Erika L. Sánchez vs. High School

September 19, 2017

Danez Smith: She's the Barbra Streisand of Asian-American poetry, Franny Choi 

Franny Choi: And they're your friendly neighborhood deleted browser history, Danez Smith.

Danez Smith: And welcome to VS, the podcast where poets confront the ideas that move them.

Franny Choi: Presented by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness. (MUSIC) How’s it going, Danez?

Danez Smith: It’s going gooooooood, you know, feeling this, like, fantasy I have on these cuff sleeves, feel like I’ve been working out and I’m just trying to flex for this cute boy who is working at the gym.

Franny Choi: Wooo! (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) Yeah, how are you?

Franny Choi: I'm good. You know, I'm going... this weekend I'm going to my 10-year high school reunion.

Danez Smith: I’m going to mine in, like, a month from now.

Franny Choi: Really?

Danez Smith: Oh my god.

Franny Choi: I’ve talked to a lot of people that we're, like, I definitely didn't go to that. 

Danez Smith: I'm on the planning committee. 

Franny Choi: Oooooooh! You are all in it.

Danez Smith: I definitely checked out a venue at 9am yesterday. 

Franny Choi: Hu!

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Incredible.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: Yeah, I'm mostly going to mine because I think I am significantly cuter than I was when I was in high school. I think I've, like, turned out OK. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I think so too. I think, like, you know, I try to think about high school in terms of, like, my worst high school self, which was probably somewhere around sophomore year. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: That was the worst?

Danez Smith: Yeah….Cause I think, like, I knew I was gay and I knew I couldn't say it at its peak….(LAUGHING) of, like, not being able to say. I, like, had too much acne and I, like, burned the middle of my forehead because of using too much Proactiv. If people didn't take the time to get to know me, I was just a dick. Because I was so fiercely trying to, like, divert everybody's attention towards other people by making fun of them by, like, look at everybody else, than I was trying to be, like, don't look at me. Because if anybody focused on me for too long, like, all my secrets would be, like, yeah... You know, so I was just... I was, I was a little bit of a bully. 

Franny Choi: (GASP) Ta-ta-taaaah….

Danez Smith: Ta-ta-taaah, yeah. I also have apologies to make…

Franny Choi: Done, done, done.

Danez Smith: Yeah.. But, is that really surprising? Like…

Franny Choi: Weeeellllllll……… Yeah. You were mean? That's crazy!

Danez Smith: Yeah, now I’m ashamed. Now we have words!

Franny Choi: Right, right, right, right. 

Danez Smith: Thank you, “Paris Is Burning.” What were you like in high school?

Franny Choi: Well ,I think of myself as, like, this quiet overachiever. But I think I wasn't actually that quiet. (LAUGHING) I think I was, like, simultaneously wanted everyone to like me, and was angry at every single part of the world. 

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: You know? I think that combination.. I think looking back I would like to think that I was just, like, a lovable quiet nerd. But probably I was, like, an annoying freak and an annoying overachieving freak. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: But I guess we'll see this weekend what people thought of me.

Danez Smith: True. But it's so hard to, like, be a person in high school, you know? (LAUGHING) To me it’s just, like, how we sort of portray young people. I think, like, even when I was younger, like, even how I think about my younger self, I think it's because of, like, a bias, like, that a lot of people have towards younger people, like, they’re trying to figure out for the first time, like, how to be a good person. And, like, what…. Or you’re trying to figure out what good is.

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: Like, how to be a person at all. I don't know I feel, like, that's, like, when you're first really encountering the muck of the world and all of its contradictions. But you don't really have the vocabulary or the agency to really be able to express what it's like to be living in that world and to do anything about it. Or at least, like, a lot of high school students, I think, are not empowered to be able to engage with the world in that way. And I think, that can lead to a lot of… I don’t know… maybe it sometimes manifests as meanness, sometimes it manifests as, like, introversion or ... just, like, annoying radicalism without any real ideology to back it up. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Yeah! Somebody you’re just weird until you grow up and write some art about it.

Franny Choi: Yeah. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Which is why I'm really excited to talk to our guest for today, Erika Sánchez. 

Franny Choi: Yes!

Danez Smith: Aaargh, I love Erika Sánchez, her work is so important and, like…

Franny Choi: Yeah!

Danez Smith: I don’t know. I’m just really super excited.

Franny Choi: Yeah, both as a poet and also as a writer of other genres, including a really exciting Y.A. novel, a young adult novel, that is coming out. 

Danez Smith: Uh-huh. Probably just go to the bookstore. 

Franny Choi: Yeah, go to the bookstore. Look her up. Go to the s's.

Danez Smith: So Erika L. Sánchez is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, a poet, novelist and essayist, living in Chicago. Her debut poetry collection, “Lessons On Expulsion” is out from Graywolf this year 2017. Her debut young adult novel, “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers in the fall of 2017, this October. When you listen to this podcast, go get it. She was recently named a 2017-2019 Princeton Arts Fellow….

Franny Choi: Yes!

Danez Smith: She'll be moving out there to do some good work, this is a person to look out for, y’all, let’s just go ahead and get into this interview with the young god, Erika Sánchez!

Franny Choi: Yes!

Danez Smith: Wooo-wooot!



Franny Choi: Well, we're really excited to have Erika Sánchez here in the studio with us today. Hi, Erika.

Erika Sánchez: Hi, thank you.

Franny Choi: You are the best. Thank you for hanging out with us today.

Erika Sánchez: I'm very excited and very sweaty. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Yeah, me too!

Danez Smith: Oh, that means I can smell you after…. OK. 

Franny Choi: You just gave yourself permission to, like, smell…

Danez Smith: OK, true confession, I kind of like the smell of people having sweat, so… sue me, alright? 

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Just why I feel like I’ll always disappoint you…

Erika Sánchez:



Danez Smith: I’m New-Age queer, OK.

Franny Choi: New-Age queer, I love it. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: We're recording this in the month of July. And your first poetry collection, “Lessons On Expulsion” by Graywolf—shout-out to our press, woo-woot—uuuummm... Love you guys! Love you, Graywolf! Continue to publish us. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: It just came out! So, how does it feel having this poetry collection that…. you said you've been working on this collection for over ten years?

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. 

Danez Smith: How does it feel to have that in the world?

Erika Sánchez: Yeah, I started writing now when I was in college and… I revised and revised and.... It's seen many iterations and I've submitted to, like, every single contest. Submitted to a bunch of presses. I don't know how much money I've spent on those contests. Goddammit. I'm lucky if I break even. OK? (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Yeah. You start your own press.

Erika Sánchez: I know, right! At first it felt really surreal. Like, I didn't actually believe it. I had my book-release party, at Women And Children First, here in Chicago. 

Franny Choi: Oh, wow.

