Monday, August 24, 2015


By Xánath Caraza

A Transcendental Train Yard (Wingspress, 2015) by Norma Elia Cantú and Marta Sánchez will be available tomorrow, Tuesday, August 25. 

Norma E. Cantú graciously accepted an interview for La Bloga readers.  Muchas gracias Norma!




Xánath Caraza (XC): Who is Norma Cantú? 
Norma Cantú (NC): I write poetry, creative non-fiction and fiction. Since most of my work blurs the lines between genres, I guess I cannot be defined within the confines of any definition. As you know I call Canícula a creative autobioethnography. Most of my academic work is also a blend of poetry and scholarly prose. I can say that my work defines me as an author—un poquito de todo. I also have to acknowledge the work of Gloria Anzaldúa because it was after reading her that I felt free to write without the restraints of genres.

XC: As a child, who first introduced you to reading? 
NC: Who guided you through your first readings?  My maternal grandmother was the first one who taught me to read and write. I must’ve been five or so when she taught me to read in Spanish. I have memories of sounding out words from El Diario, the newspaper from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. I didn’t even know what I was reading! I began writing stories and poems when I was in third grade and my teacher allowed me lots of free time in class. I would usually finish assignments and just sit or read while the rest of the class was working. I remember that I then became writing stories like those I was reading.

XC: How did you first become a poet?  Where were your first poems written?
NC: I guess I became a poet by reading poetry—and memorizing poems. Again it was my grandmother who instructed me in declamación—I memorized poems and recited them in public at Mother Cabrini Church for a mother’s day program…I was around 4. I wrote my first poems when I was at Saunders Elementary School in Laredo, Texas—they were simple rhymes. I first published in my high school newspaper, but not poetry—articles. I won a contest in high school and my poem was published but I don’t remember where and I don’t have a copy of it—the first line was “When seasons change” and I remember memorizing it…but then I forgot all about it. When I was in graduate school, I published poetry in a Chicano magazine from Seattle, but again, I don’t have a copy and I don’t remember what poem it was. I felt strange seeing my name in print the first time—as if it were someone else. But I also felt elated and thrilled. I also felt that there was a responsibility—perhaps because I have always loved to read and I also worked for a newspaper as a copy editor when I was in high school, I knew that writers had a responsibility to the readers.

XC: Do you have any favorite poems by other authors?  Or stanzas?  Could you share some verses along with your reflection of what drew you toward that poem/these stanzas?
NC: Wow! There are so many! I memorized Invictus when I was in junior high—seventh or eight grad. I still remember most of it. I also memorized long poems in Spanish—El seminarista de los ojos negros I loved reciting. I also memorized Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven.” Of course, many sonnets by Shakespeare—No. 29 is one of my favorites. “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment…” and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz’s Hombres Necios and Amado Nervo’s “En Paz” and Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art. Anzaldúa, So many many more poems—when you live a long time and you read poems all the time, pos it becomes a long list of favorites—I adore Mary Oliver, Claudia Rankine, Edwin Torres, y toda la chicanada—Tafolla, Cisneros, Castillo, Corral, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Rosemary Catacalos, Carmen Ximenes Smith, y un monton de mejicanas: Minerva Margarita Villarreal,

XC: What is a day of creative writing like for you?
NC: Most days, I write in my journal and if I do not have other compromisos I spend a hours writing—not just creative work but academic too. I am most engaged and “alive” when I am writing.


XC: When do you know when a text/poem is ready to be read? 
NC: Usually it is a gut feeling—when it feels finished…although some never do and I still publish and read them publicly, but I don’t feel they are quite finished. It is an intuitive feeling…
How I have developed as a writer/critic/or poet depends on what you mean by developed. I can say that my poetry has become less formal and I have honed the craft. I have only once taken a class—at Gemini Ink in San Antonio when I was on their board of directors. As a writer, I think the process is neverending and I am still developing. The same as a critic—I write book reviews or academic articles and I finally feel I have found my style—the hybrid style I mentioned earlier where I blend genres. It feels freer. I am not just a literary critic, I also write quite a bit of folklore and cultural studies—on quinceaneras, on matachines, women’s tradiitons like huipiles. Asi que the writing has changed according to the piece. I am aware of the audience when I am revising, never at the outset when I am just putting it out there.

