“Encorazonadxs: On the Art of Writing and Creating Community From the Heart”

Keynote delivered July 28, 2018 at El Tallercito’s 1st Writers Conference, Dallas, TX

 It was some years ago when I first heard the word ‘encorazonado’ but I understood it, felt the rightness of it, in that very moment. To live from your heart. To so embody your heart—your love, your generosity, your warmth, your light—that you would be known by those qualities. Known by your heart rather than by your mind or your reputation or your influence.

I believe that what the heart most deeply longs to do is to give. Its truest function is to make a gift of itself. And I believe that art is born from this same longing. From a desire to give, to give of yourself, to give what is uniquely yours to give.

We know this instinctively. Every book that we have ever loved, every work of art that has ever spoken to us—famed or not, monetarily rewarded or not—at some point was a gift from its creator. For many of us, there are songs, stories, films, paintings, dances that literally saved our lives, that consoled us in a time of grief, that helped us to retain our sanity in difficult times, that restored our faith in life, that inspired us to, in turn, become people dedicated to creating. Dedicated to gifting to others what was gifted to us.

When I started publishing my work, I thought writing was about self-expression, about capturing life experiences, about telling forgotten stories. What my readers and audiences taught me was that writing is an invitation. An invitation to a conversation, a deep and private one, between those thoughts on a page and a reader. An invitation to receive what the writer most wants to offer as a gift.

Often, we misunderstand what a gift really is. We think that gifts are easy things—something useful or pretty—their worth measured only by their monetary or sentimental value. But we’ve all known gifts so profound and necessary that we hardly think of them as gifts. Leaders and activists and teachers that make their everyday work a gift. Parents who sacrifice for their children decade after decade. And artists and craftspersons that spend their lives developing their skills and their mastery so that they can create the best work—the best gift— they can offer.

For me, understanding my words as a gift I wanted to give led to a different understanding of my work as a writer and as part of a community. I understood that I was not my work, that my work was something I had made. And so, whether my work is published or rejected, that acceptance or rejection has nothing to do with me—only with the work. It has nothing to do with my self-esteem or my belief in my work. I will go on to make other pieces. Secondly, if my work is a gift that I make without knowing who the recipients are, then my next task is to figure out how to get my gift to anyone who might need it, anyone who might be able to use it. And so, submitting work, promoting my books, everything that comes with building myself as a writer—that has nothing to do personally with me either.  They have to do with getting the gift where it needs to go. And if I understand my work as a gift I make, then I understand other people’s work in the same way. And what a community that is—a community that simply wants to make and give gifts.

When I think of community, of my writer’s community, I imagine entering a vast room of writers—and when I see all of their faces and hear their voices, I don’t want to think, “these are my enemies and these are my competitors.” I want to enter that room knowing I will be surrounded by friends. Friends I honor because their work awes and inspires me. Because their bravery and vulnerability make me more brave. Because their brilliance makes my life a more beautiful thing. Because I know what a struggle it is to cleave passionately to the desire to create even as we live our lives and care for our loved ones and go about our days and suffer when we suffer.

This may sound idealistic or impossible or overly easy, but what it is, is mostly work. We must make ourselves into people, into artists, who can be a part of that community from the heart. We must teach ourselves to be encorazonadxs with each other. To make it a daily practice to reject envy, to refuse comparisons, to not equate acceptances or rejections with our self-worth. To be ambitious for our work, not for ourselves. To sit down to the page every day and strive to give something real of ourselves. To tell the truth. To not give in to the voices of society that say our voices are not important, not wanted, not of value. To not give in—especially in difficult times—to the voices that say our voices are too small, our art not important enough, our energy wasted. It is a daily practice to resist as we watch others compete, steal, lie, scheme, and betray each other for publication or power or fame. It’s a daily practice to not lie to ourselves. To sit there, to believe in ourselves and our work, to open our hearts and our guts and the deepest parts of our thoughts to others. And to do it, day after day after day.

Some of us were encouraged to make art. Validated and supported. Many of us were not. Are not. Sometimes we create out of joy. Out of freedom. Out of resistance. Sometimes out of pain. Sometimes because creating is all we have to remind us that we are free beings, that we are alive, that we feel. Sometimes because creating is all that we have to help us survive. To say, here is this thing that I can give. I am still human and I am still alive because I have something to give.

The heart wants to make a gift of itself. Its breath. Its work. Its heat. Its experience. What you find beautiful makes up the greatest part of the gift you will give. Recently I said that as thrust into pain and violence and suffering as my work may sometimes be, what I find most beautiful is survival. Survival and transformation and the unrelenting drive to create. That is what I want to illustrate, again and again, in an ever more profound and powerful way. This is what I want my work to embody—the heart, flawed and real, polished until the light comes through it. With all its shadows and shapes, its translucence and joy, its hurts and its lessons.

In order to do that kind of work, however, it’s essential to have a supportive community. Some of us were lucky enough to find mentors, to find those who support our work. Some of us had others gift us belief in us. Some of us had none of those things. Some of us have the hard fought lessons of figuring out on our own how to believe in ourselves, how to seek publication, how to promote a book how to read, how to create ourselves as professional writers, how to value our work as writers, teachers, editors, and speakers. Whether we were given these things or had to find them for ourselves, we can learn to share these kinds of knowledge.