Erika Sánchez: Yeah, it was amazing. A room full of people that I love and that love me was just.... What is this life, you know? 

Franny Choi: Yeah…

Erika Sánchez: Yeah, I got all choked up. My mom was, like, weeping the whole time. 

Franny Choi: Ooow…

Danez Smith: Mom! I’m a sucker for a weepy mom… (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Me too!

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING) Yeah.. it was really incredible. I had some friends read with me. We had donuts, because donuts. 

Danez Smith: Ooooh! Hold on, are you a powder or a glaze person?

Erika Sánchez: Glaze.

Danez Smith: OK, thank you. You can stay. 

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: How do you feel about fillings? 

Erika Sánchez: Sometimes they're a little too rich. I like a plain glazed, usually, but sometimes I get down with, like, a chocolate-filled one. 

Franny Choi: OK.

Danez Smith: Hmmmmmm.

Erika Sánchez: I like to be versatile.

Franny Choi: (LOW VOICE) I’m taking notes... 

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING) It was just such an incredible experience. People that I hadn't seen in years showed up and I'm, like, is this my funeral or my book? (LAUGHING) 

Franny Choi: No! At my book-release party I felt like it was my hundredth birthday. (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Franny Choi: All of these people are celebrating my accomplishments!? 

Erika Sánchez: It's so cool. 

Franny Choi: I’m twenty-five!

Erika Sánchez: Oh, you’re so young!

Franny Choi: Yeah, I was twenty-five. I mean, I guess I’m still young. 

Erika Sánchez: So young. I’m an old hag. According to some Mexican ladies who told me I’m way too old…(LAUGHING)... for my shenanigans. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: For your shenanigans… you are never too old! Shenanigans have no age. (LAUGHING) No, no, no.

Erika Sánchez: They were, like, when are you going to have babies, you're getting all shriveled up! I’m, like, um…..

Franny Choi: Only so many eggs in the basket…

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: It’s, like, there are actually plenty of eggs in the basket.

Erika Sánchez: I hope they’re there.

Danez Smith: And other people have eggs that they don't want, and…

Erika Sánchez: True. We can find a way around this. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Erika Sánchez: Anyway. It was such a great night. We had an after-party and everyone just gathered in my friend's backyard and we just had an amazing time and... I wore a dress with birds on it.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Amen.

Erika Sánchez: I had my nails done. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) You did it proper. 

Erika Sánchez: I did. But the reception of the book has been amazing so far. Like, the reviews are incredible. 

Franny Choi: Yeah, yeah.

Erika Sánchez: I feel very honored and... I'm shocked in some ways, because... you want that to happen but you don't expect it, necessarily. And so sometimes it still feels unreal, because for so long I struggled in my twenties, just, like, writing and shitty jobs and shitty relationships and just crying in bathrooms. Which is the title of my next book, “Crying In The Bathroom.”

Danez Smith: Oh, really? 

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. 

Danez Smith: Oh that's the book of essay, “Crying in the Bathroom”? 

Erika Sánchez: Yes. 

Franny Choi: Aaah, that’s a great title. A very relatable experience.

Erika Sánchez: Right? Everyone’s done it. I did it a lot in my twenties. And so to be in this place where I have everything that I want, it's pretty incredible. And coming from where I come from, I grew up in Cicero, my parents aren't... they were undocumented. We were pretty poor and now I'm, like, going to Princeton! So. Pretty fucking rad!

Franny Choi: How does your family feel about... about all of it? Your having a book in the world etc. 

Erika Sánchez: They're super proud. 

Franny Choi: Yeah?

Erika Sánchez: Yeah, it’s really great. For a long time they were, like, what the fuck are you doing with life? (LAUGHING) I couldn't hold down, like, a regular job. I’m, like, I’m a poet! You know? They didn't really understand that.

Danez Smith: Well, it's hard I think, especially for, like, all of us who come from, like, you know traditionally underprivileged backgrounds, right? Like, when I told my grandma that I was quitting my day job to, like, tour around and read people poems, she looked at me like I was an idiot—because I was. Not necessary for that reason, for a crap ton of others. But it's so hard for them to compute, you know. Because for so much of their lives the goal has always been survival. 

Erika Sánchez: Of course.

Danez Smith: And for them that survival did not mean, you know, creating art and trying to find a way to possibly starve off that, but it meant taking care of our little ungrateful asses, right? 

Erika Sánchez: Sure. 

Danez Smith: And I think it's maybe even different for us too, because we come as young folks who, maybe, have the privilege to be, like, childless, which I think is a privilege in a lot of ways, you know. My grandma didn't have that choice. She was nineteen with three babies. She just had to do some shit, you know? They have made this world possible for us. 

Erika Sánchez: Exactly. I think about that a lot. I used to feel really guilty in many ways, but now I feel just gratitude...

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Erika Sánchez: ...that I get to live this life. That my parents sacrificed so much so I could be the person that I wanted to be. You know, my grandmother on my dad's side... I think actually both of them are illiterate. So it's interesting to me to think, in just a few generations, that totally transformed. And I just feel very lucky. 

Franny Choi: Hmm. Do your family members, do they read your poems? Have they read your poems?

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. I think my poems are really weird and my family probably doesn't know what to do with them. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: And I always have to remind them that I'm not the speaker, which is tricky because sometimes parts of you are the speaker and parts of you are not. But yes, they’ve read my work. My dad read my novel, which is really sweet. They don't speak English all that well, but they could understand some and so, he did his best. My brothers read my novel and they have my poetry collection. So it's... it's nice to finally have something tangible that I could show them. That I haven't been fucking around for the last, like, decade, you know? (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: It’s not a diary!

Franny Choi: Yeah, I remember when I told my parents that I had gotten a book deal, they were, like, sure…. Okay whatever you say. And then next time I saw them I, like, brought some books from the press and they were, like, oh so it's, like, a book, like, it's, like, a real…. there's, like, binding. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: What did you think! And then they were all proud when they, like, saw... But I mean, I think really, like, if you... there's something different about holding the tangible thing in your hand.

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. Definitely.

Franny Choi: Saying, like, I made this physical thing that’s now in the world. 

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. And to see it, like, circulating... People are posting pictures of the book. It just makes me so happy. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. People you don't know will read this. 

Erika Sánchez: Yeah! Like, oh my god, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. My little baby... 

Danez Smith: Which is scary. Um, I wanted… so, your first novel, it’s a Y.A. novel called “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” correct?

Erika Sánchez: Uh-huh.

Danez Smith: ...and that's coming out in October? 

Erika Sánchez: Yes. 

Danez Smith: So you've been working on both of these things sort of simultaneously, like, could you talk a little bit about what it was like working on both this first novel and the first collection at the same time? What does one say that the other one can't?

