THINGS WE’RE DYING TO KNOW…
Let’s start with the book’s title and your cover image. How did you choose each? And, if I asked you to describe or sum up your book, what three words immediately come to mind?
I usually have a terrible time choosing titles—for anything, poems, stories, books—but in this case, I knew from the very start. For the first time, the concept for a whole book just jumped into my mind. I’ve always written poems about whatever was most affecting me at that moment. With my first book, furia, I was dealing with grief for my mother’s loss, the confusions of being in my mid-thirties, and attempting to reconcile all the conflicting emotional landscapes. So two months after furia was published, I was wondering what I was going to write about next. And the big light bulb went off and said, this is what you need to do next. Write all the poems you can think of about diabetes and your family and healing—for every vantage point you can think of…as a woman, a daughter, sister, as an indigenous Mexican-American, as a Texan, as a writer and thinker, as a lover, as a patient and consumer, as an active part of my own healing. And Blood Sugar Canto was perfect, with Canto being overwhelmingly important because I believe it is through song that healing happens.
The cover art is a segment of a painting, “When Wind Blows Through Them,” by my brother, Moisés. S. L. Lara. He was inspired by the bead artwork of the Huichol to visualize a spiderweb enduring the wind and reflecting the sun’s light in its coloration. It’s not meant to be a mandala. I’ve been fortunate to have my brother’s artwork on the cover of my first three books as well as on my digital chapbook. In my mind, his art is not only beautiful and unique, it also really speaks to the energy I hope each book conveys.
The three words that come to me: Struggle, Hope, Survival.
What were you trying to achieve with your book/book? Tell us about the world you were trying to create, and who lives in it.
What I most wanted to do with this book was to initiate dialogue, between family members, between patients and doctors, between people and their various communities. Also, I wanted to invite the reader to look into some difficult areas internally, in their own psyches and belief systems. Not only how do we share what the physical, emotional, psychological experience of diabetes is like with our loved ones, but how do we talk to ourselves about fear and healing and self-love?
That isn’t to say that this book is only meant for people with diabetes or those who love them. I’ve had some interesting responses from readers who are managing other chronic illnesses or who are grieving the loss of a loved one. The health of our bodies, the strength of our spirits, mortality, and the importance of love in our lives—all of those are themes everyone can identify with.
Can you describe your writing practice or process for this collection? Do you have a favorite revision strategy?
Writing this collection was very different from any other experience I’d had writing poetry. In some ways, this was more like writing a long story with many, many parts. I wrote the first draft of the collection in a little more than a year. Revising took much longer—another three years of cutting and expanding and refining. I don’t know that I really have a revision strategy. Usually, I’ll just sit with a poem and listen to it, over and over again. Ask myself, are you saying everything you want to say here? Is what it looks like on the page the closest you can get it to how you hear it? Are you pushing as much as you can—are you telling the truest truth?
How did you order the poems in the collection? Do you have a specific method for arranging your poems or is it sort of haphazard, like you lay the pages out on the floor and see what order you pick them back up in?
This collection got laid on the floor at least three times. Though I wouldn’t say it was a haphazard arrangement. I arranged and re-arranged them on the floor, trying to decide which section each poem belonged to. Several times, I changed my mind about how many sections the book needed. Close to the end of those three years of revision, I handed my mss to my brother who rearranged the poems in a way that I felt really had a story arc, rhythm and variation, and most of all, really made the whole mss new to me in a way that felt exciting and natural. He said he’d tried to use the spiderweb on the cover to inform the order, weaving the poems into a shape that emphasized their individual strengths and beauty.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
I read for what I like to call the heat—for intensity of emotion and language. I don’t care for poetry as an intellectual exercise or as a disembodied eye looking at the world or as a linguistic puzzle with or without a solution. I want poetry that makes me feel, that reminds me I’m alive, that breaks my heart, that fills me with melancholy, that makes me rail at the world. I want language that takes my breath away.
What I love to find in the poems I’m writing is that point at which I lose conscious control of what I am saying or what I think I’m feeling, where I am so taken that I say something that surprises me. I felt that way about the poem, “en trozos/in pieces.” I hadn’t expected a poem about fear to turn into a poem about self-acceptance. That was a huge part of the experience of this collection for me, how often a deeper look at one emotion revealed something entirely different.
