Ruth Joffre: I remember hearing about this anthology on Twitter, where there was a lot of excitement about the project and what it would mean for Latinx poets. When did the idea for this anthology arise, and how did you go about making it a reality?
Twentieth-Century American Poetics Twentieth-Century American Poetics
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RJ: Given this particular political moment and the damage done to the Latinx community by the previous administration, this is a significant time to publish a book like this. Can you speak a little to that question of “why now”?
RJ: In the introduction, you write, “Poems are a record of time,” an insight we see echoed in a number of the essays, which talk about poetry as one means of documenting a writer’s life, culture, and personal growth. Can you expand on this insight and discuss what it means to you?
E = mc2 is the most famous equation, but what does it mean? Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. Energy can become mass and vice versa. They are the same thing but in different forms. Poetry offers clarity on our current circumstances. A poem can explain something about the world and mesmerize us. Mai Der Vang and Anthony Cody are two Fresno poets who follow the lineage of US poets laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and Phil Levine. Their attention to language and history blurs and sustains our understanding of language. The poems are an interactive space for deep engagement by deconstructing sentences and historical information. Cody’s poems offer readers moments of a documented past excluded from American history. Addressing social and historical issues with misunderstood styles and forms to communicate the human condition is a new perspective on our ontology.
Poetry offers clarity on our current circumstances.
RJ: As a Latinx writer, I found the experience of reading this book to be one of expansion, illumination, and even validation, and I imagine many readers will have a similar reaction. I’m curious: How has the experience of editing this anthology impacted you as a writer, scholar, and thinker?
RQ: You’ve summed up the experience that I hope readers will have. Editing this anthology was a juggling act for deeply painful reasons. This book exists because of the help I received from UNM Press editor Elise McHugh, poet Natalie Scenters-Zapico, and many others who’ve put up with my shenanigans over the years.
It’s an honor to have the University of New Mexico Press take on this project. UNM Press introduced me to poets like Paula Gunn Allen, Gabriela Mistral, and more writers of Latin American and Indigenous heritage. Just as they’d done, I wanted to introduce poets of Latin American heritage to all types of readers.
It was important to me to include academic and artistic philosophies. I’d spent the last decade as a student and teacher and wanted to learn from poets living in the world with me. Juan Felipe Herrera, poet laureate of the United States (2015–2017), said it best in his foreword, “The Mindful Space of Joyous Creation.” He writes:
I salute these writers— the warrior-seekers, philosophers—survivors, archeologists of the elusive and ungraspable self, that thing related to the other thing called identity, titled “Latino Poetics” or “Latinx Aesthetics” or the “Other Tribe,” as Valerie Martínez says in her essay and ire’ne lara silva [asks] “American?” Or is there “such a thing?” Raina J. León ponders. I salute them.
RJ:What other books on or of Latinx poetics would you recommend?
RQ: This book is one of a kind. Many anthologies have collected poems and prose by Latinx poets and writers, but essays on the composition of language in this manner still need to be created. A peer-reviewed collection of essays on the nature and composition of writing poetry has been absent in American literature.
In my introduction to this anthology, I offer a survey of recent poetry anthologies. Over the past two decades, a widening interest in Latinx poetry has created a need for anthologies. Some of my favorite collections are:
Contemporary Costa Rican Poetry (2012), edited by Carlos Francisco Monge and Victor S. Drescher;
Latinx Comic Book Storytelling (2016), edited by Frederick Luis Aldama;
¡Manteca! An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets (2017), edited by Melissa Castillo-Garsow;
Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color (2018), edited by Christopher Soto.
RJ: What are you working on next?
RQ:I’m working on getting the word out about this anthology to libraries, teachers, lovers of poetry. I’ve been writing more poetry, and a collection is coming together.
Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, Nightmare, Pleiades, khōréō, The Florida Review Online, Wigleaf,Baffling Magazine, and the anthologies Best Microfiction 2021 & 2022, Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness, and Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses from the Gloomy Northwest. She co-organized the performance series Fight for Our Lives and served as the 2020-2022 Prose Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House. In 2023, she will be a visiting writer at University of Washington Bothell.