Erika Sánchez: Where do I begin? 

Danez Smith: (MOVIE WHISPER) In the beginning I picked up a pen…

Erika Sánchez: I was twelve years old and I read Edgar Allen Poe and I fell in love. Really that's how I feel about Poe… (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Shout-out, Poe.

Erika Sánchez: Thank you, Poe. I started writing the novel when I was twenty-eight. I'm thirty-three right now, and so both books are coming out. So it took a while. I remember actually…. Eduardo Corral saying that I should just chill, and take my time, because I was, like, so anxious to publish. And he was, like, no. You need to take your time and make it the best book you could make. And he was right. So, again, that took over ten years and then the novel took about four. I always write poems throughout. Like, even when I'm not actually writing. I'm consuming art and I'm consuming poetry and I'm internalizing it and thinking about it and sometimes I just, like, write little notes to myself and things like that, and that eventually can become a poem. 

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Erika Sánchez: For me it takes forever. To write a single poem could take months, years. With a novel, it was kind of a frenzy. 

Danez Smith: Ha!

Erika Sánchez: It would come in spurts and so I started writing it, and then I had it go in one direction and that I changed the direction and changed the idea. And then I wrote the bulk of it when I was recovering from this really terrible depression that I was going through. It was really terrible and I couldn't write for a long time and then all of a sudden I was able to do it again. And the novel just kind of poured out of me.

Franny Choi: Yeah. 

Erika Sánchez: Yeah.

Franny Choi: I also feel, like, for writing I've been lately going back and forth between writing poetry and screenwriting and playwriting.

Erika Sánchez: Oh cool.

Franny Choi: And... I feel, like, for those, I can sit and write for, like, hours. Or, like work on it for hours. Like, for a poem I feel, like, I mean I can edit for…

Erika Sánchez: Sure.

Franny Choi: ...a long time but, like, it takes a while for those ideas to, like, kinda ferment. 

Erika Sánchez: Yes.

Franny Choi: In order to create one thing, you know?

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. 

Franny Choi: Like distilling water. 

Erika Sánchez: Exactly.

Franny Choi: Or distilling something into what… I don't know. I don't know how distillation works. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: But I can um...get up for metaphors making.

Danez Smith: Making jam? Is that about concentration?

Franny Choi: Yeah! A balsamic reduction.

Danez Smith: Hmm..

Franny Choi: Of ideas.

Erika Sánchez: Exactly. 

Danez Smith: Balsamic trauma, hmm.

Erika Sánchez: There's a lot of sitting and staring, I tell people, when it comes to poetry. Sitting with my mouth open, staring at nothing. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: It’s not that glamorous. Or, like, pacing back and forth in my apartment, like, a weirdo listening to Philip Glass. 

Franny Choi: Oh really? 

Erika Sánchez: Uh-huh. 

Franny Choi: Is that your go-to writing soundtrack?

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: That’s incredible. (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: It’s so dorky. Or Eric Satie. That's another one. 

Franny Choi: Yeah! 

Danez Smith: I don't know...Eric who?

Erika Sánchez: Satie.

Danez Smith: Is this classical music?

Erika Sánchez: Uh-huh.

Franny Choi: But it's, like, contemporary furniture music. 

Erika Sánchez: It’s real pretty. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: It is very pretty.

Danez Smith: Contemporary furniture music…

Franny Choi: It looks… it sounds…

Danez Smith: Like Demi Lovato on, like, an ottoman.

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Sure. In spirit.

Danez Smith: Don’t ruin this for me.

Franny Choi: I don’t think it’s that actually at all.

Danez Smith: Ok, cool, that’s fine. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: But it’s, like, it sounds like it feels like in a pensive scene in, like, in an indie movie. 

Erika Sánchez: Yes! Leaves are falling.

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: Ok. I used to feel, like, for a very long time I couldn't write to rap because... I would just start writing down what the rappers were saying. Because it sounds like speech. So I had to listen to, like, R&B music that I knew, like, the back of my hand so that I wouldn't pay attention to it. But I've been liking listening to rap now. Specifically, I've been listening to a lot of Tyler, the Creator and OutKast. Just because I think there's something, like, really funky about the rhythms. And I've been trying to think about their voices less as, like, narratives and more as, like, drums to sort of follow and think about rhythm and beat to. So. 

Erika Sánchez: Yeah, that makes sense.

Franny Choi: I need to try that. I sometimes like to write with when there are words in it. Where I'm going out into the abyss and I, like, have, like, an idea but don't have any idea how to make it happen. And, like, need some words, like, distract my brain so that I can get the ideas out. But otherwise, like, I think I need to write without any … without any words getting in my head. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Erika Sánchez: There's no wrong way to do it. 

Danez Smith: Nah. I like the ritual of it, though. You know? For a long time, I used to, like, make tea before I wrote. I would never drink it, but there was something about the tea that was, like…

Franny Choi: You didn't drink it?

Danez Smith: I always forgot to drink it. So by the time I, like, go to drink it be, like, cold…

Franny Choi: Cold in the cup?

Danez Smith: I’d, like, steam up and, like, mix it with some honey and all that. But it was just, like, I think making the tea made me ready to sit down and do the writing. Even relating back to music—one thing that I do know is that, when I'm working on a longer project, let's say, like, a script, anything beyond a poem, because, I think, a poem for me can take anywhere from ten minutes to three hours. So there's no way to really plan it. But if I know I need to sit down and do a shit ton of writing, I have to listen to the same song on repeat. Which I feel like is more ritualistic for me. Yeah! Because it blocks something off for me. Especially, I like songs that sort of begin and end in the same way. So that way I kind of don't notice the transition of when it's repeated itself. But just sort of getting caught in that loop. I don't know how much time has gone by. I know an album lasts 45 minutes to an hour. I know a song is three minutes, but I don't know if I've listened to it ten times or 500. 

Franny Choi: That’s why I like going, like, to an artist’s Spotify page and then just, like, starting at the top. Because eventually, things, like, repeat. Like, there is the single, there is the, like, deluxe version or whatever. But you're just, like, in that world for a while. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Yeah. Thank you, Janet. (LAUGHING) So you have these two books that are in the world, and they're phenomenal books, coming from great presses, congratulations, you really did it. That patience paid off. (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Who do you hope these books wind up in the hands of? 

Erika Sánchez: Brown girls, mostly. People of color. I think it's funny when people complain about my narrator for instance. A lot of agents didn't like her voice and it's because she's an asshole. But, like, I was an asshole as a teenager. Who isn't?

Danez Smith: Who isn’t. I don't trust teenagers who aren’t assholes…

Erika Sánchez: Right? 

Danez Smith: Too nice. 