As I’ve come to believe more deeply in myself and my work, I’ve found that believing in others is something I am more and more willing to do. That believing in others takes nothing away from me. It doesn’t drain my energy. It doesn’t unbalance me—instead, it grounds me, it expands me. I don’t believe in others more than myself, it’s out of my belief in myself that I can believe in others. I want to support others out of my power, not out of what I lack. I want my writing life to be the space that lifts me up—not the space that poisons me. I want my heart to have no space in it for regret or resentment.

Do not mistake me—to live and write encorazonadxs—is not a simple thing. We will not always succeed. Will not always be honest. Will not always be open. Will not always be as generous as we could be. Will not always work out of our power. But we can try. We can commit ourselves to this work. This community is also not a thing without limits. There are those who will not understand generosity, not understand respect, not understand giving from their power, not be open to the freedom in the flow of giving and receiving that has nothing to do with ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’ There will be people who can’t or won’t commit themselves to the project of this kind of community—and you’ll have to let them go.

To live and write and create community from the heart is something you do with work and intent, with passion and care. You are here to fulfill a purpose, to meet a need, to create a gift. You are here to pour your heart into a thing. A life. That purpose demands respect and attention. It demands articulation. It demands that you develop yourself as the others in your community develop themselves. That is the community I want to be a part of. The community I want to help create.

 

 

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List in progress-Native-authored books published 2010-2017

In a small effort to support visibility for Native American authors with recent book publications, I’ve drawn together this list (with help from Facebook friends!)…

Please help make this list as complete as possible…feel free to suggest any titles (any genre except scholarly/children’s, no anthologies) published by Native authors since 2010.

Please share this list widely–let’s encourage readers to buy and read, encourage libraries to order, and encourage professors to use to invite authors…

For an extremely comprehensive list (prose listings in progress) that covers 1993-2015, please go to: https://nativewriterscaucus.wordpress.com/native-lit-bibliographies/

Sherwin Bitsui
Flood Song (poetry)
Shapeshift (poetry)

Trevino L. Brings Plenty
Wakpá Wanáǧi, Ghost River (poetry)
Real Indian Junk Jewelry (poetry)
Removing Skin (poetry)

Allison Hedge Coke
Burn (poetry)
Streaming (memoir)
Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer (memoir)

Eddie Chuculate
Cheyenne Madonna (short stories)

Natalie Diaz
When My Brother was an Aztec (poetry)

Carolyn Dunn’s
Echolocation: Poems from Indian Country L.A. (poetry)
The Stains of Burden and Dumb Luck (poetry)

Deborah Magpie Earling
The Lost Journals of Sacawagea (artist book/mixed)

Louise Erdrich
The Round House (novel)
La Rose (novel)

Linda LeGarde Grover
The Road Back to Sweetgrass (novel)
The Dance Boots (short stories)

Joy Harjo
Crazy Brave (memoir)
Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems (poetry)

Brandon Hobson
Where the Dead Sit Talking (novel-forthcoming)

Linda Hogan
Indios (poetry)

Sara Sue Hoklotubbe
The American Cafe (novel-mystery)
Deception on all Accounts (novel-mystery)

Blake Houseman
Riding the Trail of Tears (novel)

LeAnne Howe
Choc-talking on Other Realities (memoir)

Toni Jensen
From the Hilltop (novel)

Stephen Graham Jones
Not for Nothing (novel)
After the People Lights Have Gone Off (novel)
Mongrels (novel)

Daniel Heath Justice
The Way of Thorn & Thunder Triology
Kynship (novel)
Wyrwood (novel)
Dreyd (novel)

Chip Livingston
Naming Ceremony (novel)

Layli Longsoldier
Whereas (poetry)

Adrian C. Louis                                                                                                                     Savage Sunsets (poetry)                                                                                                     Random Exorcisms (poetry)

Denise Low
Mélange Block (poetry)

Tiffany Midge
The Woman Who Married a Bear (poetry)

Devon Mihesuah                                                                                                           Document of Expectations (novel)

Deborah Miranda
Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (memoir)
Raised by Humans: Poems (poetry)

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
What I Learned at the War (poetry)
Oklahomeland (essays)

N. Scott Momaday                                                                                                                 Again the Far Morning (poetry)

Paul Montgomery                                                                                                                     Lies (poetry)

Shauna Osborn                                                                                                                   Arachnid Verve (poetry)

Susan Power
Sacred Wilderness (novel)

Rain Prud’homme-Cranford
Smoked Mullet Cornbread Crawdad Memory (poetry)

Marcie Rendon
Murder on the Red River (novel)

Barbara Robidoux                                                                                                               Sweetgrass Burning: Stories from the Rez (short stories)                                                 The Legacy of Lucy Little Bear (novella)

Linda Rodriguez
Every Broken Trust (mystery-novel)
Every Last Secret (mystery-novel)
Every Hidden Fear (mystery-novel)
Every Family Doubt (mystery-novel-forthcoming)

Odilia Galván Rodríguez
The Nature of Things (poetry)

Kim Shuck
Rabbit Stories (short stories)
Clouds Running In (poetry)

Leslie Marmon Silko                                                                                                                The Turquoise Ledge (memoir)                                                                                     Oceanstory (poetry)

Drew Hayden Taylor
Motorcycles and Sweetgrass (novel)
Dead White Writer on the Floor (novel)
God and the Indian (play)
Take Us to Your Chief and Other Stories (stories)

