Interview of Monique Gabrielle Salazar by Xánath Caraza
|Monique Gabrielle Salazar|
Xánath Caraza (XC): Who is Monique Gabrielle Salazar?
Monique Gabrielle Salazar (MGS): I am first and foremost, a survivor.
Second, I am an aesthetic hedonist who flourishes by creating. I find comfort in the macabre and ancient sayings, pleasure in the description of fabrics and worth of antiques. I am at home in a turn of the century New Orleans brothel smoking opium. I have a fascination but not belief in the paranormal. I believe that every human has a right to live how they please as long as they do no harm. I have a degree in politics. The Latin names of flowers make me tipsy.
All of these come through in my poetry.
XC: As a child, who first introduced you to reading?
MGS: My parents were assuredly the most vocal proponents of my reading, at least at first. We read all the time, me correcting my parents if they skipped a page or stumbled over a word. My best friend's father used to read to us from a book written in Greek about a king, a rooster and some gold in a barrel. I cried when we moved and my parents couldn't read it to me.
I was always a voracious reader, especially after we moved to Kansas City and I became very isolated. I had a weird accent and my skin didn't fit in with the rest of the kids. It was easier to read books than to explain that I had indeed, come into this world in the United States. Most of my vocabulary came from the books I read, so I spoke like a tiny eccentric British aristocrat, a habit I have yet to break. My parents started to refuse to take me to bookstores, since I read the book and was done by the time we got home. We would go to the library and I would take home stacks of fifteen books only to be back the next week for more. I caused a monumental scene at the school's library is second grade when I was denied access to Mark Twain's “Huckleberry Finn”. The written word was the flesh for my wendigo.
XC: How did you first become a poet?
MGS: I wrote poetry for class assignments in high school in Kansas City, and found that it came rather fluidly. So, much like anything that comes easily to me, I dismissed it for a couple of years. Jose Faus, a fantastic poet and a mentor of mine kept encouraging me to write poetry and join the Latino Writers Collective. I did, but I never felt like I was enough of a poet, or enough of a Latino to be authentic. My writing from that time seems stilted, with forced words and unnecessary anxious pauses. I was trying to shove myself into a stereotypical mold of my own imagination.
Wrote though, I did, in secret. In Rome at the Colosseum. At the border of Syria in Israel. Sitting by the aqueducts in Segovia. When I sipped submarinos in Argentina. After I terrified myself in a cenote in Mexico. At the airport in Paris.
I got liver cirrhosis when I was 27, after a few years of incredibly hard drinking. I was told that I was most likely not going to make it. I did, however, defying all medical odds at every turn. I began to write poetry as a way to cope. I was going through a lot of intense outpatient rehab therapy at the time so everything from my past was coming out of the molding in the walls.
I kept writing, and gaining sober days. Another local Kansas City poet, David Arnold Hughes, invited me to come and share at his open mic at the Uptown Arts Bar. I kept going, eventually getting a job there and finally, my first book.
I published very recently in July of 2016. My first book is entitled, If You See My Ghosts Like I Do. When I was laying there on the hospital bed, dying, my only regret was never seeing my name on my own book. I wept when I first touched it. My publisher, Jeanette Powers, rubbed my back. At the book reading, I held it up over my head with both hands and proclaimed what I had overcome to see this. “Now,” I said. “I can die in peace.” I am crying now, as I write this. I was never supposed to publish a book. I was so discouraged from pursuing my artistic talents and told that I would never flourish. According to the statistics I should be dead or living on the streets. According to mainstream society I am akin to an abomination. People like me don't get out. They don't succeed. I tried too hard for so many years to kill myself spiritually and physically because I felt like I didn't deserve anything. Not even a life.
Every poem I write is a form of revolution. I will have it no other way. Pride is a funny word to me, but yes, I feel it. I am proud of what I have done.
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?
MGS: I have an affinity for Baudelaire, being brooding and morose. A favorite line of his is “How little remains of the man I once was, save the memory of him! But remembering is only a new form of suffering.”
Having to become a sober person has forced me to create two different lives, one that ostensibly, has ended in a brutal death. If a new life is not created, the whole being will die, but you still hold out for those old spangings of nostalgia. They hurt so good.
Constant evolution is a recurring theme in my life. Taking what I have been and raising it to the next level. I describe them in my book as heads that I keep, all lined up like Bluebeards wives.
XC: What is a day of creative writing like for you?