Erika Sánchez: And so… I thought it was racial. Really. Because I thought it was just, like, too aggressive for them. For their sensibilities. And even now I've gotten some feedback about... people not liking the character, that she's unlikable. But I’m just, like, who the fuck cares if she's unlikeable. Is it a good character? Is she well developed? So that's been interesting. And so I don't write for white people, necessarily. So when white people give me this kind of feedback I'm, like, it's not for you. Then don’t read it!

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: I feel like that title is, like, a message to everyone who has those critiques. Agents, audience, etc. 

Erika Sánchez: Right!

Franny Choi: Like, this is not a perfect Mexican daughter…

Erika Sánchez: Right! And you would hope that people would want to expand their worldview and try to see the world through a different lens, and... all of that. Because that's what reading is, right, to, you know, understand someone else's experience and have empathy and…. This, that and the other. And if someone's not capable of that then... that's not really my problem. You know? Is a book well written, is it well developed... Those criticisms I could handle. But when it's: oh, I don't like the character, because she's kind of a bitch, you know, who cares! 

Franny Choi: Can you talk us through a little bit about, like, what sort of journey this character goes on in the book?

Erika Sánchez: Sure. Yeah. So she's a Mexican girl growing up in Chicago. She's 15 and her sister dies and that's where the book starts. Her sister was run over by a truck, because she was looking at her phone crossing the street. So she's grappling with this enormous loss and also dealing with issues of identity. She's very, quote unquote, “Americanized” compared to her sister and she's always compared to her sister and especially now that she's dead. The parents are undocumented and they have really tough working-class jobs and struggle to make ends meet. Julia Reyes is the main character, she…

Danez Smith: Shout-out to Julia.

Erika Sánchez: Yes! I have, like, such an affection for her even though she's, like, not real. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Totally.

Erika Sánchez: Um. I love her. So she's kind of an asshole, I guess, sassy and cynical and….

Danez Smith: She's fifteen and from Chicago. 

Erika Sánchez: Right! (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: Exactly. And she's brown. She's funny, I think. I'm trying to, you know, have humor in the book to outweigh the really grave parts. I laughed when I was writing it, hopefully you guys are laughing when you read it. I don't know. So she's going through this horrible tragedy and she starts to uncover things about her sister that she didn’t know. And so it's kind of, like, a mystery in a sense and a coming-of-age novel at the same time. Yeah, it was a really transformative experience to write it. I thought it was important to create a character who was flawed and vulnerable and unlikable at times, but also funny, but also kind, you know, just, like, a complex person, a complex girl of color. Because that's so rare. I never read anything like that growing up and I wanted to provide that for other girls. That it's OK to be fucked up.

Franny Choi: Yeah. Were there things that writing this novel opened up for you? Things that you've realized that you could do in the context of prose that you couldn’t really do before, in poetry?

Erika Sánchez: Yes. Mostly it was humor. 

Franny Choi: Aaaah!

Erika Sánchez: Yeah.

I'm not funny in poems.

Danez Smith: Yeah, you serious in poems. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Yeah, you’s really serious! I think you are funny, but the poems are serious. (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING) People are always surprised when they meet me, they're, like, wait you're not, like, broody, you know. No! 'm actually... I think I’m a fun person to be around. 

Danez Smith: Yeah!

Erika Sánchez: But my poems are not fun like that. 

Danez Smith: (MENACING GROWL) Welcome to identity, motherfuckers... 

Erika Sánchez: That's right. Although... worst shit about human beings, you know, in a book…

Franny Choi: In 21 lines. (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: Right. It is all concentrated…balsamic reduction. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Balsamic silliness. (LAUGHING) But I think it works, too, because, I think, one thing that me and Franny were talking about your poems, was how, like, magical and imaginative they are. So they do go a lot of places that I think would make sense that you would go and write fiction. Because you're already so good at inventing within the poems, like, these, like, images and all sorts of just magic going on. That’s just, like, pew-pew-pew-pew-pew! 

Erika Sánchez: I love it.

Franny Choi: There's a lot of, like, transformation of concrete objects and also, like, sort of, like, revelation in the concrete. I don't know, I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about magic in your poetry.

Erika Sánchez: Well, I love magical realism and I think that's pretty evident in my work. I'm very much influenced by Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I just think poetry is a space to explore and take risks and go to weird places that you don't want to visit, sometimes, but you have to. For me it's a form of liberation, for sure. With prose it's different where…. it's more about the story than it is about, like, the image or…. I mean I care very much about imagery in my prose. But it's just a different experience and I could create full characters, you know, that are complicated and interesting. Whereas in a poem it's self-contained. I think that room in prose allows me to be funny and to play with that and make fun of the world around me. Which is so cathartic.

Franny Choi: Yeah. 

Danez Smith: Amen.

Franny Choi: It's funny that that would be … maybe counterintuitive that that would feel liberating from, like, making magic happen in poems. But I totally feel you.

Erika Sánchez: It's different, and it's a different experience. And then writing essays is a whole different experience too. Every genre has its own form of freedom for me. But essays, I must say… they knock me out. I write a paragraph and I just want to die. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) What are you fighting up against there? 

Franny Choi: Oh a lot of…

Danez Smith: I agree, by the way. 

Franny Choi: Right!

Erika Sánchez: Jesus... Cause I have to grapple with, like, really unpleasant shit, you know. And you have to kind of relive it. And so I write a lot about depression and in that process I feel depressed and it's really hard to go through again. I went through a phase this winter, when I was working on it, that... I just got really sad. It was after the election, of course. So it was that and then writing these essays and… It was just a lot to handle so... I started swimming and, like, trying to take care of myself in a better way, to try to watch a lot of romantic comedies, just so I could feel hope for my romantic life. It worked. So that was nice.

Franny Choi: Yay!

Danez Smith: Yay…

Erika Sánchez: So yeah, just, like, a lot of, like, self care. Just to get through the process of it.

Danez Smith: It's funny thinking about, like, what we put ourselves through as artists to get the art out. Because once it doesn't belong to us and it's able to... maybe... you know, what was hard for us and hopefully can do good for other people. 

Erika Sánchez: Right.

Danez Smith: Like, I know right, like, your poem six months after contemplating suicide, like, I’m gonna try saying this without crying, but that poem really, like, got me through so my very, very, very difficult times. And, like, I read it day after day and it was just, like…

Erika Sánchez: Thank you!

Danez Smith:... a thing that I went to in order to be, like, I can still do it. I can read this poem. And if that gives me the juice to just, like, go to the grocery store, then it gives me the juicy to go to the grocery store;

Erika Sánchez: Ok, that's going to make me cry now. 

Danez Smith: But I think that's know I, like, to write that poem had to be hard. And I think about, like, all the poems that I've written that people come to me, like, oh, that poem saved me, and I'm just, like, really? Because it almost ruined me. (LAUGHING) But I’m glad!

