Sunday, April 13, 2014

Poet, Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano's _Amorcito Maricón_: The Interview

In 2006, La Bloga's Daniel Olivas posted "Spotlight on Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano" featuring Herrera y Lozano's first book, Santo de la Pata Alzada, (click here for the 2006 posting).  Today, we are celebrating Herrera y Lozano's second full-length book of poetry, Amorcito Maricón.  

Montes:  Primero, felicidades on this new poetry collection!  It’s been almost ten years since your last collection was published, entitled, Santo de la Pata Alzada: Poems from the Queer/Xicano/Positive Pen.  In what ways does Amorcito Maricón mark a new writing journey in your growth as a poet? 

Herrera y Lozano: ¡Gracias, Amelia! It’s hard to believe it took nearly a decade to get to see another book come to fruition.

To answer your question, I think Santo de la Pata Alzada was in many ways a coming of age collection. In it (and through it), I was trying and often struggling to make sense of, and mourn, the loss of identities and beliefs, while affirming and celebrating newer and hopefully healthier versions of myself. I had gone from being a fundamentalist Pentecostal, closeted, and someone who self-identified as Hispanic, to an out queer atheist who claimed Xicanismo as a path through which to move in the world. I was angry and I was terrified. Most of what I knew to be true (the existence of a one and only white god, patriotism, and the promise of a colorblind world) had fallen apart. I was left with creating and understanding anew what it meant to be in this same body, but now with a consciousness that defied what was supposed to be infallible. I was also working through an HIV diagnosis that was supposed to make my world crumble, but was instead a source of strength, clarity, and pride. There are ways in which Santo de la Pata Alzada moved fast, as fast as I was moving at the time. Turmoil, physical relocations, diagnosis, and coming into adulthood were all happening at such an accelerated pace that it makes sense, in retrospect, that the book would reflect that. I was writing a new self into being.

While Amorcito Maricón is a continuation of my journey, I do think it marks a particular moment, a pause. This book moves at a slower pace, these poems are less declared manifestos and more snapshots, like Polaroid pictures of little and larger moments. I began writing this book just as I was learning to slow down, to challenge myself to be present and take in what and who was in front of me rather than fantasize about what the future held. If this book marks a growth in my journey as a poet, it is that I learned to stop moving long enough to notice, capture, and articulate (to the best of my abilities) what and who was in front of me.

Montes:  Amorcito Maricón is divided into three sections:  
(I) “Sarape-Covered Couches,”
(II) “Caballero Saludos,” 
(III) “Below Selena or Zapata.”  I see these divisions this way: 
First—a joto coming-of-age journey;
Second—a touching, humorous, as well as searing section of desire and loss;
Third— a nod to Emma Perez’s “Sexing the Colonial Imaginary” by writing “Jotos into history” (she writes Chicanas into history). 
How do you see these divisions? 

Herrera y Lozano:  You captured the intent of these sections beautifully. The first section was my stepping into this book in the aftermath of Santo de la Pata Alzada. It was my way of answering the “What happens next?” question of my first book, which was definitely a coming of age collection. With “Sarape-Covered Couches,” I wanted to continue to pay homage to my queer brown forefathers, those abandoned by families and countries alike. For even when buried by their families, when their truths were hidden for the sake of family honor or shame, these men were abandoned still. I am a part of their lineage. I wanted to declare myself their descendant, a descendant of Reinaldo Arenas, Roy Lozano, and countless others.

“Caballero Saludos” is about defiance and hope as much as it is about loss. I wanted to confess, admit, and proclaim the deviances I have committed and invite the reader to savor these with me. I wanted to take pride in those acts we deem abhorrent, like desiring men, or worst yet, loving them. All while claiming that sacred Mexican masculinity I was raised to embody, the one that would never admit to caring for another man, much less desire or love him. I sought to claim this masculinity both through imagery and the presence of Spanish (this is where all the Spanish poems in the book live). I want the reader to imagine Pedro Infante coming home after a long day of work, whistling his way into the heart of a man who waits. I wanted to evoke Antonio Aguilar galloping across Mexico’s arid northern terrain as I attempted to describe the body of a lover. I wanted to take that which is most sacred to Mexicans – more sacred than Jesus –: el hombre mexicano, and make him vulnerable in his lovemaking, sus declaraciones de amor, and his fear of losing the ones he desires and loves.

“Below Selena or Zapata” is very much about writing us into history. I sought to follow the footsteps of the brilliant writer and poetic historian, Marvin K. White, who penned the stunning poem “Making Black History.” As with White, I wanted to insert our queer histories within broader cultural contexts, contexts that patriarchy and heterosexism have fought hard to keep us out of. I wanted to imagine Rodolfo Gonzales’ Joaquín as queer, just as Alma López fiercely claimed La Virgen de Guadalupe as one of ours. At the same time, I wanted this process of writing ourselves into history to be defiant of all things sacred by canonizing the late Gwen Araujo and Panamanian poet Ana Sisnett and rejecting the mythology of patriotism, hispanization, and a gay and lesbian mythos that insists on normalizing us in the name of equality, rendering us virtually asexual at best, and in its heteroinsistence, monolithically sexual at worst.

