Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sílabas de Viento/Syllables of Wind: An Interview with Poet Xánath Caraza

Argentine poet, Carlos J. Aldazábal describes Xánath Caraza's new collection of poetry as "a type of invocation, a kind of silent mantra."  He continues by writing:  "Syllables of Wind is also a travel book.  With her gaze wandering across the land, the poet projects her sensitivity so as to celebrate or lament, to depart or return, in a cultural pendulum that allows her to express what we all have in common as human beings, the great themes of poetry (death, love, life), from her American and indigenous particularity" (Introduction).  

Aldazábal's description captures the unique aspects to Caraza's work.  Caraza's poetry reveals Mexican, Indigenous, African roots while also claiming a North American Midwest identity.  Her work underlines our literary transnational roots:  Chicana, Mexicana, India, Africana, Norte-Americana (specifically Midwest).  And as for Caraza's work emanating from the Midwest, all too often, North American Latina/Latino writing is attributed to regions on the west or east coasts.  Not so here.  Latina/Latino and Chicana/Chicano writing from the Midwest is finally being recognized.  

We are happy today to talk about all of this with Xánath Caraza.  

Xánath Caraza:  First of all, gracias por la entrevista y por tu interés en mi trabajo. It is always a pleasure to share with La Bloga readers.

Amelia Montes:  You have published four books of poetry: Corazón Pintado, Conjuro, Lo que trae lamarea/What the Tide Brings, Noche de Colibríes, and now, Sílabasde Viento/Syllables of Wind. 
In the preface by Carlos J. Aldazábal, he described this collection as anthropological.  Do you agree? 

Xánath Caraza:  If we understand anthropology as the study of human kind as a whole, then my poetry is anthropological.  I do observe and take notes, either mentally or on paper of people, places, music, food I experience.  However, my poetry has also been named ecological poetry since Mother Nature is always with me through my poems.

Amelia Montes:  What does the title Sílabas de Viento mean to you? 

Xánath Caraza:  Sílabas de viento means music and poetry in the first place for me—this title is my interpretation of the pre-Hispanic concept of poetry from Nahuatl, in xochitl in cuicatl, flor y canto in Spanish, or flower and song in English.  For me, Sílabas de viento are the waves of sound emerging from our mouth/throat/corazón, from the center of our being.  

Poets Xánath Caraza and Dennis Etzel Jr., at the Big Tent Reading Series at The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas. (photo by Denise Low)
Amelia Montes:  The poems in this collection emphasize your many identities:  African, Spanish, Indigenous, North American (specifically Midwestern).  Tell me how these came together for this collection. 

Xánath Caraza:  In my travels, as well as in my daily life, I observe carefully, and when I travel I try to make the experience as meaningful as possible.  I do not consider myself a tourist. There is always an educational purpose for my trips.  At a personal level, many of my journeys have been motivated by the search of my roots, not just my family’s roots, but our orígenes as mestizos, as Americanos, as Chicanos.  And many of those observations are translated into poetry that reflects my African, Spanish, Indigenous, y North American background, as in my poem “Serpiente de Primavera/Serpent of Spring/Koatl Xochitlipoal”: “…Palabras encadenadas con sílabas de huehuetl.  Soy hija de los latidos de congas y teponaxtlis, hija de la luz con el canto del cenzontle atravesado en el pecho…”/ “…Words link to syllables of huehuetl. I am a daughter of the beating of congas and teponaxtlis, daughter of the light with the song of the cenzontle falling across my chest…”/ ….  Tlajtolsasali ika piltlatolmej tlen ueuetl.  Najaya ikonej iuitontli tlatejtsontli uan teponaxtli, taluili ikonej ika stsontlitototl ipan no yolixpa.  Asultikueyiatl nech tokilia mojmostla…” or for example, in the poem, “Amanecer in Tarifa/Daybreak in Tarifa,” I was very impressed by being literally in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, and two continents, Europe and Africa.  In addition, I was impressed by being in this in-between space of religions: Spain and Morocco, two world religions, Catholicism and Islam.  Both were brought to the Americas through colonization. (Xánath's poetry translations from to Spanish to English are by Sandra Kingery)

Amanecer en Tarifa

Luz dorada del amanecer
Ilumina dos tonos
De azul en el mar
Marruecos frente a mí
Espejo de Andalucía
Cual  eslabones que se
Vuelven a conectar
Sonidos semejantes
Sabores que se intensifican
En su propia realidad
Rumores de gente
Que viene y que va
Dos idiomas, dos religiones
Amanecer en Tarifa
Estrecho de Gibraltar

(Tarifa, Cádiz, España, verano de 2012)

Daybreak in Tarifa

Golden light at daybreak
Illuminates two shades
Of blue in the sea
Morocco in front of me
Mirror of Andalusia
Links in a chain that
Similar sounds
Flavors that intensify
In their own reality
The murmuring of people
Who come and go
Two languages, two religions
Daybreak in Tarifa
Strait of Gibraltar

(Tarifa, Cádiz, Spain, summer 2012; Translation from Spanish to English by Sandra Kingery)

Xánath Caraza and Angela Elam from "New Letters on the Air" (Literary Radio Show).  Xánath was featured on Park University's Ethnic Voices Poetry Series.  "New Letters" recorded the event.  Here is the link:
Amelia Montes:  When you create your collections of poetry, do you plan the books first—with a theme or idea?  Or do you simply just write poems and then when you have a certain number, do you begin to see connections in order to create a cohesive book? 