Erika Sánchez: Somebody got something out of it, that matters! (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: What are … what are some pieces of art—poetry or otherwise—that you have… Because I think, when I'm in the midst of my depression, it's hard for me to remember that art is sitting right there, and is ready to save me.

Erika Sánchez: Yeah.

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: Because it has every time, you know, whether it be song, or video, or whatever it is. There is just, like, there is something there that I can, like, latch on to. Have you had any anchor creations like that? 

Erika Sánchez: Oh, so many! Toni Morrison. She's just the baddest bitch of all. 

Danez Smith: Which is your favorite Morrison book?

Erika Sánchez: “Paradise,” maybe? 

Danez Smith: Oooh!

Franny Choi: Oooh! Very interesting! I love “Paradise” too.

Erika Sánchez: Right? It’s beautiful. If I ever met her, I'd just drop dead. 

Franny Choi: Just, immediately expire. Just evaporate.

Erika Sánchez: Yeah, that’s it. Like I never existed. 

Danez Smith: Just shed everything, the ghost of you is standing there?

Erika Sánchez: If she’s listening, I love you. 

Danez Smith: Expelled from this earth. 

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. When I read her work—especially when she writes about love and longing and desire... is so incredible and so, just moving and…. She really gets to the heart of what it means to be human, I think. The way she writes about violence… She's just a master. Also Larry Levis. I fucking love that guy. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Erika Sánchez: I have a Larry Levis tattoo, actually, right here. 

Franny Choi: What is it?

Danez Smith: It's some horses... 

Erika Sánchez: Horses…

Danez Smith: What’s the line behind it?

Erika Sánchez: It’s the poem “Anastasia & Sandman.” 

Danez Smith: Okay.

Erika Sánchez: So, it's about the two horses in Eastern Europe and... I love that poem. And he writes with such a vulnerability that I just really fucking love it. And so when my novel got picked up, I decided to get the tattoo because there are two horses in my novel that are based on those two horses. 

Danez Smith: Oh word!

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. I love the horses. They made me cry. I don't know why they make me cry I, like, look at a horse and I'm just, like, weepy. 

Danez Smith: Oh... you’re one of those.

Franny Choi: Totally!

Danez Smith: Yeah. You're, like, you're totally Tina from Bob's Burgers. 

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING) 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: She likes horses and butts, what can I…

Erika Sánchez: Oh, I like butts too!

Danez Smith: See? You really are Tina...

Erika Sánchez: Do horses not make you cry? I feel, like…

Franny Choi: I feel, like, horses and big trees…

Erika Sánchez: (GASP)

Danez Smith: Big trees.

Franny Choi: When I look at a big tree, I just weep.

Erika Sánchez: Have you ever hugged one, like, literally? 

Franny Choi: I don't think I've hugged, like, a really big tree. 

Erika Sánchez: I've done that. Just, like, press my face against it…

Danez Smith: I think I’m slightly turned on… by horses? 

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: But not in, like, the beastiality way, but, like, you witness all that power and it’s, like, (GROWL) yeah... You're a top. (LAUGHING)

rebel creatures.

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING) 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Oh my god… Well, they’re beautiful creatures.

Erika Sánchez: Yeah, and so when I see them... especially, like, when they're in carriages they just make me really sad. Because they're so nobel and majestic to me and they’re, like, carting these awful tourists, you know?

Franny Choi: Just, like, clap clap clap clap clap..

Erika Sánchez: I didn't even know where I'm going with this. What was the question? (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: We were talking about art that... 

Franny Choi: ...things that save us…

Danez Smith: ...things that anchor us down. 

Erika Sánchez: Yes. 

Franny Choi: Larry Levis. Horses.

Danez Smith: But I'm also very excited about horses and butts, so.

Franny Choi: Butts, we haven’t covered butts yet.

Danez Smith: We haven’t… Do you have any thoughts on butts, that you needed…

Erika Sánchez: Let’s see... I'm really happy with my butt. 

Danez Smith: OK. 

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. 

Danez Smith: You’ve been working on it?

Erika Sánchez: I’ve been working on it because my boyfriend really, likes butts, so… I’m, like, well...might as well! So it's been fun. 

Danez Smith: Now, are you, are you doing the squats? 

Erika Sánchez: Squats, but, like, the ones to round it out, you know? 

Franny Choi: So there are specific squats for rounding out? 

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. Yeah. So you squat, like, and then you'd lift your leg. 

Franny Choi: What!? I don’t even know, physically, how that works? 

Erika Sánchez: I’ll show it to you.

Franny Choi: I exercise so rarely that I can't even conceptualize exercise. (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING) I really actually enjoy working out. I run. I run a lot. 

Danez Smith: Same. I run, I lift… It's interesting. One, I feel, like, congrats to you for, like, working on your butt, but I've convinced myself in the fact that my butt doesn't grow, that ass is a state of mind. 

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: But I found that, like, once since I've started working out, my writing I think has gotten better though.

Erika Sánchez: Oh good! Yeah, like..

Franny Choi: Wait, in what ways? 

Danez Smith: It always leaves me with something to write about. Like, there's no way I can leave a 40 minute run without a prompt, you know, just because, like, something gets caught in my mind. Something that I see along the run, whether that's actually outside or, like, in the gym and, like, looking the at the strange woman on the treadmill with, like, corduroys on... 

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I don't know what it is about older white women working out in corduroys, but they love it.

Franny Choi: Corduroys?

Danez Smith: Corduroys and a sweater.

Erika Sánchez: What kind of shoes?

Danez Smith: Sensible.

Franny Choi: Okay… but not, like, gym sensible?

Danez Smith: No, not, like gym sensible, more like a sturdy flat? An athletic clog? I don’t know…

Franny Choi: Crocs?

Danez Smith: I love a Croc. I do love a Croc. I will preach the gospel of a Croc, right here on this podcast.

Erika Sánchez: I can see you in a Croc.

Franny Choi: We’ll do a whole episode just about sensible footwear. (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: Ok, we’ve wandered.

Franny Choi: No, but I agree that I think, like, doing some sort of, like, repetitive physical task. So, like, not... it's not exercising for me, but for me sometimes it's, like, cooking. 

Danez Smith: Oh, you bake?

Franny Choi: Making bread. Oh, yeah! A lot of, like, because I used to do this for a while. If you're listening to this podcast, you can’t tell, the motion I’m making, but I swear it's a really good one. (LAUGHING) Very impressive. 

Danez Smith: Well, I think I learned it.. but it gives your mind something to do. I start to, like, really notice it when I, just got obsessed with Ross Gay for a little bit and I'm, like, why does he like gardening? (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: It is a great book.

