Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sonia Gutiérrez: Spider Webs in the Wind

Olga García Echeverría

The mountain trembles,
and tippy toed
            I release my spider's web
to the wind.

La montaña se estremece,
y de puntitas
            suelto mi telaraña
al viento.

--Sonia Guitiérrez
excerpt from "Spider in the Tangle"

Since she was a chiquilla, Sonia had a knack for weaving words and stories. A lizard who grew back a severed tail could, in Sonia's eyes, easily be compared to a resurrected Jesus. When asked one evening by her sister if she could rap, Sonia seized the challenge and busted out a bold impromptu sing-song-palabra-something. Words were hers to play with, words were hers to mold. And although her parents were without degrees and “without letters,” they were everyday wordsmiths, their language rich with wit, dichos, and inventiveness.

When she was 25, Sonia says that poetry came looking for her. Guitiérrez took the arrival of the Muse seriously and started weaving poema tras poema. Sometimes the silvery threads she spewed were in English. A veces le salian en español. Many times they came beautifully entangled, los hilos of both languages shimmering.

In 2013, Sonia's first book of poems, Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña, was published by Olmeca Press. The collection, Sonia writes, “evolved over endless spin cycles that spanned over twelve years,” and its release into the world was much like releasing a spider's web to the wind.
This past week, I had the opportunity to catch up with Sonia and ask her a few questions about her current musings and about the journey since the release of Spider Woman: La Mujer Araña.

Bienvendia, Sonia. We are happy to have you here again at La Bloga. Spider Woman: La Mujer Araña came out in 2013. If you had to choose eight words (in honor of the spider's 8 legs) to describe your journey post the publication of your book what would they be?
Freedom, lazos-de consciencia, love, cariño, responsibility, amor again.
What has been the most gratifying part of releasing your creative work to the wind, al mundo?
Sharing Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña in Spanish, a language I did not learn in a K-12 setting, has been the most gratifying experience. The publication opened many doors in México, from Tijuana’s the Centro Cultural Tijuana to the Instituto de Cultura de Baja California. At the end of my reading in Hermosillo, Sonora, for Horas de Junio, a woman in the audience rose to her feet and said, “Your poetry opened my consciousness and made my stomach churn. I want your book.” I was so moved by her words I wanted to cry.
And here in the US, what has the response to your work been?
In the US, I have shared my work in both English and Spanish. Last fall, Dr. Manuel Martín-Rodríguez extended an invitation to both Ángel Sandoval and me to UC Merced’s Chicano/a Literature Series. Professor Francisco J. Bustos also invited Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña to South Western College’s Guest Writers Series. Francisco X. Alarcón, poet, role model and mentor, invited me to the Congreso Universal de Poetas Hispanoamericanos (CUPHI III) held in Los Angeles, California. At the event, Dr. Luis Alberto Ambroggio, introduced Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña; acclaimed poets from Latin America attended the event—and the audience embraced my poetry.
This fall Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña will be a part of California State University San Marcos’s California Arts & Lectures Series, and I will also be joining a panel at City College’s International Book Fair. I look forward to seeing where Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña is going next.
What has been the most challenging part of the journey thus far?
Incorporating movement in my life has been the greatest challenge. Writing is a sedentary life style, and that is not good. I do my best to walk and work out at least fifteen minutes a day. Another challenge has been changing my favorite time to write. I used to stay up and write until two o’clock or three o’clock in the morning when everything was so quiet, and I could only hear my thoughts. Not anymore. My body deserves a healthy lifestyle and sleep.
So how do you balance it all--motherhood, teaching, writing, health and rest? How does Spider Woman navigate the different realms and keep producing poesía despite all the responsibilities and the everydayness of todo?

I told a friend, who asked me a similar question a few months ago, “Parenting drains me, teaching energizes me, and writing is my Zen.” In order for me to be happy—all my passions must be in perfect alignment. I cannot sacrifice my children for my writing; I cannot sacrifice my writing for my children; I cannot sacrifice my teaching for writing . . . To be happy, I must do what makes me happy—all of the above. Sometimes I clean, write, grade, teach, and cook all in one day, and then other days I simply cannot. And it’s okay! My partner is also a professor and supports what I do. It wasn’t always like that.

What advice would you give to other mujeres out there who are creating literatura (or trying to) in the midst of so many other responsibilities and roles?

People may criticize you for writing, including your own mother . . . , but never let go of you because writing is central to your existence.

