Photo credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher

 

Hello Rick. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Oh, it’s my pleasure Rick, though, full disclosure I’m just answering your questions by typing. We’re not speaking out loud. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.

 

Why did you give your book such an uncool title?

Yeah, I agree. It felt like it was related to the central concerns of the book, both myself as a father, but also the general concept of fathering, of responsibility. There’s a poem in the book with that title, that ends with the lines:

the children sleeping
alone in some
detention center
don’t need
our brilliant sincerity
it’s not enough
to give some money
make some calls
they are not ours
but they are
we are the first
new fathers
ours failed
where we cannot
stop waiting
there are no others

I was thinking about our founding fathers, and how they let us down. And all those fathers running things now, so destructively. And about what it would mean to be a new kind of father: what sort of fathers we all (regardless of gender) need to be now, to all kids, each other, the earth, ourselves.

Plus the word father seems very ancient and powerful, but also in need of renewal.

 

Who are a few of your favorite saints?

Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Augustine, Saint Lucy, and Saint Theresa of Avila.

 

Your newest collection is titled something sweet & filled with blood, that’s a little creepy. How did you select this as the title?

It’s a line from the last poem in the book, the star painter & a sleeping nude. The poem is about watching someone sleeping just after glorious sex. There’s something haunting about the wee-hours before sunrise…especially when you’re sleeping in someone else’s bed…

Thomas Fucaloro, cofounding editor of great weather for MEDIA, suggested it. The editors and I thought it encapsulated the collection nicely. There are some very saccharine moments in the book: first kisses, something asking someone to dance, a ballerina en pointe, and the last moonlight before sunrise. On the other hand, there are also some terrifying moments that make your heart race, or cause the adrenaline to start pumping…like when “red hives mount/under an amorphous head” in the lollipop presents as a young girl.

she radiates
billowing acumen
in the velvet mouth
of monochrome paint

she holds her shoulder
up to an albino
thought

‘here I have no purple,
no red rhythm,
only this slow,
grey,
shrill, thinking
thing within’

 

Who or What inspired you to become a writer?

Writing was something that just came naturally to me at an early age. I remember writing poetry as early as the 4th grade. I remember telling my 7th grade English teacher that I wanted to be an Author. I continued writing throughout high school. Then in college, I took my first creative writing course.

Also, I think back on the literary influences that made their way into my childhood and I’m grateful to have had Hispanic females to read.
In school I was introduced to Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. I also found myself at a book reading of Michele Serros and actually recently found my signed copy of Chicana Falsa and Other Stories of Death. I must’ve been around 11 years old when I purchased it.

Photo credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher

What is your philosophy towards your work?

I feel incredibly lucky to be able to call myself a poet. It is not something that came easily or even something I thought I could do when I was younger. You have to be really good at getting rejected. One of the best things I did for my poetry is to stop thinking of being rejected as negative. Instead, being rejected is proof that I put something out into the world – and it still surprises me that I can do that and that someone is willing to take the time to read it and sometimes include it in a publication.

 

What’s new?

My chapbook, THE DEAD KID POEMS, (KYSO Flash, 2019) published in May. The sequel to my first book of elegies: State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies,(KYSO Flash, 2015), The Dead Kid Poems takes up where State of Grace left off. It chronicles the all-too-familiar stories of youth mowed down by circumstances: School shootings, drive-bys, suicides, overdose, accidents, disease, all are relevant. All are claiming kids before their time.

 

Why did you title your new collection Mary Oliver?

The short answer, what I tell people when approached at events, is that I’m using the name totemically. There’s an essay in the back of the collection, called “On Mary Oliver”, which deals with the title. Here’s a representative chunk:

“There is a gentle gibe here that I’m sure you’re picking up on. That’s definitely a layer of skin. Fame, ego, poetry and the interplay of these, as well as my own attitude surrounding them, are things I grapple with frequently, having to remind myself that I am not the center of the universe, that people deserve to be appreciated for their art, that this will result in hierarchies, and all of it’s okay, even if I disagree with the opinions of others, even if this isn’t what I want the world to look like, because I tried to control the world and many things wound up devastated. Giving the title over to another human’s name, specifically, a famous poet of perceived authority, has become a device through which I can do some of this grappling”.

