Friday, August 18, 2017

XANATH CARAZA

Xánath Caraza is a traveler, educator, poet and short story writer. She is a columnist of La Bloga, Smithsonian Latino Center, Periódico de Poesía and Revista Zona de Ocio. Her books are Lágrima roja, Sin preámbulos / Without Preamble, Le sillabe del vento, Donde la luz es violeta / Where the Light is Violet, Tinta negra / Black Ink, Ocelocíhuatl, Sílabas de viento / Syllables of Wind, Noche de colibríes, Corazón pintado, Conjuro, her short story collection, Lo que trae la marea / What the Tide Brings. Her second short story collection, Pulsación, is in progress.

You are “una pintora de palabras,” (painter of words) in that there is color everywhere in your poetry, and sensuality. Can you describe the fusion of art and language in your poetry? To what do you attribute that impulse?

As a poet, I use words to describe my surroundings.  Why not invite my readers to be with me or to make them understand what I capture in my stanzas?  In order to accomplish this, I have to describe what I see or feel.  I am sure many of us poets paint with words; others sing with words or cry out for justice with verses.

What role does “place” play in your work as writer and poet? Please elaborate.

Between worlds, I have always lived. As a child in Mexico my borders were linguistic and social. At an early age, I was aware of this. My mother grew up bilingually between Spanish and Nahualt, the language of the Mexica (Aztecs).  I was also aware of the drastic division of social class in Mexico at an early age. Currently, I live between the U.S. and Mexico, and, again, I am a border crosser, linguistically, physically and emotionally; therefore, place has been always inherent in my work. For instance, Sílabas de viento / Syllables of Wind / Le Sillabe del vento is one of my recent books of poetry, published in three languages—Spanish, English and Italian, and it is entirely a reflection on place, México, Spain, Croatia and beyond. What’s more, my book of poetry Donde la luz es violeta / Where the Light is Violet is full of the light and colors of Italy. This book I wrote in 2015 during a writer’s residence that I had the opportunity to do in Italy that same year.

Can you discuss how culture and gender come into play in your writing?

Women’s voices have always been present in my work. As a female poet, I pay attention to what other women experience and weave those sounds into my poetry or narrative as a manner to validate our diverse perspectives of seeing the world. Frequently, these voices come through their own culture. As mentioned, I live between the U.S. and Mexico and, within each of these countries, a myriad of cultures has co-existed for centuries. From these cultures and beyond, I want women’s voices to be recognized and interacted with in a public sphere. For example, the title story of my short story collection, Lo que trae la marea / What the Tide Brings, presents the voice of a young Afromestiza/African Mexican woman and the challenges she faces in her daily life. In addition, my book of poetry Lágrima roja is a lyrical document of a personal concern I have for femicides.  

Are the voices of Latin American poets and writers who are women being heard more these days? What are your thoughts on this?

More female poets and writers are being published in Latin America, I think. We still need more to balance the percentage of female published authors, but definitely the numbers have increased.  Hopefully, readers are engaging with published female poets and writers. 

What are you working on now? What do you hope to accomplish, artistically speaking, in the near future? 


I have an upcoming book of poetry, Sin preámbulos / Without Preamble, translated by Sandra Kingery, being published by Spartan Press. It will be released by the end of this year.  I am also working on a couple of books that I will be happy to share about as soon as they are finished. 


                                                 XANATH CARAZA

Friday, August 11, 2017

PABLO F. MEDINA

Cuban-born Pablo Medina is the author of 16 books, among them the poetry collections The Island Kingdom, The Man Who Wrote on Water, Calle Habana, Points of Balance/Puntos de Apoyo; the novels Cubop City Blues, The Cigar Roller, The Return of Felix Nogara, and Marks of Birth; and the memoir Exiled Memories: A Cuban Childhood. In 2015 he published a collection of translations from the Spanish of Virgilio Piñera titled The Weight of the Island, and in 2008 he translated (with Mark Statman) García Lorca's Poet in New York, which John Ashbery called "the definitive version of Lorca's masterpiece." Forthcoming is a new English version of Alejo Carpentier's novel The Kingdom of This World and Soledades, a collection of his poetry in Spanish. Medina’s work has appeared in various languages and in magazines and periodicals throughout the world. Winner of many awards for his work, including grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, The Cintas Foundation, the state arts councils of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and others, Medina is professor of fiction, poetry, and translation at Emerson College in Boston.

