Friday, May 23, 2014

Sheryl Luna Does Not Shy Away from Tough Questions

Guest Post by Sheryl Luna, winner of the inaugural Andrés Montoya Prize for her 2005 Pity the Drowned Horses. Her latest poetry collection is Seven (2013 3: A Taos Press).

Students from around the country wrote me after two of my poems came out in the April edition of Poetry Magazine.Chinyere, Shannon and Gene wrote me with specific questions about my motivations for writing. A few other high school students around the country wrote me as well. The initial poem “Shock and Awe” deals with sexual trauma, and the second poem “Lowering Your Standards for Food Stamps” deals with the speaker working at 7-11 and observing violence in the parking lot. The poem deals with the shame of being on public assistance in this country. Most of their questions seemed to circle around the poem about food stamps. One young single mother wrote because she had recently had her food stamps slashed. She wrote an emotional email thanking me for exploring such a difficult topic.

The students from the Illinois Math and Science Academy also asked challenging and intriguing questions. They have given me permission to use their questions and my answers for La Bloga.

Here are a couple of email exchanges we had.

Hello Ms. Luna,
Our names are Chinyere, Shannon, and Gene. We attend the Illinois Math and
Science Academy. We are emailing you to inform you that we have picked you
as a candidate for our Poet Laureate Project. In this project we research
American poets who we believe will be worthy of the title Poet Laureate.
As a part of this project, we would like to ask some questions. We were
wondering where you got your inspiration for your poems? We also wanted to
know whether or not you feel that your poems represent American ideas and
values. We feel that your poems and background are very strong
representatives of recent America, making you a candidate for this
project. We hope you contact us back.

Thank you for your time, and our most sincere compliments to your work!
-Chinyere, Shannon and Gene

Here is my response to their initial email questions:

Hi Chinyere, Shannon and Gene,

Thank you so much for reading my poems!

I suppose I get my inspiration from living. I also learn about life from others, and it is through learning that I hope to grow as a person. It is that life journey, and our humanity towards one another, and even or our inhumanity towards one another that leads me to write I believe. It is my hope that we learn to treat ourselves well, and treat one another well.

The poems in POETRY magazine deal with public assistance and trauma and recovery, and yes, I see this as being representative of a large chunk of America and American ideas of fairness, equity and freedom.

I’ve heard 1 in 3 women are assaulted in this country. PTSD is prevalent as well after Afghanistan and Iraq. Many in society maneuver through a difficult bureaucracy, such as single working mothers, disabled people and the unemployed.  So yes, in terms of recovery, resiliency, and overcoming adversity, I think they represent American ideas.  My first collection and parts of my second collection deal with cultural diversity, which I think is central to American ideas and values. We are learning to value the various cultures which make America America.

I hope these answers suffice. Feel free to ask any questions that may arise.

Best Wishes,


Another group of questions they asked a few days later address community work and what one would do as Poet Laureate.I thought the students asked thought provoking questions, and their interest in what the poems were doing got me interested writing an essay on Post Traumatic Stress. Also, I found many of the questions by other students to be centered around the sexual trauma described in the poem “Shock and Awe.”

Ms. Luna,

Thank you for your timely response! We do have some follow up questions
for you, and we hope you can give us as many answers as possible (its a
bit extensive).

Besides your website and publications what do you do to help share poetry
with your community? And how would you do this for the country if you were
nominated as poet laureate?

Also, can you tell us a little about your past; how you came to writing
poetry and more about what writing poetry means to you?

And as a final question (it's a broad one); what would motivate you to
serve as our national poet laureate?

Thank you for your time and effort once again. I'll be awaiting your

Here are my responses to those questions.

One thing I do to help share poetry with community is that I volunteer at a local mental health center where I help teach a creative writing class. I think tying the creative arts, including poetry, to mental health centers is a great thing because it allows people to express themselves and their observations of the world and validates those experiences.

I came to poetry through a creative writing class I took as an undergraduate at Texas Tech University. I wanted to be a novelist, but the professor told me I was more of a poet.

What would motivate me to serve as national poet laureate? Wow. Well, I think I would like to share the joy of poetry with people of all ages. Encouraging others to read and experience the joy of writing would be a goal. Poetry writing is a means of sharing, surviving and thriving, so I would like to help implement community oriented venues where people can discover the healing power of art. I think this goes for young people as well as incarcerated people, the elderly, the disabled, middle aged individuals and families. I think oftentimes we are overly materialistic, and poetry can help us see the intrinsic value of creativity and art. So promoting poetry is promoting health and healing.

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