What is your writing process like in regards to creating poems in two languages? Do your poems tend to originate in one language more than the other?
I love writing poetry in both languages! If I do not translate a poem, my work feels incomplete. In Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña, some poems were born in English; others were born in Spanish. As I was finalizing the collection, my writing process changed though. If, for instance, a poem had been born in Spanish and the English translation was not poetic sounding, I would go back to the original poem (I still do) and recrafted the original version until the translation felt solid. Now I even find myself writing a poem and its respective translation at the same time. If I will be submitting a poem to a Spanish-written publication, such as The San Diego Poetry Annual, I impose on my creative writing process and force the poem to be born in Spanish—that’s how “Memografía” was born. My novel, on the other hand, was born in English.
Do you have a piece in the collection that you frequently read aloud at readings or events? Something that seems to speak to live audiences?

When I have a public reading, I have to feel the room. I ask myself: What poems must the audience listen to? From the Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña, “Memografía”/”Memography,” “The Calculated World of Monsters”/“El mundo calculado de los monstrous” and “Mi bandera”/“My Flag” are three poems that speak to all audiences.
Do you have a favorite "quiet" piece in the collection? I am thinking, for example, of poems that are not often read aloud, but that speak to you personally/intimately for some reason or another.
Oh yes. I cried at my first public reading in Oakland, California at the Intertribal Friendship House. I didn’t know I was going to cry. When I read “Brown Child,” a poem about miscarriage and the desire to procreate, I learned I could only read that poem to myself. The womyn in the audience were very understanding. “Brown Child” is my quiet poem.
And "The Passing/El viaje"? That poem is a beautiful tribute to your mother. It tugs at the heart.
“The Passing”/”El viaje,” a poem about my mother teaching me how to cook mole and the persistence of memory, should be a quiet poem. However, even though it hurts me to read it aloud, I share “The Passing” to keep the memory of my mother and her spirit alive.
What is Spider Woman currently weaving?
I am crafting Legacy/Herencia, a bilingual poetry collection. I hope to be done by the end of year—and if I am not—I wouldn’t be disappointed. Revisiting Kissing Dreams from a Distance has crossed my mind. (I am waiting to hear from a university press.) Starting another novel has also crossed my mind—the main character is taking form.

Muchisimas gracias, Sonia, for taking time from your busy schedule to share some of your insights with our readers. We wish you much success and look forward to more and more of your spider's webs being released into the wind. Nos despedimos with Sonia's poem, "The Passing," which is dedicated her mother, Estela Gutiérrez.

The Passing


Before the passing, you recite
your recipes to me. I want to write
ingredients and measurements--trap
them with letters and numbers.

You say, "No--taste. Look--
remember," as your frail hands
sift through powdered sesame seeds
heavy with timeless recuerdos.

The taste buds of your fingertips
reside with ancient memories
of the moon's umbilical cord--

Your kitchen emanates the work
of molenderas of times past,
grinding almonds, stirring warmth,
tasting chocolatl.


Today, I make mole in your honor.
The sesame seeds on the comal
turn a cinnamon brown.
The sweet scented entrails
of chiles pasilla dig
into adobe huts
and pyramids. Your griot hands
have become mine.

Mother, you are not gone; you live
on the tip of my tongue and fingers,
craving the memory of you.

Sonia with the book she is currently reading

Sonia Gutiérrez is a poet professor, who promotes social justice and human dignity. She teaches English Composition and Critical Thinking and Writing at Palomar College. Her poetry has appeared in La Jornada Semanal, Magee Park Poets Anthology, Fringe Magazine, Revista Ombligo, and contratiempo, among others. 

La Bloga is home to her Poets Responding SB 1070 poems, including “Best Poems 2011” and “Best Poems 2012.”

Her bilingual collection, Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña (Olmeca Press, 2013), is her debut poetry publication. Kissing Dreams from a Distance, a novel written in the Tomás Rivera and Sandra Cisneros literary tradition, is seeking publication. She is at work on Legacy/Herencia, a poetry collection. Recently, Sonia was invited to join Poets Responding to SB 1070 as a moderator. To learn more about Poets Responding to SB 1070, visit Facebook. To learn more about Sonia, visit:


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Olga for posting this interview with Ms Gutierrez. Your insightful questions and Ms Sonia's touching responses allow me a window with a bit of a view into a writer's process. I like the feeling of her poems or novel being "born" into a language.
Thanks again and blessings,
Diana Aviles Shields