Xánath Caraza:  For me, it may work both ways.  I am constantly writing; therefore, sometimes I go over the poems I’ve written and see if they fit into the book I want to put together.   However, Noche de colibríes was planned as an Ekphrastic book of poetry from its beginning.  On the other hand, Sílabas de viento/Syllables of Wind was originally a different "poemario." It actually had a different title, Piedra verde, because of the presence of the green color and Mother Nature in my poetry, but it evolved and suddenly it turned into Syllables of Wind.  When I was working on the final draft, I realized that many of the poems had a place and a date of birth. I had originally not planned on leaving this information in the actual book.  These notes were only for me, and deciding to leave the information about the location and date of each poem suddenly made sense. I think that it reinforces the idea of Syllables of Wind or poetry traveling in the wind.

Amelia Montes:  Because I am writing about Midwest writers, I want to know from you how the Midwest figures into this book. 

Xánath Caraza:  Many of the poems were written in Kansas City, as you can see at the bottom of the page of each of the poems.  They may refer to Morocco, Bosnia or Mexico, but were written in Kansas City.  Other poems are about the Midwest and they were also written somewhere else. I am a hardworking Midwestern Chicana author, J.

Xánath Caraza reading at The Writer's Place for Riverfront Reading Series.  Link:
Amelia Montes:  What writers inspired you in the writing of this book?

Xánath Caraza:  I started Sílabas de viento/Syllables of Wind in the summer of 2012 in Granada, Andalusia, Spain.  I was there because of a writer’s residency to finish my short story collection Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings.  I took a short break and visited Morocco for the first time and during my weekends I took short trips to ciudades literarias.  I started with Granada, la capital mundial de la poesía and the city where Federico García Lorca summered.  As well, I visited the small towns where Lorca was born and spent his childhood, Valderrubio and Fuente Vaqueros; therefore, Lorca is present in many of my poems. Other literary cities that I visited for those weekend excursions were Úbeda and Baeza.  Úbeda is where San Juan de la Cruz, one of the great Mystical poets, spent his final years.  What is more, Antonio Machado lived in Baeza, where he taught and wrote many of his poems.  Also, Oscar Wilde is in sílabas de viento/Syllables of Wind as well as Mark Twain among others.

Amelia Montes:  As you pointed out, many of the poems here are ekphrastic poems.  Tell me how this kind of poetry serves you in your writing. 

Xánath Caraza:  It is an honor for me to be able first to use images from other artists to create and write about their work in the form of a poem or a short story, and second I love promoting those artists, too.  Color comes to me or I go to color.  It makes me happy and I hope my poems bring happiness for others.  However, there are other poems in Sílabas de viento/Syllables of Wind, which were written first and then artist Adriana Manuela created a painting for my poem.  I feel blessed by the gift of Adriana Manuela, artist of the cover art for Sílabas de viento, too; she created a whole series of paintings for my poems and we had an art opening in Puente Genil, Andalusia, Spain, to showcase her work and my poetry. The Spanish versions of the poems and her art can be seen in a special issue that the literary journal El Coloquio de los perros published.  Here is the link:
Xánath Caraza at The Writer's Place
Amelia Montes:  Who is your audience for these poems? 

Xánath Caraza:  Anyone who enjoys poetry is my audience, any Chican@/Latin@ who wants to connect with la poesía.  Any bilingual reader who would like to see, through the eyes of poetry, un pedacito del mundo que he tocado is my audience.

Amelia Montes:  Is there something you’d like to add – to say to our La Bloga readers? 

Xánath Caraza:  Espero que Sílabas de Viento/Syllables of Wind los envuelva de poesía antes que nada.  I would also like to add that this book is one of three books that were partially written with the support of the award Beca Nebrija para Creadores 2014 from the Instituto Franklin in Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain.  I hope that other Chican@s apply for and enjoy this grant in the future, y, muchas gracias Amelia, viva la poesía! ( )

Amelia Montes:  Here's hoping, dear La  Bloga readers, that you will get your own copy of Sílabas de Viento/Syllables of Wind or any of Xánath Caraza's other books to read, enjoy, give as gifts.  Xánath Caraza, traveler, educator, poet and short story writer is the recipient of the Beca Nebrija para Creadores 2014 from the Instituto Franklin in Spain.  Her poem, "Ante el río/Before the River" was selected by the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum in 2013 to promote Day of the Dead.  Caraza was named number one of the 2013 Top Ten "New" Latino Authors to Watch (and Read) by

Check out Xánath Caraza's website for upcoming readings and news!  Click on this LINK!


Giora said...

Poetry is not easy for me to appreciate, so I better get a copy of "What the Tide Brings" featuring Xanath's short stories, and read especially those set in Mexico. I always liked the name Xochitl, meaning flower, so I was pleased that the name Xanath is even stronger, meaning the most beautiful flower. Best wishes to Xanath Caraza with her new collections of poems.

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

The word "ekphrastic" is swirling in my cabeza (like syallables in tbe wind). This interview just gave me some ideas for writing prompts for ambos myself and my students. Gracias, Amelia. And felicidades, Xanath.

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

"Syllables" and "the"

Sandra Kingery said...

Querida Xánath: I love this: "Sílabas de viento means music and poetry in the first place for me—this title is my interpretation of the pre-Hispanic concept of poetry from Nahuatl, in xochitl in cuicatl, flor y canto in Spanish, or flower and song in English. For me, Sílabas de viento are the waves of sound emerging from our mouth/throat/corazón, from the center of our being." This captures your beautiful work in so many ways!!