Poetry News

Interview with Javier O. Huerta

By Harriet Staff

Javier O. Huerta took part in this interview with Lauro Vazquez on the Letras Latinas blog.

Here he speaks about the role humor plays in his work:

LV: “Que le dice un guante a otro guante? …. I glove you.” This is one of your favorite jokes and also captures much of the humor present in your work. What is the importance of humor in your work and in particular the humor of the bilingual poem?

JOH: The importance of humor in my work is to show the lighthearted aspect in the serious and the serious aspect in the lighthearted. I write jokes and I write poems, and sometimes I can’t tell which is which. I have jokes in my poetry, and I have poetry in my jokes. In the immigrant rights echapbook that we have been discussing, I have an undocumented joke on each page. My favorite is, “why did the ‘illegal alien’ cross the border? To get to el otro lado.” This joke is an imitation of the famous “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke, and actually the punch line to my joke is an exact translation of the famous punch line, “to get to the other side.” But “el otro lado” is loaded with significance for people living on the Mexican side of the border. Why immigrants cross borders is a serious question that many scholars and public officials have seriously engaged and attempted to answer. I just happen to think that my punch line is a more satisfying answer than their push and pull explanations. Here’s another joke from my poetry, from American Copia: “What does the corn tortilla say to the wheat tortilla? No te awheates.” I shared this joke during a presentation in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon last year, and during the Q & A, a woman in the audience provided an interesting analysis of the joke from the perspective of U.S/Mexico relations. She said that it made sense that the Mexican corn tortilla would be the one to provide solace to the U.S. wheat tortilla. Her analysis, I think, provides a convincing interpretation. I take jokes seriously and poetry lightheartedly because jokes and poetry have this in common: they both defamiliarize, and hopefully this defamiliarization leads to both delight and wisdom. And, you should know, I have serious plans to publish a book of bilingual chistes titled Puro Jokes.

Huerta's second book, American Copia: An Immigrant Epic, is available now. Lauro Vazquez describes it as "a poetic narrative that breaks the illusion that we live in a land of bountiful substance."

Read the rest of the interview here.

Originally Published: July 11th, 2012