Monday, November 16, 2009


Michael Luis Medrano is the author of Born in the Cavity of Sunsets (Bilingual Press 2009), his first book of poetry. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and has performed his work at Stanford University, The Loft Literary Arts Center in Minneapolis, and the University of Colorado, Boulder. He served as poetry editor for the literary journal Flies, Cockroaches, & Poets, is featured on the spoken word CD, The Central Chakrah Project (Metamorfosis Productions), and has taught writing workshops in Fresno and Minneapolis. Once again based in Fresno, Medrano is teaching, and is the host of Pakatelas, a literary radio show on KFCF 88.1 FM. Medrano's latest manuscript, When You Left to Burn at Sea: Prose Poems & Flash Fiction, is currently looking for a home.

Medrano kindly agreed to answer a few questions for La Bloga:

DANIEL OLIVAS: How old were you when you felt comfortable calling yourself a poet?

MICHAEL LUIS MEDRANO: I was twenty-one years old, a student in the late Andres Montoya's Chicano Literature class at Fresno City College. He asked if there were any poets in the class. I raised my hand, cautiously, but I knew I was writing poems at that time.

OLIVAS: How long was Born in the Cavity of Sunsets in the making? Can you describe its road to publication?

MEDRANO: The poems in this collection were written between the years 2002-2006. The MFA program (University of Minnesota) was a great place to learn how to shape these poems to reflect a particular voice, to learn how to write a book. My thesis advisor, Ray Gonzalez, was very instrumental in showing me how to put together the book. Upon completion of the program, I started sending the manuscript to various presses: the big, NY presses and some of my favorite small presses like Curbstone, Tupelo, and of course, Bilingual Press. I avoided book contests because I could not afford to pay the entry fee. I figured to just hit the publishing market the old-fashioned way, send copies of the manuscript and hope for the best. Bilingual Press accepted the book at the end of 2007 after a year and a half of sending the beast out. A year later, and the manuscript entered the editorial process began. I credit Bilingual Press for suggesting to eliminate the Spanish glossary from the back of the original manuscript. This made for a more cohesive vision. And, the overall book design, masterfully conceived by their talented staff.

OLIVAS: Many of your poems concern those who have fallen, either from a difficult life or from disease such as cancer. I view these pieces as both a chronicling of personal histories as well as a form of honoring people who have been taken too soon. How do you view these poems?

MEDRANO: When I wrote those poems you are referring to I felt it was my way of walking with them; going on the journey, their journey, sharing something simple, like a conversation. The trip wasn't always pretty, but it's their journey nonetheless.

OLIVAS: Which poem in your collection are you most proud of? Why?

MEDRANO: I'd say "Villanelle: for father & son" because it is a poem that literally helped to shift the role of Medrano patriarch, from my grandfather, Jesus Medrano, to my father, Luis Medrano. My grandfather, before his passing, literally told my father to "take his place". It's poem that chronicles, indefinitely, the passing of a generation.

OLIVAS: How do you see the role of the poet in society? What is your role?

MEDRANO: This question reminds me of how poets/writers (myself included) get when they meet their literary heroes. We get giddy in front of them and often feel short-changed when an expected outcome isn't met. For example, in graduate school I was introduced to a very prominent poet (I will save this person the embarrassment and not mention his name) who shook my hand and stated bluntly upon our introductions, "I guess they'll let anybody in MFA programs these days." Obviously this is an extreme and very rare example, but the point is to not fully expect that the writer you may meet in person isn't exactly the writer he or she is in person. Think of our past poets, our favorites, as teachers and not as gods.

OLIVAS: How would you describe the state of Chican@ literature? How is it different from where we were twenty years ago?

MEDRANO: Well, I would say the major difference between the previous generation of Chican@ poets/writers, and I'm speaking of primarily the generation that came out of the initial Floricanto movement of the late 60's and early 70's (Juan Felipe Herrera, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Ricardo Sanchez, etc.) was that they did not have Chican@ literary mentors. We did/do. Now, you can open up a book of poems by Tim Hernandez and compare his work with Sandra Cisneros and the youngsters today can have their "Aha!" moment when they see the connection between Loose Women and Skin Tax or you can open up my book and note how I borrowed the music and even the structure of a Martin Espada poem and made it my own. We can do this in much of the same way a Jewish-American writer can open up Ginsburg and see his parallels with Whitman or Lorca, or any other of his well-noted influences--in other words, we can now say we are in the conversation, we are in the game.