Montes:  There are such rich transnational and transcultural intersections in this collection, alluding to writers (Reinaldo Arenas, Sandra Cisneros, Pablo Neruda, and you just mentioned Ana Sisnett, Marvin K. White), singers, and composers (Manuel Esperón, Jose Alfredo Jiménez, Selena, even Madonna).  Was this your intention at the outset or did these connections organically come together?

Herrera y Lozano:  I think these transnational and transcultural intersections reflect my life’s journey. I love Gloria Anzaldúa’s notion of nepantla and imagine it is a place that is neither static nor enclosed. Rather, this third space that is at once in constant motion in itself while also being a place where other ways of knowing and being transect, coalesce, and are in conflict. This is how I make sense of the places I have lived, the people who have impacted my life, the writers who have held my hands and heart, and the music that has carried me through it all. These writers, singers, and composers are often witnesses, muses, and refuge for this errant writer and his nomadic pen. The writers, singers, and composers present in this book help tell the story that is Amorcito Maricón. 

Montes:  And in regard to “singers,” one cannot miss the music in your poetry, the rhythms you create.  For example, “Danzantes” catches the rhythm of the beat in lines such as, “the temple stairs I toss my beating heart down.”  Do you read your work out loud?  How do you work through the rhythms? 

Herrera y Lozano:  Often a poem comes to me through a line or beat in a song. A spark that triggers a memory that triggers a vision that triggers a line in a poem. This one line then becomes a title, the opening of a poem, or ultimately ceases to exist in the editing process. But as the poem is being crafted, I am constantly returning to that first line, beating the drum of a memory to conjure scents, tastes, images. I wish I could say the rhythms are an intentional part of my craft, but they are more subconscious and perhaps more effective because of this. It isn’t until I am done with the poem that I return to read it repeatedly until I find its beat. This is when I recognize it and through it, begin to edit again.

Montes:  Who are the writers and books that you come back to read repeatedly? 

Herrera y Lozano:  When I find myself stuck and need help falling in love with writing again, I return to the poetry of Sandra Cisneros (Loose Woman), Marvin K. White (Last Rights), Pablo Neruda (Cien Sonetos de Amor), T. Jackie Cuevas (Otherhood, USA), and the work of Rajasvini Bhansali. These writers I can (and do) read over and over and over again. They are a literary obsession.

Montes:  When you are writing, what does your routine look like? 

Herrera y Lozano:  I have spent years trying to develop a writing routine. I have none. I try to be proactive and sit at a table and tell myself I will write a poem. Y nada. The muses refuse to cooperate. Poems, in my experience, are caprichudos, selfish, and moody. They appear in the most inconvenient time. Typically, I will be driving or in the shower when a poem comes to me. I rush to jot down what I can without falling out of the shower or getting in a car accident, and hope the muse will return when I am finally at a place where I can write. Sometimes they return.

I am envious of writers who have succeeded at creating a routine. Imagine all I could get done if I had one?

Montes:  Do you first write in Spanish or in English or does it depend on the feel of the poem? 

Herrera y Lozano:  I think the language of the poem depends on the person and/or moment the poem is about, and how the poem begins to surface. Because poems are often to someone, they are in the language I would normally speak to that person, even if they never read the poem or know it is about them (usually the latter). In some ways, poems are imagined conversations and silent retelling of moments. It can take years to read a poem aloud and often those who informed or inspired it are no longer in my life. The poem becomes artifact.

For years I refused to consider the possibility of translating my poems. I believed that if a poem came to me in Spanish it should always remain that way. I am less militant about it now. There are a few poems I have translated into either Spanish or English (though none in Amorcito Maricón), though mostly as a writing exercise. I believe poems have agency, they decide what language they want to be in the world as and this is how they are birthed.

Montes:  Taking, then, the metaphor of birthing a poem, which poems seemed to manifest and present themselves easier than others? 

Herrera y Lozano:  I find it much, much easier to write about heartbreak. I blame and thank my grandmothers for exposing me to the horrible beauty of telenovelas, and my father for exposing me to boleros and gut-wrenching rancheras. By the time I was 8 years old, I knew what heartbreak was and how to describe it. It would be years before my first heartbreak, but when it happened, my pen was ready.

I love somber poetry. What Adelina Anthony calls the “Ay, qué sad” poems. Poems that don’t quite cross over into the realm of self-deprecation, but bask in the vulnerability that comes with renunciation and yearning. These poems come naturally.

Happy poems, not so much.

Montes: Which poems had longer gestation periods? 

Herrera y Lozano:  Erotic poems take time to complete. I spend so much time reliving or imagining moments in my head that with each pass through another image surfaces. Another suspiro, a laugh, a look comes rushing forward and I have to find a way to make room for it. I find that with heartbreak or even love poems, it is not as difficult to bring them to an end. There are only so many ways to say “ay, cómo me duele” or “I love you” in any given poem. But there are infinite ways to describe the act of making love.

