Follow Harriet on Twitter
Poetry > Prison
As a kid, I just thought I was American like everybody else, but as I grew older, I began to understand identity. I got involved in gangs after my parents got divorced when I was twelve. The way everything went down, I got angry. We moved around a lot, but my grandmother’s house was always home base. There was a kid across the street who I had always been close to starting banging and got jumped in. I wanted to bang, so I got jumped too. It’s given me a lot of fodder to write about and to think about who I am and why I chose that. I was looking for some sort of familial ties. I never thought I was going to be a writer during this time. Never. I didn’t graduate high school. I thought I was going to jail and that was it.
But literature changed his life:
When I was 21, I decided I wanted to go to college. I had already gone to the Navy and gotten kicked out. After that, I went to Job Corp to get a painting certificate so I could paint houses. I took an English course at a community college and I remembered I liked to read. I was also interested in slang and talking slick when I was in high school, so I knew I had a certain faculty for language. My poetry instructor suggested I take a writing course at San Diego State University. I ended up taking one my first semester there as a junior. The first poem I ever turned in was a poem that could be read up or down the page and I thought it was ingenious. The professor, Glover Davis, who became my first mentor, told me it was a one trick pony. I got pissed and wouldn’t listen to him. I think writers have the strongest and most fragile egos. I ended up taking his advice at the end and we became friends. Then one day he asked me what I thought of getting my Masters and I applied a week later. Once I started to get my Masters, I started getting some poetry tattoos and was like, alright, I’m going to take this seriously and be the best poet that I can be.
The interview also discusses Martinez’s complicated relationship with his father and how that influenced his work. Read the full interview here. Martinez’s first collection of poems, Hustle, will be released by Sarabande Books in the spring of 2014.