Poetry News

Suzi F. Garcia & Carmen Gimenez Smith Talk Latinix Identity Through Slam, Performance, Chiflada, More

By Harriet Staff

Letras Latinas and CantoMundo are two of 22 organizations that make up the Poetry Coalition, and they're in the midst of a new series called “Because We Come from Everything: Poetry & Migration,” which will include "essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers." You may recall their previous conversation with Marcelo Hernández Castillo, no?

And now, a conversation between Suzi F. Garcia and Carmen Gimenez Smith, who discuss the defining film El Norte, Monica McClure's video Chiflada, and much more.

CGS: ...[W]ho are Latinx poets or poems you turn to for perspective?

SFG: I think it’s hard, because I think it’s not the way I think organically. I think generally, it took a long time to also see myself as a raced person, because I was in a community in the South heavily divided into a black and white binary (if you know anything about the Central High Integration, that’s my school district, where my older brother went to high school, my partner, etc). I try to be more conscious and think about what I would want to communicate, even if I don’t always do so with my family. I’m a very confessional poet, lol. Oddly, I look to two very different kinds of poets, but both incredibly expressionist. I’m very interested in slam and performance poets, such as Elizabeth Acevedo and Jennifer Tamayo, because I think they, in their different styles, are open to being declarative and not shying from what they want to say. It’s more organic for me to joke about a topic (which has its place), but I think neither of them are afraid to be serious and honest about expressing themselves in whichever way fits them best (including humor). I think you recently mentioned that you steered away from spoken word because of ingrained racism? I think many of us “page poets” have some roots in that, and now I crave that style of honesty and vulnerability. There is something vulnerable in being declarative that I am afraid of as a poet, but something I want to embrace. I’m also obsessed with Anne Sexton’s letters, for similar reasons, though stylistically, again, very different.

CGS: Spoken word, like jazz, is a very American art form, with roots in many different immigrant cultures (like the connection between capoeira and breakdancing), so it’s narrow to not engage with it as an artist and scholar. I’m terrible at memorizing things, so I don’t think I’ll ever perform, but I do think that those original early lyric impulses and those that impel spoken word or exactly the same.

SFG: Once you recognize that you’ve been shying away from something valuable like spoken word, how did you find yourself re-calibrating? How did you begin to think of these ideas of lyric in your writing and bring out the spoken word connections?

CGS: Mostly I felt drawn to the rhetorical power of anaphora that lives at the core of spoken word, and the amazing diction play, the engagement with the material world. Affectively, a more neuter version of that energy was available in “page poetry,” but not much of that work engages with issues of race and gender in the direct way found in spoken word. I also love the joker/griot energy, the dynamic storyteller required to live inside of the work.

More at Letras Latinas.