Danez Smith: It is a great book, but it's, like, what this, like, other activity, like, sort of offers you, right? Even as, like, a poet who writes about the body so much, like, being me, like, ever since I have started using my body for something beyond sex... then it just becomes an interesting thing to, like, notice how the actual machine that I write about works, and…

Erika Sánchez: That's so interesting. Yeah, I find it really cathartic to run. It helps alleviate my depression…

Danez Smith: That too. Yes. 

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. And if I'm in a mood, I just.. I go on a run or I take a nap. So... also, I chant because I'm Buddhist, and so that has helped me have clarity and center myself. 

Franny Choi: Do you write Buddhist poems? Would you consider yourself as writing Buddhist poems?

Erika Sánchez: Well, there are Buddhist concepts in my poems, but I don't know if the poems would necessarily be Buddhist. I don't know if anyone's picked up on that in this collection. There is one about running, actually, that mentions the concept of two but not two. And that's the idea that everything's interconnected. That we are separate beings but we're still a part of one thing. And so I think about that a lot. Especially when I'm running. Just how everything is related, how we're all connected as human beings, and how we're connected to nature, and how we should respect it. And so I think there are many strains of my Buddhism throughout my writing, but I don't know if anyone's noticed. 

Franny Choi: I mean, I don't, I'm just always interested in how spirituality manifests in folks’ writing. 

Erika Sánchez: Yeah, yeah... I wrote an essay about becoming Buddhist and how…. It's… A very circuitous journey led me to Buddhism, and so writing about that really solidified my faith in it.

Franny Choi: Can you talk a little…. You said there was a circuitous journey to that, like, what was there, like, a particular incident or something inside that incited that mood?

Erika Sánchez: Yeah, well, I was always interested as a teenager in spirituality. I grew up Catholic, but I decided I was not Catholic at the age of twelve, to my mother’s chagrin. 

Danez Smith: Wooo! Twelve?

Erika Sánchez: Yeah.

Danez Smith: You was bad… 

Erika Sánchez: I know. I was, like, I don't like the way they talk about women. And so that was that. 

Franny Choi: Yeah. That’s real.

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. But I was still interested in spirituality because I had, like, a really rich inner life and so I tried to learn meditation, but I always felt like I was doing it wrong because... it's really hard to clear your mind. So I try to teach myself that, that didn't work. I was always attracted to the philosophy and I would read about it, but I never, like, immersed myself in it. Once I went to a Tibetan Buddhist temple, it was after grad school and I was having a hard time because... you know adulthood and all that. And I went and… it just wasn't right for me. People weren’t very open and friendly, which is not Buddhist at all. They were not open to me. 

Franny Choi: That doesn’t sound very Buddhist.

Erika Sánchez: I know! No, it was really strange. And I didn't really connect because no one really introduced me to the practice. But then many years later I met my good friend Laurielle who is an amazing person. And as soon as I met her, I'm, like, I want to be like her. She’s so wonderful and funny and open and sure of herself. And she told me that she practiced this type of Buddhism. It's called Nichiren Buddhism and she belonged to this organization. And so she started to invite me to meetings and stuff, and at first I resisted. And when I met.. you know, the community, I was, like, why is there so happy? (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING) I was really suspicious!

Danez Smith: You got to be suspicious if those motherfuckers are too jolly!

Franny Choi: All the, like, life-is-good shit, it’s just, like… 

Erika Sánchez: Yeah, but then at the same time, now that I look back on it, like, man, I was an asshole, because I was suspicious of happy people, like, what the fuck? Anyway. So it took me a while to get into it. I kept, like... 

Danez Smith: You were just keeping yourself safe. 

Franny Choi: I'm with you. 

Danez Smith: I would too. This might be a couple of years ago, but, at least this year, 2017, if I meet anyone who is a little bit too happy, like, where the fuck are you from.

Franny Choi: That's a good point.

Erika Sánchez: That’s a good point. But what's so great about this organization is that... it's all about world peace and social justice and things, like, that. So it's not just…

Danez Smith: It's not happy go lucky. 

Erika Sánchez: No, no. 

Danez Smith: It’s hopeful.

Erika Sánchez: The concept that I always focus on is turning poison into medicine. Because we're given a lot of motherfucking poison. Especially now. So what are we gonna do with it, you know. Like, just today I was feeling, like, complete garbage. Well, because of, you know, Trump and everyday a new horrific thing that he passes and my boyfriend started sending me pictures of little Blasian babies and that cured my horrible, horrible mood. 

Franny Choi: Yeah. I totally feel that. I found a really good puppy GIF recently and I have sent it to a lot of people who I figured would need it. 

Danez Smith: Are you finding any good new medicines in this new time? Since we're kind of, like, inundated with legal poison in the water, everywhere. 

Erika Sánchez: Poetry, always. Reading makes me feel better. I've been eating a lot of ice cream.. which is probably terrible.

Danez Smith: No!

Erika Sánchez: My diet is very rich in ice cream right now. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: Also massages. I mean, I’m going to get a facial on Friday. Chill out. Why not! I mean, the world is falling apart. Might as well enjoy some of the pleasures of being human. 

Franny Choi: Yeah! I feel, like, some of those things are not just, like, the after effects of, like, those self care things, but also, like, like, the ritual of it too. So much about, like, getting a haircut is the, like, ritual of getting, like, the shampoo and stuff, you know? Like…

Erika Sánchez: Oooh… that feels nice.

Franny Choi: ...all of that. I think those things are so important to cling to. I don't know, I was thinking about that when you were talking about moving from…. You know, I also grew up Catholic and have moved toward Buddhism and some other spiritual traditions and... I think for me, like... Having some sort of ritual in my life was so important, that, like, even if I left this one thing, if I disagreed with it, like, I needed something share something else there.

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. It's grounding. Every morning I wake up and I chant. And when I chant I just feel better about the world and I feel more hopeful, even if shit is going terribly wrong. I feel, like, we can still make changes, despite that. This one book that really helped me get through was “Hope In The Dark” by Rebecca Solnit.

Franny Choi: Yeah! Yeah, yeah. I heard her speak, I've read the books yet. 

Erika Sánchez: She’s amazing. She’s one of my heroes. 

Danez Smith: “Hope In The Dark”

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. And so she writes about... how it's lazy to just despair. Because you don't have to do anything. You just say everything sucks, I'm not going to do anything. 

Danez Smith: Oh but that's my favorite. 

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: That’s, like, my email responder. Danez will get back to you... never.

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: But I think the point is… equally, the point is equally lazy to just be optimistic and say, oh yeah, I'll wait. 

Erika Sánchez: No, no, that's not…

Franny Choi: So there's, like, this middle place of, like, uncertainty. 

