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Thursday, December 02, 2010


What did winning the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and, as a result, having your first book published mean to you? What effect did it have on your writing career?

Emma Trelles:
Winning this prize has been an honor, and it immediately impacted my writing career, which to me is more of a way of living than a profession. I've been introduced to a wide community of Latino writers that I had not met or, in some instances, even known about, poets such as Brenda Cárdenas, John Murillo, Paul Martinez Pompa, and Silvia Curbelo, who selected my manuscript Tropicalia for the prize and whose aversion to po-business I find sort of punk rock and inspiring. I feel as if I've joined this vast array of art makers, all of us unified by some facet of Latino/Hispanic culture—perhaps language or music, perhaps the politics of displacement or gender. We are our own distinct voices, but the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize draws us into an unexpected harmony. Although I lived in Miami for a big portion of my life, and I'm of Cuban descent, I've never felt all that Latino, so my arrival to this sphere of writers is filled with a sense of discovery.

A part of her answer is disheartening. Her admission that she didn't even "know about" some Latino poets makes me sad. Hell, it pisses me off. A poet is a reader first. How can she claim to be a poet and not know what her contemporaries are writing? And yet, she's soon going to asking Latino poets to buy her book, to get to know her work. And I will. Because I support Latino/a poets. Because Latina/o poetry thrills me as a reader and provides me with fuel to keep the creative fires burning.

But I see this again and again in our community. So many young Latino/a poets don't read books published by other Latina/os.

Here's some some advice: Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read.


emma said...

Come on. I have 200+ books of poetry on my shelves. I read all the time. And I write about poets constantly. All because I had not read the work of Brenda Cardenas or John Murillo until recently does not mean that I have not been reading Jimmy Santiago Baca, Richard Blanco, Lorna Dee Cervantes,Rigoberto Gonzalez, Silvia Curbelo, Adrian Castro and on and on and on. Reading and learning is an ongoing affair. I can't be excpected to always know every living poet, Latino, Asian, African-American, white or otherwise. But I'm working on it...


Eduardo C. Corral said...

hola, emma,

good to know this. too bad the answer i posted paints another picture.

but your answer was just the springboard for my little rant: i'm really talking to all the young latinos out there who think they can become poets without reading other poets.

looking forward to your book.

Carmen (La Maestra) said...

She didn't say she didn't read other poets. She said there were poets she had not yet read. She also expresses this with regret and an understanding of her need to expand her reading range.

"Your little rant" was pretty rude in consideration of her transparent and honest admission of that limitation. What, would you rather she shut up and lie? Pretend she's read whom she has not? Just how many land minds does a Latino journeying into what for her were unknown lands have to set off? If she's a prodigal daughter in the field of Latino poetry, roast the meat and welcome her. Don't be all punitive. How rude.

Rich Villar said...

As Emma said...come on.

Let's put aside for a moment that people in general simply have their own tastes and reading lists that have nothing to do with a lack of education or reading. In the case of Latinos, we are scattered across the country, marginalized by the publishing industry. So there's that. But then there are the artificial boundaries put up by people who separate us into academes and non-academes, page poets and stage poets, etc. And we self-segregate CONSTANTLY. We exclude people without even realizing. We write others off as crazy, or not in the loop.

Seriously? Reading a book isn't the only place to find Latino poets. I have an online journal for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and BOOK REVIEW, that some Latino poets don't even bother submitting to because they are turned off by online publication. I have BEGGED Latino writers for book reviews. New poems. New fiction. Interviews. I've gotten answers. And I've gotten some very deafening silence.

So yes, call people out for not reading, if you must, but while you're at it, tell a few more to come off the mountain once in a while too and look around for poets who are not in their faces all the time. Even the ones with no books. Then we can lament what happens or does not happen in the Latino poetry community. Seriously...have you SEEN the Norton Anthology of Latino Literature? The idea that Latino poets don't know each other is not at all confined to younger writers.

Eduardo C. Corral said...


my advice was: read, read, read, read. which includes online publications, journals, poems embedded in emails, photocopies, etc.

you are not a serious poet if you don't read. period. if you don't know your hopkins AND your harryette mullen, then i kinda wash my hands of you. i won't spend my time mentoring you, or directing you to people i know. i'm talking about post-mfa poets here. not young poets who are just discovering poetry and the master poets. you would be shocked at the number of mfa-ed poets who haven't read hopkins.

we are marginalized by the publishing industry and we are scattered across the country. but are we going to let those facts stop us from reading each other's work? hell no. poets find a way to get their work out there: micropresses, online publications, POD, etc. i find these latino poets, and i read their work.

and it's true: we do crate "artificial boundaries," divide ourselves into camps. but so what? once again: are we going to let these facts stop us from reading each other's work? i may be a big gurl, but i leap over boudaries: i read poetry from all kinds of camps. and i'm always encouraging young poets to ignore labels, to just read.

Rich Villar said...

Post-MFA poets? Pre-MFA poets? Are those, like, Freudian phases of development? Or does that emcompass and define every poet writing today? I think it's the terms you use that are putting me off a bit. But if I bite into that, we'll be here all week.

Suffice it to say I think there are poetry circles everywhere, and they don't begin and end at the doors of the University...or even on the page, for that matter. Also, I think Emma's actually doing what you're exhorting Latino poets to do...that is, read and discover other Latino poets. The idea that there's a prerequisite reading list that a poetry prize winner has to have...well. I'll stop now.

Eduardo C. Corral said...


i admit most of my writing community is composed of mfa poets (post/pre) but that doesnt' mean i don't welcome poets without mfas, or poets who don't want an mfa. mfa is just another label. and i don't like labels.

but let me add: i'm not apologizing for my community. some of us can make it through an mfa program. some of us can't.

there are poetry circles everywhere. we run in different circles, rich. but so what? i will read the work and support the work of poets outside my circle.

no where do i say there's a prerequisite reading list. i said i only help/ mentor serious poets. and to me a serious poet is a poet has read widely. from hopkins to mulllen, from w.h. auden to gary soto, from spirituals to language poetry.

quite frankly, rich, it seems you are looking for an internet fight. and i'm not going to give you one. i respect the community work you are doing too much.

and i don't need the publicity.

all the best,

Rich Villar said...

I'M looking for an internet fight? Pot, meet kettle.