First I’d like to thank Arisa White for inviting me to be a part of The Next Big Thing, a blog-tagging project for writers who recently published a book. Arisa’s latest collection, A Penny Saved, is a riveting example of her multi-faceted, brilliant poetry.
What is the title of your book?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
“I’m named after my sister, a ghost for whom our mother makes birthday cakes
Out of Styrofoam discs, a name I make up another life for
(from “Tocaya,” the first poem in the collection)
What genre does your book fall under?
Swallows is a collection of narrative poems, a short story in each of them.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The poems were written over many years and were not conceived together.
When I organized the poems chronologically (as in, when they occurred in my life), I noticed an arc. I saw an abridged hero’s journey that emerged naturally from the work.
Although the poems are mostly autobiographical, I do take some flights of fancy. As a poetry teacher recently told me, “Poetry is nonfiction,” and so this book is as well.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It took ten years to complete the poems, and during that time I took classes with Willie Perdomo, Ruth Forman, and Lorna Dee Cervantes to work on many of the poems you’ll find in the book. I’m still making last minute changes to the manuscript.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
In college, I took a class organized by a friend called “Women of Color in the United States.” One assignment was to read excerpts from Loving in the War Years. It was then that I found the words I needed as a Chicana to describe the world around me. In this sense, Swallows began after reading that book. When it first came out (and even today), Cherríe’s writing broke through so many social, cultural, and literary barriers. Cherríe has said that she started to write to save her life; writing from the silences in my own life has also saved me, and the poems in this book come from that place.
Who will publish your book?
The publisher is Finishing Line Press in Kentucky. The book is available for pre-sale here and will arrive in mailboxes in May 2013.
What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?
Given that the poems were written over a decade, I did a lot of reading that influenced the writing. Emplumada by Lorna Dee Cervantes stands out because the voice in her poems affirmed the feminism I practiced in my community and in my writing.
Once I was organizing the collection last year for publication, I was further influenced by reading Bring Down the Little Birds by Carmen Gimenez-Smith. This lyric memoir provided a concept that helped arrange my poems into vignettes about enduring grief, remembering being loved by the men in my family, and coming back to myself.
I also have to mention fellow poet Aida Salazar who first turned me on to the VONA writing workshops. Because of her and my writing group with Maya Chinchilla, Aimee Suzara, Lisa Marie Rollins, and Kenji Liu, my writing has grown in leaps and bounds.
And if I’m lucky and my brain grows a garden, I hope to write poems like Arisa White someday.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
The characters in this book include composite versions of my younger brothers, parents, ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, and my half-sister whom I’ve never met. If I had my way and could go back in time, to play my parents I would ask Lupe Ontiveros and Charles Bronson who would have been ideal, may they rest in piece.
For the part of my brothers, I would wave a magic wand and create tan, Chicano (read: expressive) versions of Keanu Reeves and Paul Dano. For the exes, Jack Black and Eva Longoria (for that is indeed the community service range of dating I have done).
To play a version of me in the book, Melonie Diaz would bring the sass needed to hold it down. Finally, I’d cast an early Jennifer Lopez to be the half-sister I’ve never met; she deserves the benefit of the doubt.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The poems are funny, incisive, and illustrate how a family remembers that forgiveness is a great
healing salve for grief. And even though this family is Mexican, New Wave, and working class in Los Angeles, all families can relate to that journey.
An excerpt from the first poem of the collection, “Tocaya”:
Victoria – I don’t blame you for not staying
It was pure mean-ugly girls through high school
Throbbing lack in college
But grad school made me a carpenter
I have a Master’s Degree in Leaving
Our lineage proud I will always have a job
This is what I know of your face
A pen mark across your feet in yellowed photos
You in a baby carrier, a marigold tablecloth, our turquoise kitchen
waiting for you to run out of breath
Look for updates about their recent projects next week!