Erika Sánchez: And hope as a choice. Yeah, that's hard to grapple with. Because, I mean, I have my good days and I have my bad days. Sometimes I'm, like, everything fucking blows.

Danez Smith: But they're lazy in different directions too, though. 

Franny Choi: Yeah, yeah. 

Danez Smith: Because, like, despair allows you to sort of be lazy with your self-care, but I think that overall optimism allows you to be lazy with how you treat people around you.

Erika Sánchez: Oh yes, yes, yes.

Franny Choi: But both of them are great excuses to stay home and not do anything. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Erika Sánchez: Right. Right. Yeah. And sometimes that's okay! But... yeah. I don't know, I feel, like, we all need to contribute what we have in order to make this world better for everyone. And that's really exhausting at times. But what choice do we have. 

Franny Choi: Right.

Danez Smith: No other choice. And I think we’re pressing up against something we were gonna have to find… I don’t know. We're in a new day new day, y’all. (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: We’re in a new day. I don't know, I feel... —don't get me started, I’m pessimistic—the revolution is, like, around the corner. 

Erika Sánchez: I want the revolution. 

Danez Smith: I do too! And it’s scary and, like, it's not fun to talk about in public because, like… Yo, we're gonna reach a tipping point and, like, something is not going to be allowed to be the same and it's not gonna be just because we tweet about it. 

Erika Sánchez: Right. 

Danez Smith: You know? It’s gonna be a lot more scary, but also... I'm hopeful in that scariness. 

Erika Sánchez: Sure. 

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Erika Sánchez: I think about how useless I am with practical things, I'm, like, I could write poems, like, or write stuff. But when it comes down to the revolution, I don’t want to shoot a gun, I don't know how to, like, grill things. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: That's one thing I got. I can’t grow plants, I'm not a medic or anything like that, but I'm crazy. (LAUGHING) I will kill a motherfucker.

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: We can have a bootcamp for all of us. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: I can set up a tent. I can do that.

Erika Sánchez: That’s good.

Danez Smith: I can't snipe nobody, but I'm mean with these hands and a skillet, so.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: I'm strong. Powerful thighs.

Danez Smith: You can swim!

Franny Choi: I can swim? But also, like, it's sort of, like, a fun exercise to think about the, like, when the apocalypse hits, like, what practical skills will we need. But I think just as practical and useful.... Really I, like, really, really believe this. Is, like, like, having the skills to imagine alternatives, too. You know?

Erika Sánchez: Oh yes!

Franny Choi: You know, that shit is, like, maybe , like, immediately a lot more useful than being able to, like, start a fire. I don't know. Although it is fun to start fires. Make shit burn. But I think I love this idea of turning poison into medicine. And I think that that quality I find to be so central to your poems is, like, this balancing of both that despair and the hope in this sort of, like, transformative process that happens there.

Erika Sánchez: Thank you!

Franny Choi: So I wondered if you could talk about, sort of, how do we turn poison into medicine in our poems? 

Erika Sánchez: That is an excellent question. I just think about, like, what have I been given in this life because we're born and we're going to suffer. That’s just a given, right. We suffer in many different ways. What are we gonna do with the suffering. How are we going to react to the suffering. That's what really matters. Because we can't escape it. Like, we're going to grow old and we're going to die, and people are going to die, and we're going to be sad, and we're gonna be heartbroken. But how do we make meaning from those things. How can we create something that can be helpful for other people, maybe. You told me that about my poem. That means so much to me. I love that I could do that. Someone told me that their student carries that poem around with them at all times and that just made me so happy. It also broke my heart because... the fact that the student had to carry it around. I mean... it's a really sad poem. But there's there's hope in it, and that's why I wanted to end the collection with this poem. Because even after horrific despair and violence and self-doubt and self loathing, you can keep living. And you could find hope and you could find joy. I’m not saying that life magically gets better and everything's fine. But there's joy, still to be had.

Danez Smith: Amen. Wooh! 


Danez Smith: Poem, motherfuckers. You can live! (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Could you read us the poem you were going to read us today?

Erika Sánchez: Oh yeah, sure! So this poem is titled “Forty-Three” and it's about the students in Mexico who were quote unquote “disappeared” in 2014. I mean, everyone knows that they were murdered and the government was behind it. And so... it still hasn't been resolved because... who cares about poor brown kids. So it's something that's been haunting me for the last few years. The fact that 43 young people could just disappear and no one knows where they are. They can't even find the bodies, or what they think are the bodies, or other bodies. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Erika Sánchez: So it's just, like, grave after grave. It's horrific. Anyway. So that's what the poem is about. 


The moment before death the air—
inexplicably—tastes of wet horse.
The chest expands and something
unspools like wet vines. In this land
of child-brides and teenage assassins,
a bus full of students dissolves
into the mountain mist. A retinue
of beheaded journalists mouth
clues while the young president
delivers platitudes. But what
do they matter? The students
don’t know the kilos of heroin
stored below them. A boy of 18,
eyes gray as bathwater, charts
a man’s face under his black
mask. Why even bother? the boy
wonders. The night’s only
witnesses—the stars, an ocelot,
a single strand of hair caught
in a barbed wire. Even the zopilotes
won’t eat the glut of the unsayable.
The blood-birds hiss and grunt
while a man with pointed teeth
whistles a love song. Why waste
time with metaphors? The body
is kindling. The body is a plastic
bouquet shriveled at a crossing.
The trees bow and weep, but
everybody knows the rain revises
nothing, the charred bones belong
to no one. Beyond the verdant
mountain, a caravan of mothers
and fathers beg a cankered country
for the locus of cruelty. Farther,
a troop of camouflaged men burn
fields of red poppies—those lovely
flowers of happiness and squalor.

Franny Choi: Woof! That poem is gorgeous.

Erika Sánchez: Thank you so much. 

Franny Choi: I was so struck by that line, “Why waste / time”...Is it... 

Danez Smith: “Why waste / time with metaphors”

Erika Sánchez: Yeah. 

Franny Choi: Can you talk a little bit about what you mean by that in that line.

Erika Sánchez: That sometimes it's exhausting to create metaphors for things that are horrific. Sometimes you ... something is so awful and violent that you can't even compare it to anything. And so that's kind of what I was getting at. The limits of language at times. 

Danez Smith: The line that sticks with me is, “the rain revises / nothing,” you know. It pulls me back to what we were saying earlier about... the making medicine out of poison, right. This is a hard poem but it's so, like, gorgeous to look at, right. And, like, I think that’s only something that, like, poetry or literature can do. I've seen pieces about Black death that are beautiful art, you know. But still do the hard work of making me remember the thing, and, like, still do a thing, like, honoring the, like, pain and violence that was, like, witnessed there, right.

