Poetry News

Verónica Reyes in Conversation at Letras Latinas

By Harriet Staff

On Friday of last week, Letras Latinas published the latest, and we're told (sadly) final, installment of the interview series conducted by Notre Dame MFA candidate Luis López-Maldonado. Verónica Reyes and López-Maldonado speak in depth about writing and audience, both real and imagined. They begin by thinking about place and language, and they talk through issues of accessibility for a non-Spanish speaking audience. From the top of this dynamic conversation:

LLM:
One of my favorite lines from,“Desert Rain: blessing the land” is “Socorro breathed in once and inhaled México in East L.A.” What is that place for you, when you are away from it and miss it, like Socorro and México? Do you draw inspiration from your hometown, while creating work in someone else’s hometown, or in the classroom?

VR:
East LA. This is my barrio. It’s where I’m from. It’s my homegrown roots. It is my inspiration. It is my breath. This includes my sexuality and my background as a whole.

LLM:
“Marimacha” Este poema, damn, I love it! But I am bilingual! Which brings me to my question: When editing this poem, on your last revisions, did it cross your mind that the non-speaking Spanish audience would have a hard time accessing your work? Does this matter to you as a poet? Do you tend to write with your audiences in mind?

VR:
Thank you for the complement. When I wrote that poem, it was sketched in grad school at UTEP. I originally thought, ‘I’m going to write about an academic walking down the calles of Whittier Boulevard,’ but when I wrote it, it came out the way it needed to be. It represented the barrio it was from. And the tone and language captures Carmen’s story, a home girl, aka a butch one, from el barrio.
As for audience, the answer is No. I did not think of non-Spanish speaking audience. They were never on my mind. I trust the poem’s voice. It is my guidance. This is what matters most. The content. The voice. The experience. Clearly, it is based in my barrio roots with dyke content and all; this plays a role in shaping the poem, but the work is always guided by what the poem wants to say. I have intentions. And the poem guides them, and I guide them in revisions. So if it’s bilingual, then it is because it needs to be. It is between the poem and me, the Xicana jota poet.

I will add that I doubt gringo writers think about this question at all. “Do I write so that my audience understands the language I’m writing in?” I doubt they even consider a wider audience beyond their scope.

As for considering audiences when writing, I think about the poem that wants to be scripted. It gets complicated. The poem exists because of the stories/narratives that still need to be told about what it means to be Chicana, Latino, lesbian, joto from el barrio in this country who keeps on killing so many men of color, from this country who accepts gun violence as the norm, from this country who keeps thinking it is okay to rape a woman and blame her, from this country that has so many engrained societal issues (racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, homophobia) it needs to deal with and avoids them or puts a bandage on it, but it is a festering wound that needs to be healed. I think about that.

The conversation continues with the question of tone and audience, generational transmission of stories, growing up in East L.A., family, sexuality, and much much more. Head to Letras Latinas now!

Originally Published: February 20th, 2017