Tim Tingle
House of Purple Cedar (novel)

Gerald Vizenor
Blue Ravens (novel)

Frances Washburn
The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band (novel)

Michael Wasson
This American Ghost(poetry-forthcoming)

Daniel H. Wilson
Robopocalypse (novel)
Amped (novel)
Robogenesis (novel)

Tanaya Winder
Words Like Love (poetry)

Erika Wurth
Indian Trains (poetry)
Crazyhorse’s Girlfriend (novel)
A Thousand Horses Out to Sea (poetry)
Buckskin Cocaine (short stories)

On experimental writing and the seams of the world

On experimental writing and the seams of the world: after reading Barbara Jane Reyes’ post: FOR #APIAHERITAGEMONTH, ONGOING THOUGHTS ON TEACHING FILIPINO AMERICAN LITERATURE

Direct Link: http://www.barbarajanereyes.com/2017/05/05/for-apiaheritagemonth-ongoing-thoughts-on-teaching-filipino-american-literature/

(A bit messy, but too many thoughts were fighting for mental space. I have the feeling this may grow into a much larger beast.)

For many years, I resisted being called an ‘experimental writer.’ It made no sense to me—there was no self-conscious effort on my part to experiment with language or story structure. As I saw it, there were stories I needed to tell and it was my job to figure out how to best tell them. I was looking for the most natural and most complete way to represent them on the page.

As a younger writer, I was told that my stories weren’t stories, that they were too difficult, too strange, too intense, and too dark. One famous writer told me that my stories belonged in a drawer. One of the agents I spoke to told me that, given my work, I seemed remarkably functional and organized. They’d known writers like me who’d jumped off buildings and cut off their own ears.

At the time, these remarks left me wounded and incredibly frustrated. Twenty years later, I consider “difficult,” “strange,” and “intense” to be compliments, and I’m glad I never backed down and never compromised. Though even I don’t know how I persisted through a decade of rejections—most of which stated my work was “too experimental” and not something anyone would ever want “to read on a beach.”

In retrospect, I don’t know why it took me so long to send my work to Aunt Lute Books, a multicultural feminist press that had published Gloria Anzaldua, Audre Lorde, Gayle Jones, Emma Perez, and Alice Walker. When I set out to have my stories published, I sent the manuscript to Latinx, university, and independent presses—thinking they were my best shot.

This November will mark four years since flesh to bone was published. It is immensely validating that flesh to bone won various literary awards and that it has been taught in Latinx and Native American Studies, multicultural literature, and creative writing college courses across the country and abroad.

All of this came to mind when I read Reyes’ blog (mentioned above), and made me think that the lack of eagerness for publishing my work came from the misconception that it was not work that would be wanted or appreciated by Latinx readers or readers in general.

Reyes writes:

“Never, ever underestimate what our predominantly Filipino American students are capable of . . . I am tired of our community underestimating our . . . people’s capacity for literary, poetic rigor. I think we resort to what is most simple when studying our community’s literary work, because we are compartmentalized — we believe intellectual work belongs only behind the closed gates of the highest echelons of the academy, and then we resent that intellectual work exists only in singular form, only behind the closed gates of the highest echelons of the academy.

We want to be passive and just watch a performance. We want to be entertained. We want meaning spoon fed, glossed over, and given to us in memes. We don’t want to engage what we don’t already know. We don’t think we want to expend the energy or invest the time. We dismiss complexity in literature as “colonized,” as literature for “white people,” and in doing so, we dumb down. . . amazing work that folks in our community are creating.”

Reyes writes about Filipino American students, readers, and writers, but I think this applies equally to Latinx students, readers, and writers. There is an assumption that Latinxs want only entertainment or literature that reflects back their own lives or literature that conforms to the expectations of what has come before—whether that is work from the dominant society or work from Latinx writers. If we assume that “only white people write and read complex literature; we are saying to others that our own people are not capable of literary complexity. . .that we are passive.”

What I will say next I will say without the benefit of a dozen books to my name. I can only speak to what I think I want to do and why I’m now more willing to be labeled an ‘experimental’ writer.

As I’ve come to understand it, ‘experimental writing’ is not solely an aesthetic choice, especially for writers who have come to realize that the language and story structure of dominant society is either insufficient or structurally oppositional to the needs of the story.

For multi-lingual writers, one language is often not enough to convey an exact meaning, to capture the voices of a community, or to represent reality and history as the multi-lingual experience they are and have been.

Reyes writes:

“I want to say that suspicion of those who wield English is legitimate. This is part of our colonial legacy. I also want to say that as we collectively work towards decolonization, we have to look very closely at our use of English. . .Do be critical of our mastery of it, the language and its literary forms. But yes, strive towards mastery of it. Not to be in its thrall, and not to oppress our own, but to complicate it, to hybridize/mongrelize it, to transform it. . .[R]ather than replicating those same oppressive systems, rather than perpetuating inequality among our own, let’s wield our Englishes to communicate well our complexities, use it in our everyday liberatory practices.”

Equally, “those same oppressive systems” are replicated not only in language but also, and perhaps more powerfully, in the structure of stories. Such that multi-cultural writers, writers influenced by cultures other than the dominant society, or writers that see writing as an integral part of “everyday liberatory practices” may discover that the stories they need to tell will not fit neatly into the structure(s) formulated by dominant society, formulated with the intent to maintain current power inequities, and even, to disable the capacity to enact the initial stage of a liberatory practice—to imagine freedom. Freedom. Wholeness. Healing. Expression. Empowerment. Creation.

