Sheryl Luna earned a PhD in contemporary literature from the University of North Texas and an MFA from University of Texas, El Paso. Her first collection, Pity the Drowned Horses, received the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and was published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 2005. Luna’s poems have appeared in Georgia Review, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Notre Dame Review, Puerto del Sol, and other magazines. She has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, the Ragdale Foundation, CantoMundo, and the Anderson Center. In 2008, Luna received the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation Award from Sandra Cisneros.
Luna’s second collection, Seven, was published by 3: A Taos Press in 2013, and was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award. It is an exhilarating poetic expression, one that both disturbs and centers the reader, sometimes with the same piece. Sheryl Luna kindly agreed to sit down with La Bloga to discuss this latest effort.
DANIEL OLIVAS: Seven is your second collection of poetry after Pity the Drowned Horses which won the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. What differences, if any, were there between the writing of your first book as compared with the second?
SHERYL LUNA: Writing Seven was more difficult because I was dealing with more intense personal issues including recovery from trauma and PTSD. The book was a long process of facing my own demons and hoping to share that recovery is possible. I was more aware of language and linguistic play and the poems are more playful and surprising. Pity the Drowned Horses dealt with place and home where Seven deals more with psychological space and topics such as homelessness and cultural trauma. Both books take a feminist stance and both took years to write.
DO: You divide your collection into seven sections (hence the collection’s title). Why did you decide to do this and how does this structure affect the rhythm and meaning of the collection as a whole?
SL: The seven sections are based on the seven sins, as well as the seven charities: lust, chastity, gluttony, temperance, greed, charity, diligence, sloth, patience, wrath, kindness, envy, humility, and pride. I tried to blur the sins with the virtues as sometimes a sin can actually be a virtue and vice versa. Each section explores what is deemed good and what is deemed bad and how that can sometimes be blurred. Also, themes such as abuse and violation are examined through language that I hope is compelling.
DO: “La Chingada” is one of my favorite poems in Seven which begins: “She collected branches for her burning, limping / on a once broken ankle. Cortez advised we cook / in the stillness before sunrise….” One of the elements I enjoy about it is your conflation of historical figures of the conquest (Cortez and La Malinche) with contemporary imagery and vernacular. Could you talk a little about this particular device and what it allows you to do within a poem?
SL: I think the historical is always related to the present. Human nature has not changed much over the centuries. We are still torn by our complex instincts and emotional responses. By exploring La Malinche I could examine both personal trauma, as well as cultural trauma. Utilizing a historical figure allows me to criticize the historical and the consequences that has for the present. The present is connected to the future as well. Looking through the lens at the past is tied to the present in that we can hopefully change the future for the better, whether that is personal or cultural.