Sunday, July 05, 2015

Creating Art From Diabetes: An Interview with ire'ne lara silva on _enduring azucares_

ire’ne lara silva is fearless.  In her new chapbook collection just released, enduring azucares, (SiblingRivalry Press, June 2015) ire’ne takes on the subject of diabetes and its impact on our community, her familia, and in her personal experience with the disease.  The seven poems in the chapbook are poignant snapshots: the moment of diagnosis, loss, nostalgia, and contemplation as in this excerpt: 

   it took awhile but then i opened my eyes
and noticed that la azucar was all around me
                        the woman next to me at work
                                    the early morning bus driver
                        every third person at my other job
and the man at the store puzzling over egg substitutes
and the waitress downing a shot of orange juice during a long shift
            and everywhere i see the warning signs in people’s behaviors

excerpt from her poem “diabetic epidemic” (enduring azucares)

Her full manuscript (which includes these poems) titled, Blood Sugar Canto will be published this January 2016 from SaddleRoad Press.  ire’ne is a poet, short story writer, and essayist.  Her published work has received numerous awards.  Last year, she received the 2014 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral award for her work.  Her collection of short stories flesh to bone (Aunt LutePress, 2013) received the 2013 Premio Aztlán, and her first collection of poetry, furia (Mouthfeel Press,2010), received an Honorable Mention from the 2011 International Latino Book Award in Poetry. Check out Olga Echeverria’s La Bloga piece on furia from 2010 (click here) and also her posting on flesh to bone!

Today, I am so happy to bring ire’ne back to La Bloga to discuss enduring azucares and her upcoming longer manuscript, Blood, Sugar, Canto. 

Thank you for joining us at La Bloga today, ire’ne, and congratulations on your digital chapbook, enduring azucares. What does the title, enduring azucares, mean to you? 

Mil gracias, Amelia, for inviting me and for the opportunity to talk about my new chapbook.  The title was the result of a long discussion with my youngest brother, who also lives with diabetes.  “Enduring” was the key word for us when we reflected on our experiences as people with diabetes:  enduring the diagnosis itself and the emotiona/psychological repercussions; enduring the way diabetes feels in the body; enduring medication and its side effects; enduring doctors; enduring other people’s reactions, ignorance, etc.; enduring physical challenges and creating daily changes, diet changes, mindset changes.  The hardest thing to endure and challenge is the widespread assumption that there is only one way to treat diabetes—there is very little understanding that each person has her or his own experience with diabetes and each body has unique challenges and needs. 

These seven poems are taken from a longer manuscript that you entitled, Blood Sugar Canto. How did you go about choosing these for the chapbook? 

I didn’t choose, actually.  This chapbook came about because I was invited to be a featured reader for the Austin InternationalPoetry Festival in April of 2014.  MeganVolpert from Sibling Rivalry Press was also a featured reader, and she heard my work one of the nights of the festival.  We talked afterwards about my unpublished collection, Blood Sugar Canto.  She ended up choosing these 7 poems out of the full length collection. 

There seems to be a chronology to the poems, from diagnosis, observations of familia, loss, and community impact, plus your own processing of the diagnosis into self-management.  Tell us about this. 

Part of my aim with the books was to fully document my experience.  The poems specifically chosen for enduring azucares are poems that spoke directly to my initial experiences with diabetes and how I started to articulate it to myself in such a way that I could feel that it was possible to heal, possible to keep myself intact, possible to survive. 

The poems in this chapbook are also, like “en trozos/in pieces”—love poems to your body.  Tell us about how you processed your diabetes diagnosis into, for example, this poem.

The poem, “en trozos/in pieces” was a surprise.  I began the poem knowing that I wanted to write about my diabetes-related fears, and I knew that this would be one of the hardest poems to write.  But I had no idea where the poem was going to go or where it was going to end.  And that is the surprise of writing that I live for—to learn the things that I don’t even know I know, to come to the page and leave with a radical discovering that frames everything differently.  I didn’t know that fear could become self-love.  I didn’t know that my own insecurities, freely confessed, would lead me to a new understanding.  This was the poem that made this project real to me.  It became clear to me that the most important aspect of healing was love—not fear of illness, not fear of complications, not fear of mortality, not doctor-induced or western medicine-induced fear—only love.

Your poems are also discussions and memories with loved ones who are no longer with us.  Example:  “one-sided conversations with my mother.” How did these come about?

My first book, furia, spoke a lot about the grief I felt after my mother passed.  When I was first writing the Blood Sugar Canto poems, I marked the tenth anniversary of her passing.  I found myself wishing I could talk to my mother about everything: events that had taken place during those ten years, what illness was, what mortality was, what life was, and to dream what would have been if she had not passed.  My mother died of colon cancer when I was 26.  My father died of diabetes-related complications 9 years later.  So by the time I was 35 years old, both my parents, all my grandparents, and many aunts and uncles were gone.  Mortality and the urgency of doing the work I feel I need to do are often on my mind.

You also shift the subject of diabetes from the personal to the public in “diabetic epidemic” by giving us a view of the hereditary aspect of the disease.  The shape of this poem is interesting.  Why did you shape the poem as it is?