And so, yes, work that is striving to liberate the writer and the reader—work where both writer and reader are involved in the making of meaning and the employment of the imagination in the service of liberation—almost can’t be considered anything other than ‘experimental’ due to the work’s inability, in fact, its unwillingness, to conform to and to perpetuate oppressive systems.

I think it is a mistake to say that the oppression of native/conquered/minority cultures is something that happened only in the past. The truth is that oppression is a force that works through time—in the past, in the present, and arcing in to the future.  It is beyond time and anti-time because, by oppressing, shaming, and othering a culture, it in fact, shapes the perception of time and of reality. It is not just language that is disenfranchised, it is concepts and worldviews and perceptions of time…the body, inter- and intra-personal relationships, the very way we move in the world.

So then, what does literary work look like that is seeking to uncover ancestral ways of understanding ourselves and the world? How will it shape English or any other dominant tongue to speak to concepts and relationships that are foreign to it?

I am focusing here on literary experimentation that is ancestral in nature because I think that is something Reyes and I have in common—as well as many other writers of color—in our literary strategies of liberation (specifically, Reyes’ poetry and my fiction). And when I say liberation I don’t mean solely an aesthetic or artistic liberation—I mean a liberation of empowerment, a liberation of recovery, a liberation of healing, a liberation of the very way our mind and hearts and souls see this world and not only imagine but manifest transformation in it.

I am not saying that this project is focused on bringing the past forward…it is also about interrupting and transforming those aspects of our histories/cultures/languages that practised oppression as well—both Reyes and I write about women’s bodies, violence, and exploitation.

There is something incantatory and muscular about Reyes’ work, about its sound, its terrible eye, and its constant explosions of beauty and horror that form little cracks in the crust of the world, that bring other worlds into a hazy focus. Even the most beautiful lines are taut against something, are rebelling and remembering, resisting and creating.

  • * * *
    My mother was a talented seamstress. Magic to me how she navigated through fabric stores when she was intent on creating a new blanket. Colors and textures and threads and filling and yarn and whatever else. No two were ever alike. Unique and functional and beautiful. I marveled at the way she could make a dress without a pattern. How she’d look at a person and take a few measurements and then with what barely seemed a pause, take her scissors to yards of cloth. Magic to me that she knew what shape to cut from flat cloth to form a puffy sleeve that would end just exactly there, how to form the collar that would drape so gracefully over a collarbone, the meticulous construction of fabric following the line of one’s spine to accentuate or obscure a waistline.  Magic to me too the way she could take a garment and unmake it. All the seams undone. Fabric made two dimensional once more. And again with a frightening

assurance, she’d cut and snip and shape…sometimes changing out whole panels of fabric. And then the sewing. And it would slowly emerge. A completely new thing. And if you hadn’t seen it before, you would never know it had had a different shape.

I think sometimes that this is what writing is. Symbol and sound and meaning, the world’s seams

undone. And I am using every bit of skill I have, snipping and shaping, changing out one line and another. I will make stories to keep us warm. Make these stories to fit our souls. Make these stories to unmake the world and create it anew.

I am not a master of my art yet. I can only speak to the direction my heart leans. What I attempted. What I will be attempting.  Some writers came to writing to be loved. To be heard. To dream. To remember. I chose writing to make myself free.

 

Literary Fiction by Latinx/Native American Authors Published 2012-2015 Part 3 RuizCamacho-Zamorano

Third and final section! As y’all might have noticed, a few literary memoirs were included but they were just too good to leave out. I’ve decided to post a list every June, so feel free to send me titles for any books that will be published between 6/16/15 and 06/15/16. Thank you so much for sharing this 3-part list and for reading these authors! Literary Fiction by Latinx/Native American Authors Published 2012-2015 Part 3 RuizCamacho-Zamorano

Barefoot Dogs: Stories by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

(Scribner, 2015)

ruizcamacho

Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Saenz

(Cinco Puntos Press, 2012)

saenz

Rabbit Stories by Kim Shuck

(Poetic Matrix Press, 2013)

shuck

flesh to bone by ire’ne lara silva

(Aunt Lute Books, 2013)

fleshtobonecover.website

Chasing the Sun by Natalia Sylvester

(New Harvest, 2014)

sylvester

Queen of America by Luis Alberto Urrea

(Back Bay Books, 2014)

queen.urrea

Water Museum: Stories by Luis Alberto Urrea

(Little,  Brown, and Company, 2015)

water.urrea

One Day I’ll Tell You the Things I’ve Seen by Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez

(University of New Mexico Press, 2015)

vaquera vasquez

House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle

(Cinco Puntos Press, 2014)

tingle

The Accidental Native by J.L. Torres

(Arte Publico Press, 2013)

accidental

We the Animals by Justin Torres

(Mariner Books, 2012)

wetheanimals

Blue Ravens by Gerald Vizenor

(Wesleyan University Press, 2014)

vizenor

Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T. Wurth

(Curbside Splendor Publishing, 2014)

wurth

Loteria – Mario Alberto Zambrano

(Harper Perennial, 2014)

zambrano

The Amado Women by Désirée Zamorano

(Cinco Puntos, 2014)

amadowomen

Literary Fiction by Latinx/Native American Authors Published 2012-2015 Part 2 Gurba-Romo