MGS: I would like to say that every time that I write I put on my favorite 1940's red silk kimono and sip tea, but the reality of it is that I write when I can. I work 90-100 hour weeks as a shop owner, performer and bartender so I refuse to wait on muses. When the work comes, be it on bar napkin or typewriter, lipstick on the mirror, I record it all and revisit it.
I was able to take a sabbatical to write my first book and that was a little more idyllic. I would take the dog for a walk, eat a hearty lunch, have a nap and continue dreaming onto paper through the night. My usual pace is frenetic. I am hoping to take a longer sabbatical for the writing of my next book, which will be published early next year.
XC: When do you know when a poem is ready to be read?
MGS: Honestly, as soon as I have struck the last key, it is done. Poetry to me is living, and I prefer to perform it the same day that I write it, if possible. I once made the deal with Jose Faus that I would write poetry but I would never edit it or rewrite it. While I'm not such a stubborn bull any longer, I do write with most of it composing itself as I let it out.
XC: Could you describe your activities as poet?
MGS: Currently I host a popular open mic at a local Kansas City Bar, the Uptown Arts Bar. We have a wide range of poets from all skill levels come to share their red, aching innards with us. I have read at vigils, protests and other manifestations all over the city. I am hoping to travel to other cities soon to share my work. As I mentioned, I recently published and have another book trapped in the cogs until next year.
XC: Could you comment on your life as a cultural activist?
MGS: I've been a human rights activist since early teenagerhood. I'm currently a Novice Sister with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an organization that started in 1979 in San Francisco. We dress as sacred clown nuns and educate about safe sex, HIV/AIDS testing, the abolishment of shame and promotion of frivolity. We raise money for various charities and lend community support during tragedy, such as the recent shooting at Pulse Nightclub.
As a two-spirit person, I am also actively involved in the trans community here in Kansas City. I have appeared on several panels and worked to help organize a Latinx vigil for Orlando. It is my hope that one day society will recognize the beauty and power of trans people, as well as our historical value. Being Latinx as well, the two often intersect in my subjects while speaking. It's a journey that is reflected often in my poetry.
I run a monthly vintage film show entitled, “Cinema Cabaliste”. I do monthly themes and find the oldest film clips that I possibly can. We are hoping to screen “Daughter of the Dawn” from 1919 soon, which was the first movie to have an entirely Native cast. The film has just been restored and we are excited to have it.
I was recently a subject in the HBO documentary “Abortion: Stories Women Tell”. It was released in theatres last week and will screen on HBO next year. I was honored to be a part of the film and was able to attend the Tribeca Film Festival for the world premiere in April. It has been sparking conversation all over the nation about abortion rights, and for that I am very grateful.
XC: What project/s are you working on at the moment that you would like to share?
MGS: I am currently opening my own store, The Skullery Maid, which is really more of an extension of my imagination than your average retail shop. It's an exhausting endeavor, but make dreams come true always is.
I have just confirmed my second poetry book to be published next year. My previous book focused on spirituality and this one I want to explore bodies and our relationships with them.
XC: What advice do you have for other poets?
MGS: Love yourself. I know that may sound trite and rather silly but there were years when I could not even look into a mirror. I had to force myself. Since then I have learned to cut out all toxicity and to focus on the contribution that I was meant to bring into this world, for whatever little time that I have. In order to fulfill that, I must be absolutely confident in what I am doing. To be confident in myself, I must love myself completely. I don't mean we should fall into a pool and drown, I mean we should learn to swim in the water.
Write everything you can.
XC: What else would you like to share?
MGS: In this world of ours, that is so dependent on greed and insecurity, the greatest revolution that we may achieve is to love ourselves, and love each other, unconditionally. To feel empathy, to lose yourself in a sonata, to discover unknown lands and secret boxes inside of yourself. Art is unconditional love. Poetry will never judge you.
Monique Gabrielle Salazar is a poet, performer, emcee, drag artist and business owner residing in Kansas City, Missouri. Having written poetry for almost half her life, she has released her first book entitled If You See My Ghosts Like I Do and is slated to publish another book early next year. Salazar is a fervent human rights and cultural activist with tendrils nourishing local poetic Open Mics, a monthly vintage cinema event called “Cinema Cabaliste” that seeks to highlight the oldest films available and is a Novice Sister in the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Owner of a shoppe of curiosities, The Skullery Maid, Salazar is always looking for the obscure and fantastical. A world traveler, she culls her images from graveyards, churchyards, protest zones and the mitered corner of self-reflection.