The concluding poem, Hope, proclaims, “we breath—this is our endeavor.” How is your vision of peace and joy for the people who inspired you realized in your poetry? 

[CG]: Honestly, I always say I’m not a very hopeful person. But whenever I say that people point out all the work that I do as a poet and educator. I’m always trying to make a difference, give voice to something important, create a relatable moment. So I guess the end of the book is the moment where I’m saying if after all this we are still alive and surviving then we obviously have some hope.  


Cynthia Guardado is a Salvadorian-American poet and Professor of English at Fullerton College. She is the managing editor of LiveWire: A Literary Arts Journal at Fullerton College. She received her Masters of Fine Arts from California State University, Fresno and her debut poetry collection, ENDEAVOR was published in 2017 by World Stage Press. In 2017, she was the winner of the Concurso Binacional De Poesía Pellicer-Frost (UTEP/S-Mart). Cenizas is a collection of poems centered on El Salvador and grief, and it is currently under review.

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