Franny Choi: Yeah, there's a difference between sort of just, like, turning this horrific violence into, like, a pretty thing or, like, commodifying it, or whatever. There's a difference between doing that and making a beautiful thing that speaks to the horror while, like, still giving you something to… You know, like, the…

Danez Smith: ...that offers something, because the other thing, the pretty thing, is actually just violence begetting more violence.

Franny Choi: Right.

Erika Sánchez: Yes.

Franny Choi: Yeah. Or…

Erika Sánchez: It erases what happened in a way. 

Franny Choi: Yeah. Or even, you know, just the, like, relentless forcing somebody to relive it, is... without giving you anything in return… I don't know. Sometimes I feel, like, there's some art that is just interested in taking from whoever is interacting with it.

Erika Sánchez: It can’t be all darkness, I don't think.

Franny Choi: And I don't think this poem is, I think this poem has a deep relationship with that darkness but isn't only that, you know?

Erika Sánchez: Thank you. You guys are such great readers.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) My mama used to make me… 

Franny Choi: I was two reading levels ahead. I was reading the fifth grade books in third grade... No, I don’t know if that's actually true. I just think that it'd be a cool thing to say.

Danez Smith: OK. 



Danez Smith: Oh, we should play our household game!

Franny Choi: It’s This vs. That. And it's just that easy. We're gonna give you a this and we’re gonna give you a that.

Erika Sánchez: I love it! 

Danez Smith: So, we're going to give you two different things and you have to decide which one would win in a fight. Pretty much. 

Erika Sánchez: In a fight? OK.

Danez Smith: That's right. In a fight.

Erika Sánchez: Cool.

Danez Smith: So on this week's This vs. That you have in this corner poetry and in that corner prose. Who wins in a fight?

Franny Choi: (GASP)

Erika Sánchez: Oh shit. Why are you asking me that?

Danez Smith: Ha? Cause it has to be relevant to the interview. This is what we've talked about!

Erika Sánchez: I just love them both….



Erika Sánchez: … in very... different ways. 

Danez Smith: Nope. (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: But..

Franny Choi: No you don’t! (LAUGHING) OK. OK. Poetry would win because poetry is so concentrated.

Danez Smith: See, but prose has a long reach, though. 

Erika Sánchez: That's true. I just feel like poetry could poison you. Real fast. 

Danez Smith: That’s true. But prose pays. You know? They will pay you. These poetry advances is low. (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: Write a novel, everyone!

Danez Smith: Yeah. That’s where the money at. Poetry wins! We probably.. this podcast would probably be canceled if it went any other way.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING) That’s true.

Franny Choi: If we just decided that what we were talking about was irrelevant.

Danez Smith: All of a sudden it’s the Fiction Foundation. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Erika Sánchez: (LAUGHING)



Danez Smith: Erika, thank you so much for coming to the studio and for, like, sharing with us, you are so smart. Where can people find you if they wanna find out more?

Erika Sánchez: I'm on Twitter @erikalsanchez, Instagram @erikalsanchez and… on Facebook.

Danez Smith: Erika L. Sánchez?

Erika Sánchez: That’s right. 

Danez Smith: The brand, y’all. (LAUGHING) Thank you, Erika L. Sánchez.

Erika Sánchez: Thank you!

Franny Choi: And find Erika’s brand new collection of poems, “Lessons On Expulsion” from Graywolf Press and.. when does your Y.A. novel come out?

Danez Smith: In October..

Erika Sánchez: October 14th.

Franny Choi: October! That’s incredible. 

Erika Sánchez: Thank you everyone!

Franny Choi: Thank you, Erika, you’re the best! 



Danez Smith: I'm so glad we got a chance to sit down with Erika. She's so smart..

Franny Choi: smart…

Danez Smith: ...and pretty, and kind and beautiful and radical.

Franny Choi: She was also wearing a really great outfit, which you can't see if you're listening to this, but just trust that it was it was great. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: It was bomb. And I'm really glad that poetry won out on that This vs. That. 

Franny Choi: Yeah. Cause the Prose Foundation… it would be an extremely boring and strange place.

Danez Smith: Can you imagine the Prose Foundation? It’s just so long-winded, nobody knows how to be friends or be a human, I’m like…

Franny Choi: Where everything means exactly what you think it means. Boring!

Danez Smith: And it’s just, like, the bookshelves are too heavy.

Franny Choi: I like that we say this but I also read prose all the time. 

Danez Smith: I read prose all the time too but, like, I will say that, like, whenever I encounter a prose writer, I’m just, like, this is a weird motherfucker. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I bet he writes some fiction. (LAUGHING) Or, like, you talk a lot about yourself. How many autobiographies you got! (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Oh my goodness…

Danez Smith: Before there's a revolt by the prose writers we should get out of here. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: We love you prose writers, you're the best! 

Danez Smith: Sure.

Franny Choi: Please subscribe.



Franny Choi: But actually please do subscribe to our podcast. Please subscribe to VS on Soundcloud, you can follow us on Soundcloud, you can also subscribe on iTunes and follow us on our Twittererers @VSthepodcast.

Danez Smith: Uh-huh. Tell your friends about it. I would, like, to thank personally LaCroix, the drink, you know. I feel, like, we've had a very contentious relationship, LaCroix, you know this. But I recently... since recording here in the Postloudness studio have discovered the skinny cans of dual-flavored LaCroix. LaCroix, French word that I can't say…

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: And I have a newfound passion for you, sparkling water. That’s all.

Franny Choi: I want to thank Polar Seltzer for holding it down over the years, standing in their truth, alright. It's very bubbly.

Danez Smith: It is very bubbly.

Franny Choi: Highly carbonated shit. 

Danez Smith: We’d also like to thank Ydalmi Noriega and Elizabeth Burke-Dain from the Poetry Foundation, we’d like to thank Postloudness for also hosting this hip-hop podcast, we'd like to thank our producer, Daniel Kisslinger!!!

Franny Choi: ..linger!!!!

Danez Smith: And we’d like to thank you for listening. You keep on coming back. We don't know why, it's like a Tyrese song.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: You know the Tyrese and Chingy jam that I’m talking about, my real n*gg*s out there.

Franny Choi: I can't believe you just brought Chingy into this room.

Danez Smith: (SINGING) Everytime I try to leave something keeps pulling me back - me back - telling me I need you. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Okay, so we’re good.

Franny Choi: We’re like that.

Danez Smith: We’re like that.

Franny Choi: Thanks.

Danez Smith: Aaaaaand…. see you next time. Come back.

Franny Choi: We love you!

Danez Smith: Bye!!



Erka L. Sánchez stops by the show around the release of not one, but two new books–her poetry collection Lessons on Expulsion and her Young Adult novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. She talks finding her rituals, teenage Erika, and more.

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  11. Thursday, June 15, 2017

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  12. Wednesday, June 14, 2017

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