Literary Fiction by Latinx/Native American Authors Published 2012-2015 Part 2 Gurba-Romo

 

Painting Their Portraits in Winter by Myriam Gurba

(Manic D Press , 2015)

gurba

The Road Back to Sweetgrass by Linda LeGarde Grover

(University of Minnesota Press, 2014)

legarde

The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez

(Vintage Press, 2015)

henriquez

A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez

(Beacon Press, 2014)

dhernandez

Mañana Means Heaven by Tim Z.Hernandez

(University of Arizona Press, 2013)

thernandez

Choc-talking on Other Realities by LeAnne Howe

(Aunt Lute Book, 2013)

lehowe

This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila

(Hogarth, 2013)

kahakawauila

Naming Ceremony by Chip Livingston

(Lethe Press, 2014)

livingston

The Block Captain’s Daughter by Demetria Martinez

(University of Oklahoma Press, 2012)
demmartinez

Boy-Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez

(Lyons Press, 2012)

boykings

Twitching Heart by Matt Mendez

(Floricanto Press, 2012)

mendez

Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir by Deborah Miranda

(HeyDay 2013)

miranda

River of Angels by Alejandro Morales

(Arte Publico, 2013)

morales

Electra’s Complex by Emma Pérez

(Bella Books, 2015)

eperez

Sacred Wilderness by Susan Power

(Michigan State University Press, 2014)

power

Night at the Fiestas Kristen Valdez Quade

(W.W. Norton & Co, 2015)

quade

The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories by Manuel Ramos

(Arte Publico Press, 2015)

ramos

The Border is Burning by Ito Romo

(University of New Mexico Press, 2013)

romo

Literary Fiction by Latinx/Native American Authors Published 2012-2015 Part One: Alexie-Gonzales

So I decided to make a list…After that awful all-white authors list in the NY Times by Janet Maslin, I also saw all kinds of African American alternative lists as well as an Indian alternative list by All Desi….

It seemed to me we needed a Latinx/Native American list…I want to thank everyone on Facebook who sent me their suggestions. It took a while to go through them and make sure they all fit the following requirements:

Adult

Literary Fiction

Published 2012-2015

(And my apologies, but no memoirs, no YA or children’s titles, no genre fiction, no reprints or new editions, no self-published titles…if you decide to create your own lists of these, please do feel free to post your link in the comments.)

I hope to make this a definitive list. If you see something I’m missing and it fits the above requirements, please let me know.

(This is part one (Alexie-Gonzales), part two and part three will be posted soon!)

Literary Fiction by Latinx/Native American Authors Published 2012-2015

Part One:

Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories by Sherman Alexie

(Grove Press, 2013)

shermanalexie

Lo Que Trae La Marea/What the Tide Brings by Xanath Caraza

(Mouthfeel Press, 2013)

Xanath

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet
(St. Martin’s Press, 2015)

capocrucet

Give It To Me by Ana Castillo

(Feminist Press, 2014)

acastillo

Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012)

haveyouseenmarie

Hotel Juarez by Daniel Chacon

(Arte Publico, 2013)

hoteljuarez

The King and Queen of Comezon by Denise Chavez

(University of Oklahoma Press, 2014)

comezon

 Perla by Carolina de Robertis

(Vintage, 2013)

perla

The Five Acts of Diego Leon by Alex Espinoza

(Random House, 2013)

fiveacts

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

(Riverhead Books, 2013)

jdiaz

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

(Harper, 2012)

round house

Empanada: A Lesbiana Story en Probaditas by Anel Flores

(Korima Press, 2013)

empanada

Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1 by Fernando A. Flores
(Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, 2014)

deathtothebull

King of Cuba by Cristina Garcia
(Scribner, 2013)

king of cuba

Before the End, After the Beginning by Dagoberto Gilb
(Grove Press, 2012)

gilb

The Miniature Wife and Other Stories – Manuel Gonzales

(Riverhead Books, 2014)

miniaturewife

“Love Song for my Organs”

dedicated today to all of us who are learning and re-learning self-care….

love song for my organs

(by ire’ne lara silva)

.

this is a song i didn’t know

needed singing needed singing

.

a song for each morning

a song for each night

.

offered with awareness

offered with gratitude

.

decades have passed i did not

know your colors your shapes

.

the work you do have done

or what you needed from me

.

now i know this song needs singing

i will sing it everywhere i go

.

i name you now breathe softly

upon you hold you tenderly within

.

kidneys

.

you are not forgotten never

you are cherished and i am grateful

.

i bring you rainwater and riverwater

i bring you flowers tiny blue flowers

.

i bring you these my two hands filled

with sun light with starlight

.

i sing you strong sing you whole

and thank you for filtering my blood

.

heart

.

be strong little heart as strong as you

have ever been you are my life

.

when i am still i hear your beating

feel it in my chest hold you close

.

in a dance that will not pause while

we are living i envision the flow of blood

.

flowing to you flowing from you moving easily

moving swiftly through wide open blood vessels

.

pancreas

.

you have been sleeping little warrior

it is time to wake time to speak again

.

i will bring you morning serenades

cascading flower petals and trilling birdsong

.