Can you share an excerpt from your book? And tell us why you chose this poem for us to read – did it galvanize the writing of the rest of the collection? Is it your book’s heart? Is it the first or last poem you wrote for the book?
love song for my organs
this is a song i didn’t know
needed singing needed singing
a song for each morning
a song for each night
offered with awareness
offered with gratitude
decades have passed i did not
know your colors your shapes
the work you do have done
or what you needed from me
now i know this song needs singing
i will sing it everywhere i go
i name you now breathe softly
upon you hold you tenderly within
you are not forgotten never
you are cherished and i am grateful
i bring you rainwater and riverwater
i bring you flowers tiny blue flowers
i bring you these my two hands filled
with sun light with starlight
i sing you strong sing you whole
This is the first poem I wrote for the healing/”Canto” section of the book. It struck me at a certain point that most people take their health, and the function of their organs for granted. But when you have to learn what they do and how they interact, there is a certain awe for how they work and what they tolerate. It seemed as if a love song filled with gratitude was necessary, and a huge first step in coming to love one’s own body.
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer? Gives you the most pleasure?
To be a poet means to be willing to be still. To really examine something—a scene, a memory, an emotion, conflicts, complications, history, real or fantastical life. And then to attempt to distill that into language. What scares me and delights me is the same thing—that feeling of having bared too much, told too much, of writing myself into a place where there is no way to hide. Initially, I feel too naked but then I think, perhaps someone somewhere needs to read this. Needs to know they weren’t the only one to feel this way or live through this.
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
Everything helps. Sometimes I just think it’s about the need to pour language into myself—wherever that language might come from: articles, blogs, poetry, novels, Facebook, books on history or culture—to interact with all of those things.
What are you working on now?
A second collection of short stories, tentatively titled, “Songs from the Burning Woman.” All about grief and sexuality, art and the body, history as we ‘know’ it and history as a living malleable thing. I don’t quite have the language for it yet—re-making, re-visioning, re-creating are not quite the words I want. I’m a many-generation'd Mexican American who identifies primarily with my Native American roots. While Indigenous people have survived the last five hundred years, the wounds of historical and current violence, disease and poverty, decimation and assimilation, are ongoing. I think these stories have to do with art and healing and love as a counter to all of those wounds.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
I’ve been reading a lot of manuscripts in progress. Two that I’d recommend that will be released soon are poet Joe Jimenez’ first YA novel, titled Bloodline (Piñata Books), a new versioning of "Hamlet" where the main character is a 17 year old Chicano in current-day San Antonio….and With the River on Our Faces, the second collection of poetry from Emmy Perez due out this fall from University of Arizona Press.
Without stopping to think, write a list of five poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least write in permanent marker on your clothing, to take with you at all times.
I can tell you not just which poets/writers, but which exact quotes:
First, not a poet, but a philosopher, and this one is actually on my list to be one of my first tattoos: “Fire rests by changing.”—Heraclitus
entre mis brazos
que el peso de tu ternura
me despierte” –Francisco X. Alarcon
Roughly translated, “greet the dawn, world/ in my arms/ may the weight of your tenderness/ awaken me”
“I am afraid to won a Body--
I am afraid to own a Soul--
“My old furniture is rotting in the barn where I left it, and I myself, yes, my God, I have no roof over me, and it is raining into my eyes.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke
“Mientras yo estoy dormido/Sueño que vamos los dos muy juntos/A un cielo azul./Pero cuando despierto/El cielo es rojo, me faltas tú.”
—Jose Alfredo Jimenez
Roughly translated, “While I’m sleeping, I dream the two of us on our way to a blue sky. But when I awaken, the sky is red, and I don’t have you.”
Purchase Blood Sugar Canto.
ire’ne lara silva is the author of furia (poetry, Mouthfeel Press, 2010) which received an Honorable Mention for the 2011 International Latino Book Award and flesh to bone (short stories, Aunt Lute Books, 2013) which won the 2013 Premio Aztlan. Her most recent collection of poetry, blood sugar canto, was published by Saddle Road Press in January 2016. ire’ne is the recipient of the 2014 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, the Fiction Finalist for AROHO’s 2013 Gift of Freedom Award, and the 2008 recipient of the Gloria Anzaldua Milagro Award. Visit www. irenelarasilva.wordpress.com.
Saddle Road Press: http://saddleroadpress.com/blood-sugar-canto.html
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.