In Cubop City,  the narrator describes being surrounded by women as a child, women who nurture and make a fuss over him. As a writer, do you consider yourself a feminist? Does such categorization enter into your considerations? Has being a Cuban in exile enhanced or diminished your understanding of what it means to be a woman in Cuba? And is this something you think about consciously—inside and outside the context of your writing?

As a writer I consider myself a human-ist. That is to say, I consider it my responsibility to understand the human animal, no matter its shape, age, color, or sexual orientation. Since I am a human being, my first responsibility is to understand myself in relation to others, and that includes the female of the species.

Does that make me a feminist? I don’t know!

Being a Cuban in exile has indeed helped me to understand what it means to be a Cuban woman. But it is my sister, with whom I have a very close relationship, who has opened my eyes to what it means to be a woman. Recently retired, she was a professional who raised four boys pretty much on her own, despite what seemed to me, overwhelming obstacles. In her struggles to reconcile motherhood and profession, I saw the struggles women face on a daily basis. That she was successful as both mother and administrator speaks not only to her courage, determination and love, but the courage, determination and love of all women who embark on those paths. My own struggles to raise my son—I was a single father—were crucial in allowing me to see what many women encounter constantly.

What is the role of jazz in your poetry and writing in general? What kind of jazz moves you most?

I love music and I love jazz, perhaps because of is improvisatory nature, its development despite the difficulties many of its practitioners faced—racism, poverty, disdain—and its vitality, which I think springs from the effort of the musician to overcome, and if not overcome, reconcile him/herself with those limits. The best jazz is charged with spiritualism, charged with duende, to borrow a term used in flamenco—another type of music I love.

I have to admit that Latin jazz moves me the most. It brings together two directions or rivers, if you will, of a tradition that goes back to Africa and has been enriched by European tendencies. When the African and European musical cultures came together, sparks flew, and new ways of engaging the world came about.

Latin jazz is the end of racism!

Please describe the difference, if there is any for you, between writing in Spanish and writing in English. Internally speaking, has there been any kind of fusion, or do Cuba and the U.S. remain separate worlds for you?

Spanish is my mother tongue. English is my step-mother tongue. I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that my emotions are embedded in Spanish, while my intellect drives me in English. I have spent my writing life trying to bring the two together, and so far (thank God!) I have failed at it. But I always try—with apologies to Samuel Beckett—to fail better.



PABLO F. MEDINA

Friday, August 4, 2017

JOHN YAMRUS


Since 1970 John Yamrus has published 25 volumes of poetry and 2 novels. He has also had more than 1,800 poems published in print magazines around the world. Selections of his poetry have been translated into several languages, including Spanish, Swedish, French, Japanese, Italian, Romanian, Albanian and Bengali. His poetry is taught in a number of colleges and universities. As Real As Rain (Epic Rites Press, 84pp) is his newest book. His website is: http://www.johnyamrus.com and his books can be found on Amazon.com.

You were quoted very recently in a review of As Real As Rain, your latest collection of poetry published by Epic Rites Press, as saying that your audience “isn’t sitting at table 4 at the reading in the coffee house; it’s in the back, cooking the food or waiting to clear the table.” Can you say more about that and how it relates to your own background? Where did the impetus come from to write to that segment?

i didn’t write it. i felt it. i feel it. it’s always been a part of what i am and who i am. from the very beginning of my life as a writer, i’ve always had a big dislike for people who treated poetry like it was something special, and by contact, so were they. it’s that sense of elitism that’s killed poetry. it’s that same elitism that eventually gave rise to guys like Ginsberg and Bukowski, who sensed very deeply that poetry is at its best when it kneels in the gutter and looks up at the stars. 

shoot, maybe that’s why i can never think of myself as a poet...the word...the very THOUGHT of the word...takes me back to being 17, when everyone around me in my little group of aspiring writers, thought and talked of themselves as being poets and therefore special and different from everyone else. 

i never wanted that.

i’m a coal miner’s son. i still remember my grandfather talking about the mules who spent their entire lives underground at the mines. i grew up with iron-on patches on my knees. we never had a new car. how could somebody who grew up like that ever want to be a poet? to feel elite? i just wanted to lay out in the grass at night and feel i was part of a whole.