you fought the rising glucose hordes fought

until you were spent until you could not go on

.

years now i have lived on foreign insulin

always approximate subject to wild swings

.

of not enough too much almost in time

i long for your fine tuned calibration

.

i see you rising i hear you murmuring

words spoken at dawn i greet you

.

liver

.

lean i dream you lean see you lean and dark

brow furrowed ferociously inspired sculptor

.

ferociously creating ferociously shaping each

work of art as if it were the first time the only time

.

as if you were recreating the ocean the stars every minute

you are not a factory not an assembly line

.

i bring you milk thistle i bring you flax seed in thanks

you are re-creating my life your art is my life

.

nerves

.

you tell me stories without you there are no stories

without them i would know nothing understand nothing

.

of the world within or the world without

you are the carriers of lightning of moonlight

.

you tell me i am alive you tell me i am safe

because of you the exquisite the tender of my life

.

and also the pain and also the hurt the sharp the ache

but tell me stories i will always be listening

.

skin

.

hot breath tender touch running bare-fleshed in the rain

the warmth of the sun the chill of winter days the wind

.

my boundaries my beginnings my endings my whole

life the whole world written on my skin my skin sings

.

i will bring you gifts in thanks jojoba aloe avocado sweet

almond oil cocoa butter calendula shea butter and lanolin

.

eyes

.

for me everything begins with you I could spend days staring

at the sky day or night or morning or fog or thunderstorm

.

so much sweetness in looking at green leaves bright colors

loved faces blossoms rivers rainfall sunshine long roads

.

in my memories everything begins with what you’ve given me

i remember my life in a million images you brought me

.

and all the words of my life all the books of my life

for all the flames and the moonlight all my gratitude

.

gratitude

.

kidneys.…heart….pancreas….nerves

liver….skin….eyes….all my body

.

please forgive any harm

i have caused you

.

thank you for this day for

every day you have given me

.

now i know this song needs singing

i will sing it everywhere i go

.

i name you now breathe softly

upon you hold you tenderly within

Reflections on mothers, fathers, poets, and the androgynous mind…

Bit of news first as it’s been a long time since I posted a blog…my first short story collection, flesh to bone was published by Aunt Lute Books…Order here for a special discounted new release rate: http://store.auntlute.com/flesh-to-bone-p240.html

 

And…my first published essay was recently translated and published in Mexico’s Revista Sincope (special Chican@ issue):

http://www.revistasincope.com/site/2014/02/25/reflexiones-sobre-madres-padres-poetas-y-la-mente-androgina-%e2%80%a2-por-irene-lara-silva/

Original text in English below:

Reflections on mothers, fathers, poets, and the androgynous mind….

by ire’ne lara silva

 

“Poetry ought to have a mother as well as a father.” –Virginia Woolf

 

 

I think mother and I think Amá, my mother. I think father and I think Apá, my father.  Now that they are both dead, every thought of them is rendered a one-sided conversation. I can ask questions. I don’t know if they hear them. Though I refine and refine my questions, I won’t ever hear another answer. Lately, it seems I am always talking about them and their relation to creating, to art, to wanting.

I wrote a poem about the quality of my mother’s wanting— how she was an unrecognized artist, how she channeled an immense energy for art-making, for beauty into raising a family, making a home, gardening, making quilts, and cooking meals…and the high regard she had for her own spirituality.  She cared for everything around her. She breathed life and intention into everything she did.

My father, on the other hand, did not. The only thing I ever saw him care for were machines. The trucks that made up his business.  I never heard him pray, not even when he was ill. Never heard him say anything that would lead me to think he believed spirit existed.  His only pure joy was dancing. He could light up an entire dance hall with the energy that shone through him when he was dancing. I remember a dance at the local Catholic Church reception hall when I was eight. My brother and I watched from the food counter as my father led everyone there in a huapango, his black booted feet summoning thunder that made the roof shake. He always said he wanted to sing. That he would have wanted to be part of a conjunto playing polkas and cumbias and corridos everywhere they went.  But he never learned how to read, and he couldn’t see how he could learn so many songs without knowing how to read. He had a powerful voice, but he never trained it, never nurtured it, never explored it to see if it had limits, never poured himself into his singing.

            I found words when I was five. I poured myself into them. They have been escape. Freedom. Healing. Wholeness. When I have words, I am alive. When I have no words, I am dying. So it makes sense to me that I have given my life over to words, to becoming a conduit.

 

i never had dolls that were babies                             

i never gave one a bottle

or changed its diaper or heard it cry

though when i was a baby                              i was given a small cloth-covered bear

with B A B Y scripted across its soft belly

 

when i was five                       my mother opened it along its seams

and changed out the cotton stuffing

B A B Y made new made soft again  

she stitched it closed

B A B Y still bears the scars

 

Poets make poems. Poems are only barely tangible. In order to make poems, poets must learn ‘to make,’ as much as that work may involve re-making.  My parents were the first to teach me how to make and re-make things. How to see things as compilations of their parts. How to re-imagine them.

Poetry is and is not made of words on a page. Is and is not the sound of those words spoken. Is and is not the meaning of those words—received or refused. Is and is not the white space, the silent space, the absence or presence of understanding. Poetry is and is not the emotion conjured by word and sound and meaning.