I hadn’t realized until this question, how wildly different the formatting is for each of these poems.  Usually, when I start a poem, I have no idea what it’s going to look like on the page.  In this case, the poem needed to be a little disruptive to the eye, to have a different breath.  Diabetes is everywhere, but it is also invisible.  In our communities, it has been normalized—which is what this poem is against, not only in words but also in its formatting.

“susto,” is the name of one of your poems.  The literal translation is “fright.” How does “fright” play into disease?

 “Susto” is a term I was very familiar with all my life.  ‘Fright’ is the easiest translation but it doesn’t truly encompass what “susto” means.  It is the shock or trauma felt by the body after an incident occurs.  The incident can be anything that is violent, or sudden, or terrible:  a car accident, a loss, an illness, an attack, etc.  It becomes necessary not only to heal the body from its obvious wounds, but to heal the body and the spirit from “susto.”  One of the prevalent beliefs that I heard was that too many “sustos” could break down the body and make it vulnerable to diabetes, which could also be understood as the body’s over-exposure to adrenaline in too many stressful situations.

This chapbook is unique in that it is bilingual.  Did you initially envision enduring azucares as a bilingual work? Why?

Interestingly, it was my publishers at Sibling Rivalry Press who came up with the idea of including translations.  Neither MeganVolpert nor Brian Borland (editor/publisher) speak Spanish, but their enthusiasm was contagious.  I loved the idea of making translations of these poems available to everyone—especially given the subject matter of these poems, not just diabetes, but family, and community.

How did you go about choosing your translator or maybe the story is that the translator found you?

I had a specific translator in mind, but that didn’t work out.  For a short while, I was afraid I was going to have to do the translating myself—and while I can speak Spanish, read it, and write it—at least well enough to make myself understood, I knew I didn’t have the professional skills and artistry that someone like Julieta Corpus has.  I knew Julieta Corpus as a Rio Grande Valley poet through Facebook and then I met her in Austin at an Ana Castillo workshop.  I very much liked the translations she was doing for other poets.

I eagerly started reading her translations of my poems when she sent them and thought they were gorgeous.  When I read her translation of “one-sided conversations with my mother,” I cried like if I had never read the poem before.  While my mother was alive, I only ever translated one of my poems for her to hear.  It hit me hard—missing my mother and wishing I could read her the poems in Spanish. 

Were some of these poems easier to write than others? 

Nothing came out easily.  Each of these poems was difficult and costly and exhausting in its own way.  That isn’t to say that they didn’t come out quickly, though.  All of these poems seemed to have been waiting to burst out of me.  I wrote the bulk of Blood Sugar Canto between August 2011 and January 2012.  I pushed myself hard to finish the collection, and while I was able to do it, for a long time afterwards, I felt completely drained.  Telling that much truth, some of which I hadn’t even admitted to myself before, was not an easy thing. "tequilita" took the longest to write.  It was one of the first ideas I had when I thought of writing poems abut diabetes.  I used to be a crazy tequila--to the point that "Tequila" became one of my nicknames.  But once I found out I had diabetes, I left it behind completely.  At this point, it's been 9 years since the last time I had tequila. I've since learned that you can sing ranchers and throw "grits" with just as much, if not more, abandon while sober.  Apparently, there are some people with diabetes who can safely continue to drink, but in my experience, there have been many, many people who have suffered serious complications from diabetes due to their inability to stop or cut down on their drinking.  

How is poetry food for our gente?  

Poetry is an essential form of sustenance and healing for our gente.  At its best, poetry is more than just beautiful--although that is important--more than intellectual, more than sound and language, more than powerful emotion.  At its best, poetry speaks to us at the level of heart, body, mind, and spirit all at once.  For both the poet and the reader/listener, poetry makes us whole and integrated people.  So little of our lives is spent in this integrated state.  Poetry feeds us and frees because it restores our dignity and our freedom and our human-ness--contesting the daily and historical oppression we endure and have endured.

 You end with “lullaby”—a love letter to those who will come after you. Were there
specific individuals in mind?

I have no children, so I can’t imagine how I’d address our worrisome family medical history with them.  I’ve been estranged from most of my siblings for a long time, so it’s not as if my nephews and nieces would listen, but this is what I’d tell them and all the youth in our communities if they’d listen.  I know people with abundant youth, health, and strength don’t ever really consider illness or mortality—at least not when it comes to them.  But maybe someone will heed the warning in this poem.  Maybe this poem will encourage someone to speak to their children or the young ones in their lives—and they’ll do it with love, not with fear. 

Thank you so much ire'ne. Again, congratulations on enduring azucares, a chapbook available now and we look forward to your upcoming full manuscript, Blood Sugar Canto in January! 


Viva Liz Vega! said...

ire'ne. You have worked so hard and are doing exactly what you should be doing. Your work speaks to me and it is so important. Can't wait to go to one of your readings.

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

Gracias Amelia for another wonderful interview! Ire'ne, felicidades! Your work is full of heart and soul. I look forward to reading more enduring sugar poetry.

ire'ne lara silva said...

Mil gracias, mujeres! Liz-I saw something on FB that you were moving to Austin? We must meet up when you're settled (or before)!