How would you describe As Real As Rain, in terms of its being a collaboration? You’ve written nearly 30 books. Have others been collaborative efforts? What makes this one unique?

this one really IS unique.  i never collaborated before. what Janne and i did with this book was built up over time. it took a lot of time to establish the mutual trust that had us doing a book of this size and scope and really laying everything on the line. 

it didn’t start out as something we planned. we first worked together on my book Alchemy. it’s a big book...it clocks in at right around 200 pages. huge, for a book of all new poems. at the suggestion of my publisher, Wolf Carstens (and don’t get me started, i could talk about that guy forever...this IS, after all, my 9th book with Epic Rites Press...by far the longest and most productive association i’ve EVER had in my 47 years as a working writer)...at Wolf’s suggestion we asked Janne to do some illustrations for Alchemy. he ended up doing 8. and they worked. right from the get-go i could see that he brought something to the mix that added a little extra twist to the poems. real attitude.
    
eventually, we did a full book of poems together...Burn. it was published in Sweden with limited distribution and not a lot of people got to see it.
   
then, going on three years ago (and this is a long story, but put up with me, okay?), i did a reading in Edmonton, Canada, that started it all. it was a wild night. with the beer and tequila...the shouts and the hoots. people talked.

people who weren’t there that night, heard about it...and they talked.
    
time passed and i put out two more books...Alchemy and I Admit Nothing...but, every now and then someone would ask about that night and what went on and what it was like to be there. so, we came up with this idea...me and Wolf...we re-created pretty much every poem i read that night...in the order that i read them...and we challenged Janne to come up with stuff that gave the feeling of what it was like to be in that room. everybody has some nights in their life that kinda shine a little bit brighter than the others. that was one of them for me.

fortunately, Janne (with his art) was able to bring just the right amount of crazy...and smooth and sublime.

is this book poetry? i don’t really know. i hope not. what i DO hope is that you don’t need a magic key to help you figure it out. i do hope that maybe you can read a page in the couple of seconds that you get while you’re waiting to clear the table or cook the food.

How do you view the poetry scene today? And how do you see yourself in relation to it?

the poetry scene today? if you look at the numbers, it’s very active. it’s filled with iambs and dactyls and rhyme. it’s filled with a hundred thousand Bukowski clones and wannabe’s. it’s filled with any number of people who call themselves poets and wrap themselves up in the image and dream and have absolutely no clue whatsoever, and wouldn’t know real poetry if it snuck up behind them and bit them in the ass.

i think the biggest thing about them (and there are always certain exceptions) is that they’re afraid to fail. they’re afraid to take chances. they write what they already know is thought of as poetry. it’s safe. they’re poets. it makes them feel good. and it’s a monumental waste of time.

will i write another book like As Real As Rain? no. been there. done that. 

i’d be bored.

i’m 66 years old. i don’t have time to be a poet. i can’t do the same thing over and over again. i gotta try something new. so...how do i see myself in relation to the current poetry scene?  i don’t. i’m just passing through.




                                                             JOHN YAMRUS
                                                             Pencil sketch by Henry Denander


Friday, July 28, 2017

LIT YOUNGSTOWN


Lit Youngstown is a literary arts non-profit founded in 2015 by Liz Hill and Karen Schubert. More about Lit Youngstown can be found at its website, here: https://lityoungstown.org/about/

Can you tell us how Lit Youngstown came to be and how its role in the community has evolved?

A few years after I finished my MFA in creative writing at the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts, I was thinking that it would be great to have a monthly reading series and a way for writers to continue to workshop and share new work. I gathered some literary-minded people together to ask them what they thought about the idea. Everyone said yes, and a few wonderful people, Liz Hill and Kris Harrington, worked with me to get started. We added a fantastic board, and thanks to the generosity of the community in time, effort, funds and faith, we continue to thrive.

What kinds of events do you host, and how often? And are they strictly local?

One great thing about the literary arts is that it’s a wide umbrella, and often when people join us, they bring in terrific project ideas that are new for us. Liz’s passion is storytelling, so she created a storytelling night and the Phenomenal Women: Twelve Youngstown Stories book. Those were one-time projects, but the book continues to find new readers, and we have taken it out into the world. In November, I will attend a Women Writer’s conference in Arkansas and will talk about the book on a panel about using the literary arts as a vehicle for outreach to women.

Kris has a love of live theater, so with her help we collaborate each year with Selah Dessert Theater on The Strand Project, a production of original dramatic monologues. The second production, sold out, was in June, and involved a cast of local actors and several local writers.

My passion is poetry, and live readings, so each month we bring in visiting writers (poets, and writers of fiction and non-fiction) from around the region and beyond. We also host writing workshops, like the six-week screenwriting class that’s running now. The author David Giffels will teach a one-day workshop in August about writing from a Midwestern, postindustrial landscape.

Our monthly Writers Circle critique group gives writers a chance to give and offer feedback on new work.

Can you tell us about some events coming up and what makes them unique? 

I am pretty chuffed about our upcoming Fall Literary Festival, which will take place on September 30th. We have some incredible writers coming in—talented, experienced and well published, including Denise Duhamel from Florida International University; the poets Margo Taft Stever and Susana H. Case, the editors of a press in the Hudson Valley; historical novelist Robert Olmstead of Ohio Wesleyan, also beloved and wildly talented Valley writers Nin Andrews, Chris Barzak and Kelly Bancroft.

The festival will be our first all-day event, and will feature craft talks, writing workshops, readings, and a panel on publishing. We will also see Kelly Bancroft’s short film that was featured at the Cleveland International Film Festival. It’s important to us that our programming be affordable, so the festival is only $25 for the whole day, which includes a catered lunch from Cultivate Co-op Café and an afternoon cake break featuring sweets by Selah.

There are a lot of literary arts gigs in the region, but not like this festival, I think. I miss the annual James Wright Poetry Festival in Martin’s Ferry, and I borrowed some of the structure from what I loved best about that event.

We had an ekphrastic reading recently, or writing from art. Four poets including you, Arya, read their original work at the YWCA Women’s Artist Show on July 20, and before the reading, the Writers Circle met at the YWCA to read each other’s poetry and short stories and give feedback.

Our next First Wednesday reading at Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts is August 2, and three poets will travel in from Pittsburgh and Ashtabula to read. After the featured readers, Brandon Noel of The Makeshift Poets will emcee an open mic.

Do you collaborate with other organizations, whether near or far? What direction would you like to see Lit Youngstown take in the future?

Yes, we are collaboration enthusiasts. We have had other readings and events at the YWCA, including a fundraiser for their children’s library. We read poems with Purple Cat clients at Joe Gallagher’s Lunch Bucket, taught workshops at the South Side Arts Academy, the Hubbard Library, and have brought readings to the JCC, the Soap Gallery, and the Ward Bakery, as well as neighborhood events.

We have three fall memoir workshops planned at Boardman Library.

And a big project we’re working on now is called Words Made Visible, which will involve collaborations between literary and visual artists. We just had four poetry posters graphically designed, and will soon have the Cranky Pressman in Salem letterpress poems, We’ll also stamp poems into sidewalk squares, and we’ll end with a gallery show at The Soap, featuring poems and work by YSU student visual artists responding to the poems.

A few unique events are also coming up. We’ll be reading modernist poetry at the McDonough during the Salon de Fleurus exhibit, a recreation of Gertrude Stein’s salon. And in October, we’ll read contemporary Scottish poetry at the Highland Fling, Opera Western Reserve’s event at the Soap Gallery, in conjunction with Lucia di Lammermor, their 2017 opera.

I have so many dreams! My ladder-to-the-moon dream is to have a writers’ residency, where writers can come and live and have time to write. Every time a mansion comes up for sale, I can hardly sleep for a few days.

But more immediately, I’ve been thinking about all of the great efforts afoot to raise up children’s literacy in the Valley, to foster a love of reading in kids. I would like to see Lit Youngstown be a partner in that. The love of reading… that’s where we live.


                                                   "I Love Mucha" by Millie Hawkins
                                                   YWCA Women's Art Show-Youngstown