We work with words but forget—daily—what words truly are. They are not solid, not blocks, not dead things. They are not live things either. Words are conduits. Words are vessels for the lightning. For the rare moments of naked perception, naked knowing, naked being. For the truth of living.

Poets are not solid things. Poets are conduits. Poets are vessels. We judge them as we would other conduits, other vessels—how strong are they? how much can they carry? how durable are they? how much heat/energy/etc. do they let through? And also, how sympathetic is their energy to ours? This is how we find the poets we love. The poets who teach us. The poets who spark the current within us until it, in turn, must also speak, must also begin shaping itself into a conduit.

The poetry I love is the poetry that is infused with spirit, inseparable from spirit.

 

spirit without body     spirit born of body   

body with name without name

are my fingers woman are my eyes woman

are my ears man are my feet man

what is the body if the light comes through

everything births

 

I’ve always been fascinated by Virginia Woolf’s discussion of Coleridge’s ‘androgynous mind’…the womanmanly mind and the manwomanly mind, especially this quote:  “If one is a man, still the woman part of his brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine.”

Everything I had ever read until I read those words expressed sharp divisions between a man’s mind and a woman’s mind…and therefore, a man’s writing and a woman’s writing.  I have often thought that women’s and men’s mind overlap more than we are willing to believe. And it makes sense to me that a wholly masculine mind or a wholly feminine mind would not be able to create. Though I think this is due more to what qualities we associate with ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ or ‘mother’ and ‘father.’  Masculine/Father:  logic, strength, objectivity, structure. Feminine/Mother: intuition, vulnerability, subjectivity, organic creation. Poetry requires balance and tension. Poetry requires the individual calibration that each writer arrives at after incorporating the masculine and the feminine. In writing, as in life, we can become easily stifled by what is expected of us when we must perform as anything less than the unique balance we have achieved.

 everywhere mothers             

                        everywhere fathers

which ones to heed                                        

which ones to kill      

which ones to venerate                                              

                                                which ones to cannibalize

 

which ones to become

 

 

            What do we retain? What do we shed? If the Canon= Father, then does that render everything else our Mother?  Is that why writing by women, by Third World writers, by writers of color, by working class writers, by LGBT writers is not as valued by the dominant/mainstream literary world? Poetry—or writing—without a mother leads to a skewed world, to a narrowed humanity. Our spirits require more light than that.

            I feel extremely fortunate to be a writer, a lesbian woman of color writer from a working class background, in this time—when powerful writers have come before and created a space for me and my words. Even a few decades ago, the challenges facing me would have been exponentially more difficult.  

And I am so privileged to know so many women of my own generation who are daily pushing the boundaries of their creativity, imagination, and abilities. It inspires me to see them flourish. It inspires me to read their new works. I am inspired by the desire to share my work with them.  

But we aren’t just following the writers who have come before—we are making and re-making language and literature as our conduit-selves demand. In that work, we are deciding what to retain and what to shed of what we have received from our real and literary mothers and fathers. In the heat of our wanting, whole traditions must be destroyed.  And at other times, we must eat the hearts of those literary bodies, hoping to absorb some of their fearlessness, inventiveness, and power. 

 

 

Link to “The Dream: Reflections on the Anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s Suicide”

Greetings, all:

 

Lots of good news lately. Last week I signed a contract with Aunt Lute Press. I’m happy to announce that they will be publishing my first short story collection, flesh to bone, later this year. More updates soon!

Also, I was named the Fiction Finalist for A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Gift of Freedom Award on March 20, 2013. I was invited to write a blog reflecting on the anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s suicide and the myth/reality of the tortured, abbreviated life of the female artist. My guest blog appeared last Thursday at http://www.aroho.org, but I also wanted to share it with you here.

These links will also give you more information about AROHO, the Gift of Freedom, and more info/guest blogs from Diane Gilliam, the recipient of the 2013 Gift of Freedom, and Florencia Ramirez, the Creative Nonfiction Finalist.

 

“The Dream: Reflections on the Anniversary of Virginia Woolf‘s Suicide”

By 6th Gift of Freedom Genre Finalist for Fiction, Ire’ne Lara Silva

http://www.aroomofherownfoundation.org/Irene-Lara-Silva_VW.php

On mastery…

**Note to readers: apologies for disappearing for a while there…and thank you for coming back or for visiting for the first time. My goal is to post monthly, at least from here on out…**

…I was catching up with Barbara Jane Reyes’ blog the other day…. http://www.barbarajanereyes.com/2013/01/15/viewing-jiro-dreams-of-sushi-reminds-me-of-some-things-about-poetry/#more-7588

And it made me want to respond at length….

First, I don’t think the majority of Americans have the concept of mastery as BJR was  discussing/defining it. This society (dominant American society) seems to only value mastery that has brought fame (certain actors, chefs, etc.) or mastery that demands a high price (master craftspersons, for example). There’s no appreciation for mastery without money or fame. And it especially has no appreciation for mastery that comes with long-term effort or sacrifice. Which is why America idolizes the stories of the young—of inborn talent or natural beauty suddenly recognized. It makes the story more interesting if they’re somehow otherwise an underdog (born poor or of the wrong skin color) and maybe they have to take on some Rocky Balboa-training montages, but for the most part, it’s not a talent or skill that took decades or an entire life to develop.

