Monday, February 19, 2018

Interview of Ire’ne Lara Silva

Interview of ire’ne Lara Silva by Xánath Caraza 

Ire'ne Lara Silva is the author of furia (poetry, Mouthfeel Press, 2010) and Blood Sugar Canto (Saddle Road Press, January 2016) which were both finalists for the International Latino Book Award, as well as flesh to bone (short stories, Aunt Lute Books, 2013) which won the 2013 Premio Aztlan. She and poet Dan Vera are also the co-editors of Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands (Aunt Lute Books, 2017), a collection of poetry and essays. 
ire’ne is the recipient of a 2017 NALAC Arts Grant, the recipient of the final Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, the Fiction Finalist for AROHO’s 2013 Gift of Freedom Award, and the 2008 recipient of the Gloria Anzaldua Milagro Award, as well as a Macondo Workshop member and CantoMundo Inaugural Fellow. 

 As a child, who first introduced you to reading? 

Mrs. Addams, my first-grade teacher. My parents were illiterate in both English and Spanish, and my older siblings had no interest in reading—or at least, they never shared that interest with me. On my first day of kindergarten, the teacher’s son had to show me how to write my name. I learned the entire alphabet that day (though I think LMNOP was one letter in my mind). My parents were truckdrivers that followed the harvest seasons in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, so when we moved to South Texas, I ended up with the group of students that spent all day coloring and practicing writing the alphabet.

The next year, we were back in West Texas at the beginning of the school year. My parents weren’t sure how long we were going to be there and so hadn’t enrolled me in school. Mrs. Addams came to my house and encouraged my parents to enroll me. When they said they weren’t sure about my travelling to and from school alone, she offered to drive me to and from school (which was five miles outside of town). She introduced me to the school library and that was that, I was in love with books from that point on. I remember telling her about the books I was reading when we were in the car. The last gift she gave me were daffodil bulbs from her garden. I planted them but never got to see them bloom. I don’t know if she retired or passed away, but I never saw her again.

How did you first become a poet?  

I started writing poems when I was about ten or so. I wrote them everywhere. We moved every few months so Edinburg, Mathis, Bay City, Hereford, Stratford, Dalhart, Guymon, OK, Albuquerque, NM, and then back to Edinburg in South Texas.

I had a few poems published in high school and college, but the first publication outside of school was in 1998, in the Mesquite Review out of McAllen, TX. As for impact—I think that was when I was realized I was going to jump into writing for real. That it wasn’t going to be a hobby, but a lifelong passion—and that I was going to figure out how to do it always.

Do you have any favorite poems by other authors?  

So very many. There are poems and poets I’ve returned to, again and again, for inspiration, for language, for strength.

Audre Lorde's "A Litany for Survival" is the first poem that comes to mind. It’s been almost twenty-five years since I first read it, and I’ve turned to it innumerable times for the ability to endure, for the lessons it teaches in channeling rage. (Also, it’s a gorgeous poem.)
This is the beginning:

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours…

Full poem can be found here:

Francisco X. Alarcon was the first Latinx/Chicanx author I ever read, and his Cuerpo en Llamas was the first book by a Latinx/Chicanx poet I ever owned. But this poem in particular is one I would want to tattoo on my skin:

amanecete mundo
entre mis brazos
que el peso de tu ternura
me despierte

E.E. cummings was and continues to be a huge influence. I could read his poems forever. Two poems I love:

“i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh ... And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new.”
―E.E. Cummings

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)I am never without it (anywhere
I go you go,my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)
I fear no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet)I want no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)”
― E.E. Cummings

Another poet I can’t go without mentioning: Joy Harjo, who is an amazing performer and a poet whose work is focused on healing. I love the power and the complicated nuances of how she sees time, community, nature, and the soul. These are lines from “A Map to the Next World”:

In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for
those who would climb through the hole in the sky.

My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged
from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.

For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.

The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It
must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.

In the legend are instructions on the language of the land, how it
was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.

Full poem can be found here:

When do you know when a poem is ready to be read?    

As soon as I feel it’s done—and it may turn out that after reading it, I realize it isn’t done or that it needs a little more fine-tuning. I write a poem and then revise it until I feel I’ve said everything I need to say but also, until I can’t cut out any more words.

Could you comment on your life as a cultural activist? 

I started reading my poems in college at protests and marches, so for me, poetry didn’t start out being about publication or prestige or prizes. It was about community.

Before that, poetry had been a private thing I kept entirely to myself. I’d say everything before college was about experimenting with language and image. It wasn’t until then that I even knew that Latinx poets and writers existed. I graduated high school planning to become a mechanical engineer—because that was what minorities with good grades in math were encouraged to become. I didn’t even last the first semester in Engineering—that exploded as soon as I read This Bridge Called My Back. I had my first experience gathering writers during my junior year. I started a group called Colored Women Colored Wor(l)ds that was incredibly diverse, drawing women from around the world. I was the only Xicanx poet and one of only two Latinx writers. We read around campus and put out one anthology, co-edited with Rosamond King ( and Dolores Greisy Perera, cover art by Yasmin Hernandez (

I left college in 1996 to return to South Texas and then moved to Austin in 1998, and poetry started up again. In the last twenty years, I’ve been a part of various writing communities, as a member, a coordinator, a founder, and so on—from Austin Hispanic Writers to Macondo to CantoMundo to Flor De Nopal and now as an independent curator of literary and arts events in Austin.

It’s unfortunate, I think, that so many writers buy into the dominant society’s view of writing as being about competition and accumulation (of power, prestige, etc.) Or that writing is purely an intellectual or aesthetic pursuit. For me, poetry is about the soul, about our lives, about our wounds and our efforts to heal them, about how we articulate our isolation(s) and find ways to bridge that isolation through our work. Poetry and writing are about community—how we hold each other up, how we challenge each other, how we tell our stories in order to reach for understanding and beauty and the truth of things. So, in that way, my work as a cultural artist has been about helping people bring forth what is in them, about creating opportunities for like-minded people to find each other, especially those interested in art and social justice, about creating reading venues, and about sharing knowledge and resources with other writers.  I want to live in a poet/writer world where I am surrounded by friends, not one where all I see around me are competitors.  

What project/s are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a handful of projects but the one that will take priority in 2018 will be completing and revising my first novel, Naci, about the life and loves of a Mexican/American/Indigenous hermaphrodite/intersexed person, set mostly in South Texas. I’m also working on editing an anthology of Xicanx poetry, fiction, and literary memoir by Xicanx authors whose first books were published after the year 2001 (after 2010, for the most part).

After that, I want to work on another collection of short stories, a collection of poetry, and a new novel.

What advice do you have for other poets?

This is a hard one to answer, but here’s a bit of what’s worked for me:
Figure out what you want from poetry and why you go to poetry, and you’ll rarely lose your way.

Find your own language not the language or technique or form that is popular because what is popular will change and this work of poetry is a work in time and persistence and endurance. Rejection hurts but there is no way to build callouses short of going through the hurt.
You are not your work. Your work is something you make. Rejection is not a reflection of your worth.

Mil gracias, Xánath, for this opportunity to share some thoughts with La Bloga readers.


Jose Carrillo said...

Mil gracias, Ire'ne Lara Silva for your poetry,transparency and generous spirit. Abrazotes for Xanath Caraza for her poetry and tireless dedication to the art.

ire'ne lara silva said...

Gracias, Jose Carrillo, for such a lovely notita!

Norma Elia Cantú said...

ire'ne--I'm having my students read this interview in preparation for having you in our class in April. Gracias, Xanath!