Montes:  Nicely said, Lorenzo! These poems also insist on inhabiting Mexican and U.S. spaces, which also reflect your own life growing up in both countries.  How do these poems speak to your transnational identity and is there one poem in particular which you feel best illustrates this border fluidity? 

Herrera y Lozano:  I wouldn’t know how to write from the experiences of living in any one place alone. I was 10 when my family moved to Chihuahua from San José, CA, almost 17 when I returned to California, and 21 when I moved to Austin, TX. All three places have left their mark— and scars. “Making Chicano History,” I believe, is a poem that captures this transnationality: histories, folklore, pop culture, cultura, food, and music. I write from what I know and when all I know is informed by these experiences, they have no place else to go but on the page.

Montes: Yes, and some writers feel they must compartmentalize identity (Chicano in this poem, joto in this other poem).  Your poems seem to resist this and instead reach for a hybridity of identity. 

Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano
Herrera y Lozano:  My greatest struggle as a young person was having to decide between being queer and Xicano. Understanding that I embody multiple identities simultaneously and that they did not have to be separated, was one of the most life-changing lessons I have experienced. This has been my world for over 15 years. I would not know how to write from the sliver of one identity alone. I do not think that would be me anymore. All of who I am is present in me always. Why wouldn’t it be in my poetry?

Montes:  And what permeates throughout your writing are music beats and rhythms. Do you play an instrument?  If not, what has been your experience with music in your life?

Herrera y Lozano:  Sadly, I cannot even whistle. I auditioned to join a church choir when I was 17 and was gently rejected while everyone else was admitted. Apparently my lack of musical talent was so severe it could not even be drowned in a large choir. Yet, despite my musical shortcomings, music has played an important role in my life since I was a child. My father has an obsession with music and lyrics. I grew up with him blaring rancheras, boleros, cumbias, and banda at all hours. There was never room for our neighbors to doubt that Mexicans lived in our house. I still cannot recognize a Morrissey (sorry, Chicanas/os!) or AC/DC song on the radio, but have been able to recognize an Amalia Mendoza or Luis Demetrio song since I was a child. (There is also no Juan Gabriel song recorded by him or others that I do not know.)

Montes:  In addition to your writing, you are also an activist/advocate for fellow writers by your involvement with ALLGO , Macondo, and founding Kórima Press.  What is the importance of these organizations, this press, for Chicana and Chicano writers, specifically for queer writers?  

Herrera y Lozano:  Everything I know about the role of the arts in our communities I learned at ALLGO. It was my training ground, where I learned that a movement without the arts was static and stale. It was where I learned to rethink notions of legitimacy and to think critically the accessibility of the arts in our communities. Organizations like ALLGO and Macondo play crucial roles within a broader movement to surface and push forward the voices of those who established institutions might otherwise look over. Even when some of these artists are welcomed into the halls of these institutions, their work also becomes part of this greater mission of elevating and fomenting.

Kórima Press was born out of these same principles. I believe it is important that we both continue to bang on, and knock down, the doors of the literary establishment while also continuing to be subversive and rooted in the values that created artists out of us to begin with. Legitimacy that comes from our communities, not institutions.

Montes:  What does it mean for you to identify as a queer Chicano writer?

Herrera y Lozano:  To be a queer Chicano writer is to be a part of a lineage, to practice a craft that predates us all. It is to be a part of a large, ongoing conversation among writers of color who insist on making sense of the world and who we are, while also articulating a kinder world where we all exist and thrive in our wholeness. It is to embody the possibilities that our multiple and simultaneous identities, and intersecting experiences bring to literary traditions.

Montes:  Now this is a big question.  What is the state of Chicana and Chicano queer poetry?  Is it continuing to grow?  Who are the Chicana and Chicano Queer poets today?  What does the future look like for Chicana and Chicano queer writing?

Herrera y Lozano:  It is such an exciting time to be queer and Chicana/o. I remember coming out in 1999 and struggling to find writings by people who looked, loved, and desired like me. There were a few, which were hard to come by for those of us who did not have access to university and technological resources (it was surely difficult for those who had access, too). And while there were important publications at the time, today we count with a growing number of works by writers in our communities. Anthologies, single poetry collections, novels, plays, memoirs, the list continues to grow.

Of course, I must bring forth the writers of Kórima Press: Jesús Alonzo, Adelina Anthony, Maya Chinchilla, Joseph Delgado, Anel Flores, Dino Foxx, Joe Jiménez, Pablo Miguel Martínez, and Claudia Rodriguez. And of course, legendary writers like Rigoberto González, Emma Pérez, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Cherríe Moraga, Verónica Reyes, and Yosimar Reyes. While this list is nowhere near beginning to be comprehensive, it is a quick snapshot of who we have the opportunity to read today.

Montes:  Any other thoughts you’d like to send to our La Bloga readers?  

Herrera y Lozano:  Thank you for getting to this part of the interview, for sticking through my ramblings. And thank you for valuing queer Chicana and Chicano literature. There are many more where I came from, and they are coming, and they are fierce.

Montes:  Thank you, Lorenzo! Felicidades!

No comments: