Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sueño con Lorna Dee Cervantes

Olga García Echeverría
The day Sueño arrives in the mail I am rushing to the ER to visit my father. For the past four months, his 86-year-old body has been on a downward spiral due to advanced Parkinson’s and a tenacious pneumonia he cannot shake. Is there anyone who does not loath an emergency room, those cold places teeming with the injured, the ill, the high, the highly distressed, and the high-strung staff?

Whenever I go to a hospital, which is often these days, I feel like I’m entering a surreal world—a bad dream--where gravity and time collapse. The only light that enters is stale and synthetic. I need anchors when I visit my father in the hospital: my girlfriend, my siblings, dark humor, dark chocolate bars (lots of them), bright rainbow sour worms to chew on, and, of course, a journal, and a good sturdy book to hold on to as if it were a life-saver…because many times it is.

Not any book can survive ER, but Lorna Dee Cervantes’ poems lasso me in despite all the beeps, shuffling feet, wheeling gurneys and medical drama. Whenever a waiting period arises (there is always so much waiting in ER), I crack open Sueño and dream-read; this is my drug, my morphine and my LSD. Moonlight radiates on the page. A hummingbird’s heart beats. Dream braids get pulled by hearses. Lava gurgles.

There is Hunger in Cervantes' Sueño. And plenty of feedings too. Sweet Sugar on Brown Dresses. The Sandwiches of “resonance and light.” I chew on my stash of gooey sour worms as I read a poem about a man who obsessively eats a candy bar each night. “…He ate for the aid / of something larger than himself, / that filling to fill, that fullness / in the heart that never comes…” I feel this candy bar addict deeply. He’s a fat little mirror staring back at me.

I read another poem about a crazy travieso named Chuy, who one day full of “long vowels and longing,” picks up a pen to write poetry on white walls. It’s contagious—this Jungian desire to diagram some type of meaning onto the walls of a cave. The white hospital paredes are tempting, but I control the primal urge and keep reading. There is Promise in Lorna Dee’s Sueño. Strength. Lots of strength and I need this. “I have an affinity with the sea,” she writes, “my sailor’s blood, my stance: / my wild stallion, the waves / I do not enter lightly. I moan / and creak, the leather of a slave. / I can take the heat; hell, a sudden parting. / I do not know. I hold / fast, the spirit text; / the great / death inside us; strong, inside us.”

In Cervantes’ Sueño, there’s Death. Rebirth. Permanence. Herstory. Movimiento. Vida. Loss. Laughter. And above all Cervantes gives us Love, Love, and more Love. Aside from her mastery of craft (she's right next to Gioconda Belli, Langston Hughes and Pablo Neruda on my poetry bookshelf), Cervantes lures on a deeper level; her poems emanate what Lorca calls Duende. Esta poeta tiene Duende, you all! She's got soul, poetic mojo, something beyond form and style that lurks in her earthy words and unearths the ground below. In this Dream book, she takes us into an “underground forest,” where the heart is wide open, a river flowing from page to page. I have been drinking from this river again and again during the past weeks and each time I am replenished, inspired.

Of course, you don't have to be in ER or a hospital to read this great book. I've been carrying it around in my book bag for weeks now. It's been my companion not only in the monstrous medical labyrinth which is health care for the poor (thanks for saving me from Minotaur, Lorna!); it's also been my literary companion at home, in Lubberland--my bed, at the library, at coffee shops, in the car. I only bust it out when someone else is driving, of course. Although if I'm alone and the traffic is snail-paced, pues why not read or re-read a poem or a favorite image or line?
Entrevista: Last week, I was fortunate enough to interview Lorna Dee Cervantes via email. Gracias querida poeta for taking the time to compartir with me and with all of our Bloga readers. Here are Lorna's responses to comments and questions on writing, blogging, liteary inspirations, and her latest book Sueño.
Astrological Sign: Leo; Virgo rising; Moon in Scorpio; Mars in Sagittarius; Venus in Virgo; Mercury & Pluto in Cancer...
Favorite time of the year: Summer
Favorite time of the day: Dusk
Force of Nature:  A multicolored flame like all the others on The Great Gas Range that is Life on El Mundo, La Tierra.
Animal Spirit: The adaptable oyster.
Literary Obsession: Courting The Muse.
Literary pet peeve: People who don't buy books.
Literary essential: Books. I've read more "great" "must read" books in English than more than a million people and more than anyone on the site with 13 compiled lists of "best books" on as "PoetDee" -- 338 out of 623.
Advice to young (or not so young, but still aspiring) poets:
"Read! Read! Read! Write! Write! Write! And the rest will pretty much take care of itself." (Me, 1st day of class for 20 years.)  

OG: I love the dedication to your mother in your book Drive, who after watching you write five consecutive poems, said "You tell ‘em, Lorna! And after you tell ‘em, you tell ‘em who told you to tell ‘em!" That is really beautiful and funny. I laughed out loud when I read it. I could see you writing non-stop as a teenage and your mother cheering you on.

LDC: Yes, that was my mother: brilliant, beautiful, funny and heartbreakingly ironic. Her brilliance was only matched by her bitterness. The most "cheering on" she ever gave me ("No one is EVER going to pay you to read books!") was non-verbal. I believe I organized the first Chicano student walk-outs a year before the first, at Woodrow Wilson Jr. High School in San Jose in 1967. I stayed up all night hand-writing 400 flyers to stuff in the lockers, all cut out in the shape of a bomb with the words, WALK OUT, inside, "& Stand Up for Your Rights!" in the back along with the date and time. (When the Dean of Girls threatened me with Treason and demanded to know "what rights" I was talking about, I answered, "The Bill of Rights," the only thing I think I said.) My mother opened my door about 4am, all mad, and took one look at the stacks of leaflets and me on the floor with a crayon, and immediately shut her mouth, looked me in the eye and nodded once with a "hmph!" I took it to mean, "Carry on!"

OG: Do you remember when you first fell in love with the Poetic Word?

LDC: Whilst reading Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Wind" aloud from A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSE on my "grandfather," Edward Long's lap for the 4th time, earning my 4th quarter.

OG: Who or what fans your poetic flames?

LDC: The Muse, Lady Luck, Lady Day y La Liberación.

OG: Have you always been so prolific?

LDC: No.

OG: In regards to your latest book, Sueño. What was the gestation period?

LDC: Not sure when I was impregnated; we had a series of flings when we met once a day for a quick poem during the month of April for NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) for about 6 or seven years along with many other meetings in between because we just can't seem to stay away.

OG: Labor pains?

LDC: Yes.

OG: Greatest joy?

LDC: I think it's the best book yet. I love how all my literary strategies and intellectual concerns merge with the singing.

OG: Post birthing thoughts or feelings?

LDC: Buy it. Pat it on the head. I hope it grows up to save a life.

OG: Do you have a favorite poem, line or image in the collection?

LDC: "Integrity" I wrote for my love, Ed Spruiell, who has one brown eye, one blue: "...your multicolored eyes,/ the land and sea of you."

My favorite line is one I may have used before, from the poem, "Strength," "All I've ever had was strength."

My favorite image is in the first poem, "First Thought," for my father, the visionary artist, Luis Cervantes: "otter takes off her shoes, the small/ hands of her feet reaching, reaching; still...." The thought of that otter, like one I watched in the Santa Cruz harbor on her back eating shell fish -- at one point she dropped it and reached for it and brought it to her mouth with her toes -- pleases me to no end. There's something in that image that speaks to me of making the best from the worst and with what's given you. The image that directly follows that one is a reference to dying in yet another faraway war.

OG: I read that many of your poems in Sueño first appeared in your blog in draft form. There is this idea that writers always have to "safeguard" their work, especially on the Internet. Yet, it sounds like you did the exact opposite--put your work out there before it was completely finalized or published in a book. That rings very unique and brave to me. Can you share a little about this process?

LDC: Well, I definitely don't recommend it to many others. I'm kind of in a unique position as a writer in that I'm included in close to 300 anthologies and textbooks, have 5 books in print, and many editors ask for my poems to publish directly. Also, I consider the drafts and complete poems I put on my blog, or Facebook, to be a gift for my many "blog-buddies" who inspire me along the way.

OG: What has blogging added to your work or experience as a poet?

I've been blogging and on "social media" before there was ever that concept, the word "blog" wasn't coined yet and all there was to Facebook was 3 chili peppers if anyone thought you were "hot" and a verifiable edu email address. It was a way to exchange info with and keep up with friends who were the few professors on Facebook as well as a way to identify and recruit talented students for the Creative Writing Program at CU-Boulder where I taught for 19 years. Before blogs there were list-serves for poetry, race and class issues, philosophy, American Indian sovereignty issues, women in higher ed, etc.; and before that it was a group of writers interested in certain topics or issues hitting "Reply All" or visiting and commenting on AOL message boards.

For about a decade I read close to 100 blogs a day. I found it not only relaxed me from the stress of my job when I was Director of Creative Writing, it kept me stimulated and inspired. Instead of "safe-guarding" my work, I have to keep it play -- which is more so with other people.

One thing that has always fascinated me about the internet since the 80s is the possibility of "erasing face" and becoming only what you type. I never, ever hid who I was but posting poems and comments anonymously was immensely interesting: most people online assumed I was an elderly "tweedy" "white" man. I could type in the shoes of privilege. The difference when I revealed my "race," class and gender was markedly hostile and intellectually dismissive: same poems, same words, no matter the subject or style. I started my blog in the early 90s in order to speak for The Dead; at heart, I'm a historian.

OG: Can you share a little about your revising process? Do you do a lot of rewriting? How do you know when to stop editing a poem?

LDC: Yes. Every poem is different and dictates its own form if you let it. I know a poem is "finished" because I cry. The poems in my new book, mostly compiled from daily poems with given titles written during the month of April, "the cruelest month," were mostly all written with very little revision and kind of in a dream-state.

OG: Virginia Woolf is famous for having stressed that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write. What do you think about this?

LDC: YES and yes! People always leave out the importance of "food" and "Good Food" like the kind she ate at Oxford daily to really understand the significance of the opening lines of her book. (Note how many times the menu appears in the book.) She was always an important writer to me, since I first read that book as a girl, for exactly that understanding. Hers was probably the first literary biography I ever read. Tragic.

OG: You are hosting an intimate dinner party, where 5 literary personalities (living or deceased) have been invited. Who are they and why have you chosen them?


1. My Teacher, "My Guru," Robert Hass, would help me amuse the dead ones and       eat the actual food I would cook

2. Julia de Burgos (I'd love to tell her, "You lie! Julia de Burgos, you lie!")

3. Pablo Neruda (We can discover if he really is my grandmother's long lost Chilean/Indio uncle.)

4. Lord Byron, my First Love (So I can show him pictures of me at 15.)

5. My earliest Teacher, Virginia de Arujo: poet, translator, and my first living sense of a Literary Lion, an Intellectual Giant and a Man of Letters, my aspiration. (I would like to see her be smarter than anyone else in the room, once more.)

OG: (This next question I forgot to ask, but Cervantes read my mind and answered it anyway). What would you serve at this dinner party and could I please come?

I would serve Wellfleet oysters on the half shell with a cocktail sauce I made myself with cilantro and not a molecule of horseradish (for Byron); a paella with saffron, mussels, clams, scallops, chicken thighs, Spanish chorizo, prawns, stuffed green olives, a good Chardonnay and bits of fish marinated in tangerine juice (for Bob); a "crayfish pie" for Neruda (who can call him Pablo? I'd have to invent this recipe because I've only seen it in one of his memoirs); brightly colored vegetarian risottos arranged in the shape of a double-rainbow for Julia; beef bourguignon a la Julia Child for Virginia who would bring a bottle of her favorite Chilean red for all. Good bread for the ghosts.

Some I would hope would drop in: Sor Juana de la Cruz (wouldn't you?); Lalo Delgado (Just to hear his "AJÚA" and the lines from "Stupid America" - "He doesn't want to knife you!"); Stanley Kunitz, my mentor-in-the-way-he-lives, who would bring flowers from his Provincetown garden. Living authors would include Marge Piercy, but only if the suicided poet, Anne Sexton were there so Marge could get on her case; and THE WRITER, Eduardo Galeano, who is very much alive would not be invited as I might fall in love with him. I would also hope that Langston Hughes and John Lawrence Dunbar would stay away because I'd be too awe-struck to cook for the former and too dumb-struck to speak to the latter. I'd invite all my friends and family, especially you.

OG: You can time travel to any place and any time (past, present, future). Where do you go and what do you write about?

LDC: The Conquest. The Conquest. Or, my son's high school years; anywhere he is; writing wouldn't matter. The Muse has a mind of her own.

OG: Anything else you'd like to add?

LDC: "The Muse has a mind of her own." It's all Sueño. ¡Ya tengo SUEÑO! Buy one. I take PayPal.

To order your copy:

For a couple of sample poems from Sueño posted in an earlier blog by Amelia Ortiz:

There's a youtube promotion of the book too. I found the short video both hilarious and eerie. Not to mention linguistically problematic. I'm adding it here as "funny video" because the voice is so robotic and monolingual. To crack up at the mispronunciation of our beloved Lorna Dee's name and the massacre of anything-remotely-not-English check out:



Amelia ML Montes said...

Orale Olga! Great post and interview with our most cherished Chicana poete, la Lorna. Lovely, lovely! Gracias, mujer!

Anonymous said...

Good article, Olga. Thank you so much!

Please someone let our Ms. Cervantez know her Pluto is not is Cancer. She'd have to be born in the 1930s for her Pluto to be in Cancer.

Jupiter in Cancer
Uranus in Cancer
Neptune in Libra
PLUTO in Leo

Where are the fact checkers? LOL


Unknown said...

Read it again.. good work Olga...