BJR’s post brought to mind the year I was taking t’ai chi classes—ten years ago already. I was rapturously in love with it, with learning, with how strong I was becoming, with how, even in sixteen movements, I could feel my body singing. And I loved that it was so difficult. It was interesting, as an adult, to try to learn something that wasn’t easy and that I had no natural talent for. Within minutes of beginning, I’d feel my body shaking uncontrollably. But I kept at it—even after a year, my body still shook, but I was so much stronger and I hope, more graceful.

Often, too, it seemed that there were parallel lessons that I could apply to poetry, to writing. Our Sifu often spoke about American impatience—how often his students were dismayed that they were only taught one movement at a time and had a week to practice it before returning and learning another. He spoke of masters in China who would have a student learn one movement and practice it for a year before returning to learn another—because they understood it took time and practice and dedication to even begin to truly master something. I also remember that he often quoted a proverb about how long it took to do some things/tasks/projects: “if not one year, then five, if not five years, then ten.” Other students often asked him how long it would take to get to the next belt or to a black belt or how long it would take to be able to teach. He’d give them such a look!

I had all kinds of timelines…how long it should take me to write a poem, write a story, publish a book, win this or that. But I’ve always found that poems, stories, books tell you when they’re done—it never works the other way around. With t’ai chi, there was always the option to stop—to stop going to classes, to stop learning, to stop practicing—or to go on. With writing, there’s also always a choice: stop or keep going. Stop or keep working with a piece until it ‘felt’ real. Stop or keep trying to go deeper. Stop or refuse to give up. Stop or create my own definitions of success. Stop or create my own definition of what it meant to be a writer.

I did eventually stop going to t’ai chi—a car accident and finances interrupted my progress—but I still dream of returning to it. Though writing has had all kinds of obstacles, I’ve never truly put it down. Sometimes I’ve had to lay in wait, sometimes I’ve had to fight my way back to it, sometimes I’ve had to hunt it down—but as the years have gone by, it’s the work I’ve clung to the most tenaciously.

A piece from BJR’s post: “But before this becomes about amateurs versus professionals, I want to add what Lisa Jarnot wrote at the Poetry Foundation blog: “If I have something to give as a teacher (collaborator? conspirer? facilitator?), it’s the message that a passion for poetry, plain and simple, can triumph over the banking model of education.” I want to say this “banking model,” is the opposite of the love/passion for art, and the apprenticeship-mastery model that Jiro Dreams of Sushi presents to us. In this “banking model,” while you may be working towards a profession, I don’t think you are necessarily striving for mastery, but consenting to be shaped into a commodity/product that can be plugged into the economy.”

And whether poets/writers know it or not…I think that’s a choice they have to make: early on and then over and over again…marketability or soul? And if you choose soul, then you also have to choose how much soul—the skin-surface level of your soul? The depth of its flesh? The depth of its bone? Or the depth of its red, red marrow? And whatever you choose necessitates further mastery—not as defined by prizes or publication, but as defined by—by what, by who?

I’d be afraid to begin to pin down an “objective” definition of mastery. I wouldn’t trust a checklist of criteria. By its very nature, I think mastery can only be recognized when it’s seen, when it’s felt. However, that also means that not everyone will be able to recognize it. Recognition would require some level of appreciation and discernment and knowledge and engagement. And that may begin to sound like I’m saying that only the educated can appreciate or pursue mastery—but I’m not. Recognition that comes only from education is a cold and lifeless thing—a thing that says “this ____ has been judged to be good and therefore everything else must be compared to it.” The most important recognition comes from engagement at the level of soul. That moment when you see some work of art or hear some form of music or read a line of poetry that so completely enraptures you that it feels as if your whole body has been made into a bell and then rung…and everything in you resonates and you will never be what you were before. Engagement at that level of soul recognizes mastery.

The first place I ever felt that was listening to music…listening to Mexican rancheras. Listening to Lucha Villa and Lola Beltran…Jose Alfredo Jimenez and Vicente Fernandez…Cuco Sanchez and Cornelio Reyna….and later, Chavela Vargas…

From them, I’ve come to form my own definition of my goals as a writer. I want to plumb the depths. I want to find the song. I want to sustain rawness. I want my writing to tear me up and to tear up my readers—the way that rancheras leave me crying or laughing or breathless or holding myself back from throwing grito after grito into the air…

All the singers or singer/song-writers I just named had long, long careers…and one of the things I find most fascinating about them is how they sustained a certain quality of rawness…their performances were always emotionally alive, their hearts were in their voices. They weren’t always smooth or polished and in fact, that rawness always served the song. Like Lorca relates in his “Play and Theory of the Duende”, La Niña de Los Peines had “to tear apart her voice, because she knew experts were listening, who demanded not form but the marrow of form, pure music with a body lean enough to float on air. She had to rob herself of skill and safety: that is to say, banish her Muse, and be helpless, so her duende might come, and deign to struggle with her at close quarters. And how she sang! Her voice no longer at play, her voice a jet of blood, worthy of her pain and her sincerity…”

And that brings me to my last thought…that the only way the individual artist can pursue mastery is by defining for themselves what mastery is—not  a self-serving definition that incorporates the ‘banking model’—but a unique definition that speaks to the artist’s aesthetics and that creates an ongoing challenge for the artist herself.

After that, we have to trust that those who can discern mastery will do so.

With many thanks to BJR…

Official website for poet/writer ire'ne lara silva