OLIVAS: Do you have a writing routine? Do you show drafts of your poems to other writers or loved ones to get input before finalizing them?

MEDRANO: I generally write during the mid-morning hours and after teaching class. I usually work on multiple writing projects, such as now; a prose poem collection I'm fine-tuning, and a longer piece of writing that is aspiring to be a novel. I've stopped showing my writing to my family a long time ago. And this proved to be quite a hairy experience when the book came out. Here were poems, based largely on family truths and taboos, and I had no idea how they were going to handle the experience of seeing their name, in print, in such a critical light. So, when I presented my family their copies of BITCOS, I had to be straight forward with them. Ultimately, I was given their blessing, rather, the correct phrase was "it's your prerogative." Today, I give works in progress to fellow poets and long-time friends, Tim Hernandez, Marisol Baca, and my radio co-host, David Campos.

OLIVAS: If you were to recommend three books to a beginning poet, which ones would you choose and why?

MEDRANO: Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (Stephen Mitchell translation). In its most basic form, the book is a blueprint on "how" to be a poet. But Letters is richly poetic, and by the end of the short book (127 pages!) you have decided whether poetry will be your full-time occupation or not.

Kaddish by Allen Ginsburg: This was one of the first books I read when I first experimented with the prose poem. The title poem, specifically, made me weep. Kaddish was my bible during the harsh, Minnesota winters. And I could see its influence in my funeral poems.

Sadness of Days: New & Selected Poems by Luis Omar Salinas. I remember when Andres Montoya brought a small stack of pages photocopied from this collection, and passed them out to the class. He was the one poet I clung to during that semester. The rest of the poets were great also, but it was Salinas's love for justice and his love of love, in other words, generosity, that made his verse a little more sacred than the rest.

OLIVAS: Mil gracias for spending time with La Bloga.

◙ The El Paso Times published my review of three new books: Crazy Chicana in Catholic City (Ghost Road Press, $13.95 paperback) by Juliana Aragón Fatula; Lyn Miller-Lachmann's new novel, Gringolandia (Curbstone Press, $16.95 hardcover); and Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction (Dalkey Archive Press, $34.95 hardcover; $15.95 paperback), edited by Alvaro Uribe, with Spanish editing by Olivia Sears.

◙ Gregg Barrios’ poem, “Chale Guerra,” is featured in Home Fronts: A Wartime America Reader published this year by The New Press. Barrios is in the company of a long line of anti-war activists and artists whose work is included in this history. His poem can be accessed in a reading for Writers Against the War last year: AOL France has a video link to Barrios’ live reading of the poem. "Chale Guerra" has also been published in the San Antonio Current and in the anthology Vietnam & Atzlán.

◙ Thank you everyone for attending the book launch of my new collection, Anywhere But L.A. (Bilingual Press), last Friday as part of the New Short Fiction Series. What a remarkable evening it was with actors performing selections from my new book. Sally Shore’s fiction program has been running for thirteen years and will continue well into the future. If you have a short story collection coming out in 2011 and have west coast connections, let me know the details and I will connect you with Sally for a potential sponsoring of a book launch. Many thanks to the actors who performed (pictured to my left below): Sally Shore, Sofie Calderon, Matt Ferrucci, Marina Palmier, and Robert Standley. You are amazingly talented actors and it was an honor to work with you. (Photo credit: Benjamin Formaker-Olivas.)

◙ And if you missed the book launch, I will be doing a book reading and signing of Anywhere But L.A. this Sunday, November 22, 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at ChimMaya, 5283 E. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. Though I will feel a bit naked without the wonderful actors reading my work, it promises to a fun time in a beautiful setting. For my upcoming book appearances, visit here.

◙ The fifth issue of PALABRA has just been released. This volume of the literary journal (which is subtitled: “A Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art”) features work by the late Andrés Montoya, Rane Arroyo, Sandra M. Castillo, Harrison Fletcher, Fred Arroyo, Gloria Enedina Alvarez, Stephen D. Gutiérrez and Alicita Rodríguez, among others. To subscribe, visit here.

◙ That’s all for now. In the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

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