I created an Instagram account for the book which features a FAQ, specifically around the title, because I foresaw a lot of feeling people could catch over using her name, especially as she passed away once the book was already with the printer. I haven’t caught as much shit as I thought I might, which is probably more a testament to my relative obscurity than anything else.

What is your favorite word?

Tangerine

 

How do you describe yourself in two adjectives?

Creative, receptive

 

What is your favorite topic of conversation?

Tell me about your dreams. Learn how to interpret dreams and apply your knowledge in waking life. Dreams are creativity in its purest form. The world of dreams is pure consciousness. Pure thinking. Pure creativity. I imagine that the reality it forms is much like the state of death. Take care to liink reality with other realities and present perception / feeling as an independent reality.

Talk to me about food, recipes, traditional dinners, corn, platanos, beans, tagines & couscous … Talk to me about HUITLACOCHE.

 

Why did you write Ways of Looking at a Woman?

I was working on a dissertation and I needed another way to procrastinate besides cat videos. I also wanted to explore some pressing questions I had about 1) women looking and being looked at, 2) how film and literary theory could help me answer these questions, and 3) how mothers fit into all of this.

 

So, can you tell us something about the title? I know this is your third collection of poetry to be published and I’ve always wondered about how authors choose a title. Your other two were interesting.

Well, like my previous book Moth Wing Tea, the title was actually taken from a chapbook I put together

probably over fifteen years ago. I didn’t realize it then, but these chapbooks were like wishes flung up to the stars. At that time, getting published was just a dream, and well, getting to put those old titles on an actual book is realizing that dream.

Why poetry?

In my early 20s, I started writing poetry as a way to cope with melancholy, challenge what wasn’t working out in love, work, life in general. I submitted to a mix of college literary journals and cultural magazines and received some acceptances. They gave me the drive to carry on, although some jobs and lifestyle changes got in the way of continuity. About fifteen years later, I started to write short stories and hoped to write a novel one day. Then my late mother suffered a massive stroke in 2006 and I found myself running back and forth between New York and Pennsylvania to help with caregiving. Time constraints led me to resume writing poetry and that’s where I’ve stayed. I consider my poems short short stories. I find it challenging in a positive way to tell a story in as few words as possible. Since 2013, I’ve belonged to an online poetry community called brevitas where 50+ poets share short poems (13 lines maximum) twice a month. I haven’t missed a submission since I started. Many brevitas poems appear in my latest poetry collections.

Since we mostly communicate through social media, texts and e-mails, I think the brevity of poetry makes it an optimal medium for reaching readers with a story, inspiration, some thought-provoking ideas. It doesn’t require a considerable investment in time.

What is it with you and the dreams?

That’s a pertinent question. That shows me you actually read my poem. Or wrote it. Either way, thank you.

The dreams have been a muse for a long time; maybe even forever, hence the poem’s title. The dream described in the poem is literally my earliest memory: all my toys dancing in a ring of light around my crib to the tune of It’s A Small World After All.

The title of your new collection is Feminists Are Passing from Our Lives. Where does it come from and is this a book about feminists?

I used the title of one of my favorite poems in the manuscript, which is a parody of Philip Levine’s poem, “Animals Are Passing from Our Lives” which was published in the 1960’s. Levine’s speaker is a pig being taken to market to be sold for meat. The pig can sense his fate and speaks with a dignity we wouldn’t expect from any being under those circumstances.

With what’s been happening in the lives of American women, whose health care rights are under threat, who are still not paid equally for our work, and who are being targeted by extremist groups in the “manosphere,” I sometimes feel like that pig, properly fattened on title 9, on access to safe healthcare and a good education, now being guided into a future that looks a lot like the past. It’s a cautionary. It’s also an accounting of growing old.