XC: Could you describe your activities as professor/poet/author?
NC: This could take up reams of paper! I am a very multifaceted person and my activities are numerous. In any one day, I will do all the things a professor does (teach, meet with faculty and students, grade papers, read articles or books in preparation for classes, and mentor and counsel students) as well as do things writers do (revise some piece, write a poem, arrange a gig, answer someone’s questions about writing [like today] and read [ every month I try to read a non-ficiton boo, I just finished Sleuthing the Alamo by Jim Crisp, a novel, I am in the middle of a Willa Cather novel I had not read, and a book in Spanish, I am reading a Ferrete novel).  I also love to walk and when I go for walks I have all kinds of ideas and of course, if don’t write them I forget them! Same when I have fantastic dreams and if I don’t write them when I wake up they fade and eventually they are just gone!


XC: Could you comment on your life as a social activist? 
NC: Pos, again, it could take a book. I call myself an activist scholar and I have always done some kind of activism—in high school it was in my school and then in college—I was also working full time—I registered voters and worked for Sissy Farenthold’s campaign for governor in Texas; I then became involved in the Chicano movement and it was different form traditional political activism. I am very proud of having started Literacy Volunteers of Laredo in my hometown—it is still ongoing—to teach literacy to adults. I have some incredible stories of that time. We also had a group called Las Mujeres and I founded an Amnesty International chapter during the 1980s when we were getting hundreds of immigrants from Central America and the violations of human rights were horrendous, even worse than now. Many of the groups I belonged to in the 80s and 90s were very political and leftist. A very rewarding time in my life. I am currently not as involved at the grass roots level but I do militate for social change in various organizations like Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social and within organizations like the American Folklore Society and the MLA – I belong to the Radical Caucus of the latter and the Cultural Diversity Committee in the former—I was also elected to the Board of the AFS. My activist scholarship means that all my work whether creative or scholarly or community based aims to create a better world for all of us. As a scholarly activist, I use my work to work with folks in the non-profit sector. For instance, I trained community scholars to do oral history projects in San Antonio’s Chicano communities.

XC: What project/s are you working on at the moment that you would like to share?
NC: I have a bunch of writing projects—a novel, a collection of poetry, two academic essays, a review article for a book on Danzón, two edited volumes—one on young adult literature and one on Tejanas.


XC: What advice do you have for other writers/poets?
NC: Follow your passion and do the work. The most important advice anyone ever gave me was to keep reading and writing every day. It’s not hard for me—I love both—but it is difficult sometime sot find the time. I also think that getting together with other writers is a good idea. I worked with others to start CantoMundo because I felt that having a community helps us. I am also a mentor for AWP – so I would say, take advantage of opportunities that come your way. Take classes, share your work with readers,

XC: What else would you like to share? 
NC: Two current projects that are dear to my heart—the book on the Camino de Santiago and the poetry collection have both taken years and years, but I am still working on for a long time…I believe things come at the right time, so I have to trust. Gracias, Xanath….hay tanto más que decir…





Fiery gold crown sunset over Mexico, death defies life. A packed train speeds by, transports precious cargo, arrives with the moonlight.


El ocaso es corona de oro ardiente que cae sobre México. La muerte, un desafío a la vida. Retacado el tren pasa, transporta carga preciosa, llega con la luz de la luna.



Moonlight Vigilant guardian, Luna guerrillera, we ask, we plead, soften the pain with your light, Coyolxauhqui help us remember our true selves ¡Gracias!


Luz de luna,  guardián vigilante, warrior Moon, te pedimos, te suplicamos, suaviza el dolor con tu luz, Coyolxauhqui ayúdanos a recordar nuestro verdadero yo ¡Gracias!
Women's Work is never done—at home in the fields, at the office. We are workers all. Doing work that matters. Protesting wars, writing poems, doing laundry, fighting injustice, baking bread, living. Blanca Estela Sánchez, Emma Tenayuca. Manuela Solís. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Dolores Huerta. Jovita Idar. Sara Estela Ramírez. Gloria Anzaldúa. Audre Lorde. Rosa Parks. La Adelita. Rosario Ybarra. Virginia Cantú.



El quehacer de la mujer nunca se acaba: en el hogar, en los campos, en la oficina. Somos obreras, todas. Elaborando tareas importantes. Protestando contra las guerras, escribiendo poemas, lavando la ropa, luchando contra la injusticia, horneando el pan, viviendo. Blanca Estela Sánchez, Emma Tenayuca. Manuela Solís. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Dolores Huerta. Jovita Idar. Sara Estela Ramírez. Gloria Anzaldúa. Audre Lorde. Rosa Parks. La Adelita. Rosario Ybarra. Virginia Cantú.




