Sunday, December 06, 2015

_Ocelocíhuatl_: Interview with Xánath Caraza on Her New Book

Cover by artist, Pola Lopez

Thank you so much for being with us today on La Bloga, Xánath!  Your new book of poetry, Ocelocíhuatl (Mouthfeel Press, 2015), takes us on an international multiethnic journey. 

Tell us about the title of the book.

Xánath Caraza (XC): Thank you, Amelia, for your interest in my creative work. I do really appreciate it.  The title is a Nahuatl combined word, Ocelotl and Cihuatl, the first word is the translation for ocelote (a kind of jaguar) and the second is the word for woman.  
Artist:  Pola Lopez

When I was thinking about the title of the book, I had in mind the jaguar warriors from nearly six centuries ago in the Aztec tradition.  As we know, there used to be two kinds of warriors, eagle warriors and jaguar warriors, but they were only men.  I said to myself why not have an Ocelocíhuatl, we are in the XXI century.

Did you first have an image of the entire book or did the theme of the book come about after writing a number of the poems?

XC: I had an image of the entire book, Ocelocíhuatl, but life presented me with a very painful situation in the middle of writing this book of poetry, and as a result, something inside of me shifted for good and with lots of pain and a deep sense of loss, I think it is reflected in Ocelocíhuatl.

What is most interesting for me is how the Ocelocíhuatl odyssey can be compared to Homer’s odyssey—but this is a woman’s odyssey which reflects cultural differences, yes?

XC: I am flattered that you compare my Ocelocíhuatl to Homer’s Odyssey.  The journey of the hero, that one specifically is a book that I have treasured since I first read it in high school. In terms of cultural differences, yes, it reflects different points of view and cultural differences, which happened to be captured through my own observations.  It also reflects a great deal of injustice, again through my observations, of different events or people who experienced it here in the U.S. and Mexico, among other places.

And along that line of thinking, when I’ve been to Mexico, specifically Oaxaca, I have noticed in the anthropological museums, how the majority of the statues represent female deities or priests.  Tell us more about this.

XC: I think that our indigenous cultures are deeply connected to Mother Nature, and just with the name –Mother Nature– it already sends us to a state of mind that opens up to the feminine.  We have several natural phenomena represented in a feminine form that, in many cases, translate into female deities. It is fascinating to me that you mention the city of Oaxaca, because it was precisely in that city when I first conceived the actual word of Ocelocíhuatl.  There in the beautiful city of Oaxaca.

Xánath Caraza writing space in Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
A parallel theme in the book is injustice as well.  You connect injustice with the missing "43"of Ayotzinapa, and with examples of injustice in North America and Europe.  Tell us more of how you decided to link those.  

XC: I have been a social activist since a very early age in my life. I have never been blind to what is going on in the world.  Many years ago, I decided to focus my activism through education, art and my writing.  I have also mentioned in a few poetry presentations that an uncle of mine graduated from a similar teacher’s college, like the one in Ayotzinapa.  That and my sincere interest in education makes me connect injustice, social change, linguistic diversity, and women voices into my writing.

You end with the poem, “Variations on Paz, which Also Means Peace (an homage).  At the end of the poem, you write:  “The black surge of syllables covers the paper and buries its inky roots in the subsoil of language, Paz you’re reborn, Paz you breathe, you leap at the night from the inkwell.”  You are taking your words and they “leap…from the inkwell” reaching the reader.  Was this your intention?  It feels like it was.

XC: I hope that after reading my poetry something remains with the reader, perhaps a word, a feeling, or even a color.  Those are my little roots growing outside the pages and penetrating the reader’s memory.  I hope that my poetry can create an echo in the reader’s heart.

What was your writing process in creating this book?

      XC: I wrote Ocelocíhuatl with the support of the Beca Nebrija para Creadores 2014 award from the Instituto Franklin in Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain.  As an award recipient, this book, Ocelocíhuatl, and Syllables of Wind were part of the project I submitted.  However, as with many books, I had my notes and then started shaping the poems, editing them, until I knew they were ready to see the light.  I am thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had.  In the summer of 2014 in Alcalá de Henares, Spain in an empty apartment with my computer and notes, I started to chisel out Ocelocíhuatl.  In the actual book, people will see poems with dates from 2013.  That is because many of my notes were from that time.  I edited other previously published poems thanks to this grant, but I wanted them all together in Ocelocíhuatl

 Is there anything else you would like to share with our La Bloga readers?

XC: I feel very fortunate and thankful to Pola Lopez.  She created an image based on my manuscript.  I have a great respect for Pola’s work; it is amazing and I love the image on the cover of Ocelocíhuatl.

As well, Ocelocíhuatl is now available for pre-order with Mouthfeel Press.  It is a bilingual book, actually trilingual, Spanish, English and a few poems in Nahuatl.  One of my translators is Sandra Kingery. She is wonderful to work with.  My other translator is Tirso Bautista Cárdenas.  He did the Nahuatl translations.

My Ocelocíhuatl is dedicated to Nohemi Gonzalez and Michelli Gil Jáimez, both Ocelocíhuats who died in Paris.  It is also dedicated to Patricia Latour and Francis Combes, wonderful poets and social activist living in Paris.

Ojalá y disfruten Ocelocíhuatl, un pedacito de mi corazón.  Muchas gracias, Amelia.

Xánath Caraza is a traveler, educator, poet and short story writer. Her book of poetry, Sílabas de viento / Syllables of Wind, received the 2015 International Book Award for Poetry.  It also received Honorable Mention for Best Book of Poetry in Spanish in the 2015 International Latino Book Awards.  Caraza teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and presents readings and workshops in Europe, Latin America, and the U. S.   Her book of verse Conjuro and book of short fiction Lo que trae la marea / What the Tide Brings have won national and international recognition.  She is the recipient of the 2014 Beca Nebrija para Creadores from the Instituto Franklin in Spain.  Her other books are Corazón Pintado, Noche de colibríes: Ekphrastic Poems and Ocelocíhuatl. Caraza is a writer for La Bloga and she writes the “US Latino Poets en español” column.  In addition, she writes the poetry/narrative section for Revista Zona de Ocio. She curates the National Poetry Month, Poem-a-Day project, for the Con Tinta Literary Organization since 2012.  For the José Martí Publishing Awards, The National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP), Caraza has been a judge since 2013.  

Xánath Caraza and Amelia Montes at "The Writers Place" in Kansas City, MO

1 comment:

Jose Carrillo said...

Amelia Montes, - Saludos Felicidades y mil gracias por su trabajo en este mundo de poesía: entrevista ínspirador, esplendoroso. ¡Viva poesía!