Sunday, August 24, 2014

Codeswitch: The Poetic Fuego of Iris De Anda

Olga García Echeverría

today I awoke with fire
burning through my heart
speaking universal tongue
my spirit bursting like stars
a strong sense of desire
to rise up and manifest
feeling ready for revolt
and I ask you
where did you leave your Corazón?

Iris De Anda's recent book of poetry Codeswitch: Fires From Mi Corazón is an offering, a pumping heart, and in that heart are 4 chambers that burn. Rage. Love. Revolution. Evolution. The idea for creating 4 chapters or chambers in Codeswitch came to Iris late one night as she was drifting off to sleep. "This gave me a blueprint to work with, where I plugged in my personal medicine wheel and the poems that spoke to each section."

Heart Art from Codeswitch by Alfonso Aceves

Each chamber of De Anda's collection is full of Pocha poetry, and among the many poems is her anthem to Pocha reality, "To be a Pocha or not to be." In 2013, I had the pleasure of hearing De Anda read this poem live at a Mujeres de Maiz reading in East LA. The poem came out of her like a rhythmic chant with a punk rock flare:

because I'm my father's daughter
drowning in alcohol
seeking the metaphysical
calling back in time
my family line
a forgotten leaf
on the familia's tree
to be a Pocha or not to be

because I'm my mother's daughter
drowning in depression
seeking a connection
recovering memories
of a tierra I never knew
a forgotten trace
of ancestors in me
to be a Pocha or not to be

because I'm not good enough
for here or there
i love to hate my flag &
hate to love my creation
ashamed of spanish in the 1st grade
i'm sorry mami i never meant to hurt you
ashamed of english in abuela's embrace
i know you never meant to hurt me

because I'm merging culturas
every time I breathe
crossing borders
every time I speak
split forever into one
at the edge of possibility
to be a Pocha or not to be...

De Anda's poems sing, remember, rant, narrate the happenings, thoughts, and dreams of a girl/woman/mother who flies with crows, who sees herself deeply rooted in cultura, community, nature, healing, and art. The poet/narrator in Codeswitch has a tattooed spirit, piercings, glossy eyes. She dons steel toe boots and spikes. She digresses, questions, demands that life bloom amidst the strife. She taps into the spiritual-magical realm and calls out the Heart, hers and ours.

who invaded your divinity?
gave you false ideals & comprised liberty
tell you how to dress
how to feel
what to choose
what you can afford to lose
the reality is you were born free
daughters & sons of the galaxy
be bold in your search for truth and equality
where has humanity left their Corazón?

Iris began writing at the age of 13. "It was the best outlet I had at a time when I was suicidal. Writing saved my life," she says.  As a mother of three, a writer, and a co-founder of Here & Now (an art and healing space in El Sereno), Iris knows firsthand the art of juggling. "I wake up every morning and just go," she shares. "I make sure my kids have what they need to flourish and I write when they are not around or asleep, which is late night. I also have a very supportive husband who steps up...My art is driven by making this world a better place for them [my children, my family]." And that better world is about social justice, about No Papers No Fear, about unplugging from the Matrix and standing "barefoot in the grass" to watch a drifting cloud. It is about rising from the ashes like a burning phoenix.

This is not just poetry
it is justice screaming
thru us in constant
vowels & soliloquy...

This is not just poetry
it is life revealing itself
thru spoken word
this is the sound of urgency...

This is not just poetry
it is death beckoning us
thru dark nights
this is the typist bleeding...

Yet, despite the urgency and struggle, there is a constant reminder in De Anda's collection that each day begins anew:

There is no end
The cycle is beginning
Always mending
To live
To give to self
To love
To rebirth
Nurture the virtue
The veil unfolds
The gift is present
The knowledge gold

A highly motivated, do-it-yourself artist, Iris did not sit around and wait for the "literary powers that be" to validate her creative work. This past year she took publishing and marketing into her own hands and began her own press, Los Writers Underground. "As an indie author, I take pride in pushing myself to seek new experiences where I can share my work. I'm open to the possibilities that can stem from having my own press...It is my hope that Los Writers Underground Press can be a platform for writers who may not find a home in the traditional writing arena."

De Anda describes the journey of releasing her first book as both exhilarating and anxiety ridden. "I've had to balance a lot in my home life, as well as overcome some obstacles that presented themselves in the process. I've been lucky to have a supportive community around me."

Unlike Virgina Woolf's insistence that a woman must have money and a room of her own to write, Iris states, "I don't have money or a room of my own to write, but I have the ganas." Iris notes that as a woman of color it is many times a struggle to be heard, hence the creation of her own press and the self-publication of Codeswitch. She notes, "I acknowledge those that came before who opened the path for me. I also realize that there are more avenues of making our work available than previous generations." As a bilingual writer who loves subcultures and embraces alternative ways of seeing and living, De Anda shares that she tends "to identify more with our cultura of flor y canto than an academic take on writing. I want to break away from the idea that you need a degree to be a writer...Life experience and lots of reading are what made me the writer I am today."

When asked what she wants to leave her readers with, De Anda states, "I want my readers to be inspired into action. I want them to connect to the fires that move them and for them to create or step into their own journey with their entire Corazón."

You must rise above
cleanse again
like feelings & rain
create beauty to reflect
believe in truth & love
and most of all awaken
to your Corazón

Muchas felicidades and many thanks to Iris for sharing a bit about herself and her work here at La Bloga.

Iris De Anda is a writer, activist, and practitioner of the healing arts. She is a native of Los Angeles with roots in Mexico, El Salvador, and The Cosmos. She believes in the power of Spoken Word, poetry, storytelling, and dreams. She is a member of the poetry community Poets Responding to SB1070 and her poems have been featured here at La Bloga numerous times.

Codeswitch: Fires From Mi Corazón is her first book. It is available at as well as Amazon. It is also available at several local bookstores including Here & Now in El Sereno, Seite, Espacio 1839, Beyond Barroque, Skylight Books, Stories, and Vromans.

Upcoming Readings:

Seeds of Resistance: earth is my flesh
Friday August 29 @ 7pm
211 N Sycamore St
Santa Ana, California 92701

Luna Cafe
Friday, September 5th @ 7pm
1414 16th St Sacramento, California 95814

Poetry Express
Monday September 8th @ 7pm
Himalayan Flavors
585 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94703

Seite Books-Libros
Thursday September 11th @ 7pm
419 N Rowan Ave
East Los Angeles, California 90063


Amelia ML Montes said...

Wonderful posting on Iris De Anda's work! Here's hoping this will bring many more readers to Iris' work. Que bueno! Gracias, Olga!

Edward Vidaurre said...


Giora said...

Enjoyed reading some lines of the poems and the story of Iris De Anda. Googling for "Pocha" I find different meanings, so wondering what "Pocha" means to the poet. Best wishes with all your peoms.

Unknown said...

A wonderful review/interview with Iris De Anda. Felicitaciones--Francisco

Ruben Zamora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ruben Zamora said...

This post reminds me of when I first read about you from the Pocha-palooza article in 1999(?). Thank you for introducing Iris to us. Looks like I'll have to go to Berkeley next week. Gracias Olga.