Alone with others a (wo)man forgets (s)he is not alone. ¡Juntos! ¡El Pueblo Unido! Sí.  No. ¡Jamás sera vencido! Juntos we eat, meet, talk, sing. Somos nada. Somos todo.



Sola/o y con otras la mujer/el hombre se olvida que no está sola/o. Together! The people united! Yes. No. Will never be defeated! Together comemos, nos reunímos, hablamos, cantamos. We are nothing. We are everything.

Caminos y más caminos,
unos van, otros vienen,
pero todos llegan a su destino.
Vericuetos del corazón,
meandering pathways,
veredas only traveled alone.

Paths and more paths,
some go, others come,
but all reach their destination.
The heart’s intricate paths,
veredas serpenteantes,
caminante solitaria.




Pechera, cachucha,

Botas, steel-tipped, worn with pride.

Angels of steel whisper

amid the silent noises of the yard.



Overalls, cap,
lleva con orgullo sus boots con punta de acero,
Ángeles de acero susurran
entre el ruido silencioso de las vías del tren.



R con r cigarro, R con R barril

que recio corren los carros, los carros del ferrocarril

waiting for trains, lives come to lives; trains follow tracks

leading to ends and beginnings

R con R cigarro R con R barril

que recio corren los carros los carros del ferrocarril

Coming and going -La vida es un tren y los pasajeros viajan siguiendo

su destino

Camarón que se duerme se la lleva la corriente.

The engine hums a lullaby, reassuring whistle in the night,

R con R cigarro R con R barril

que recio corren los carros, los carros del ferrocarril.



R and R, cigarette, R and R, barrel

How fast those train cars run, the railroad cars!

En espera de los trenes las vidas llegan a otras vida; el tren sigue las vías

Que llegan al fin o al principio

R and R, cigarette, R and R, barrel

How fast those train cars run, the railroad cars!

Vienen y van –life is a train and passengers travel following

their destiny

The current takes the sleeping shrimp!

La máquina tararea una canción de cuna, silbido en la noche

R and R cigarette R and R barrel

How fast those train cars run, the railroad cars!


Dancers, Tents. Dances. Music. Songs. Fiesta.

Musicians, standup comics, actors

Llegan con la primavera—

tambourines and drum rolls.

La Chata en el ferrocarril

Rielera de siempre.

Sueños y lágrimas. Life.



Carpas, Bailes, Música, Canciones. Fiesta

Bailarines, músicos, cómicos, actores.

They arrive with the spring time—

tamborines y tamborazos

La Chata by railroad,

Eternal train traveler.

Dreams and tears. Vida.

Norma Elia Cantú

Norma E. Cantú, currently serves as professor US Latin@ Studies at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. She has published widely in the areas of folklore, literary studies, women's studies and border studies. As editor of two book series: Literatures of the Americas for Palgrave and Rio Grande/Rio Bravo for Texas A&M Press, she fosters the publication of critical scholarship on Latinas and Latinos. Her numerous publications include the award winning novel, Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera that chronicles her coming of age in Laredo, Texas. The (co)edited volumes: Chicana Traditions: Continuity and Change, Dancing Across Borders: Danzas y Bailes Mexicanos, Paths to Discovery:autobiographies of Chicanas with Careers in Mathematics, Science and Engineering, Moctezuma’s Table: Rolando Briseño’s Chicano Tablescapes, and   Ofrenda: Liliana Wilson’s Art of Dissidence and Dreams.  She is cofounder of CantoMundo, a space for Latin@ poets and a member of the Macondo Writers Workshop; her poetry has appeared in Vandal, Prairie Schooner, and Feminist Studies Journal among many other venues. She is currently working on a poetry collection tentatively titled Border Meditations/Meditaciones Fronterizas: Poems of Life, Labor, and Love, a novel, Champú or Hair Matters, and several scholarly projects.


On September 5 in Houston, TX:  María Miranda Maloney and Ching-In Chen
Failure to Identify Poetry Patio Party at 7:30 p.m., 5036 Jefferson Street

On September 5 in Kansas City, KS: Xánath Caraza
The Writers Place, Riverfront Reading Series and Kansas City Public Libraries
South Branch Library, 3104 Strong Avenue at 2 p.m.
On September 16 in Topeka, KS: Reyna Grande
Washburn University, Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center
Topeka, Kansas, hosted by Tonantzin Society
Wednesday/Miercoles, Sept. 16th | 6:00pm

On September 24 in Chicago, IL: Jorge García de la Fe
Northeastern Illinois University at 6 p.m. Room 214
Aunque la nieve caiga de repente, Book Release


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