Sunday, September 16, 2018

Teeth Never Sleep: Interview with Poet, Ángel García

Cover Design by Guillermo Lorca García Huidobro

Ángel García is this year’s CantoMundo Poetry Prize winner! His poetry collection,
Teeth Never Sleep,will soon be out October 2018, published by University of Arkansas Press in collaboration with CantoMundo. Every year, CantoMundo receives hundreds of entries for this prize, so it is quite an honor for García to be recognized.  

Born in Texas, and raised in the Los Angeles area, his poetry reflects various perspectives on immigration, identity, the question of home, the recovery of personal and political histories, family and relationships. It is a poetry collection offering a rich intensity of language, rhythm, and multi-layered meanings.  

Currently, García is living in the Midwest.  He is a graduate student working toward his PhD in Creative Writing/English at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  La Bloga is fortunate to have Ángel García with us today.  He literally wears his "poeta" identity on his arm:  

Amelia Montes:  Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Ángel. I want to begin with the title. You chose a title which focuses on two poems in the collection, the first one being the shortest. And yet, despite its brevity, it speaks volumes.  Tell us about both poems which directly connect to the title of the books.  

Ángel García:  Teeth Never Sleep was a title I came to relatively late in the process of writing the book.  There had been several titles over the years.  I decided on this title, however, because both the poems you mention embody themes important to the manuscript:  silence and ritual.  The first version of the title poem explores silence, particularly male silence, and the consequences of being unwilling or unable to communicate.  The second version of the title poem explores a ritual performed by my speaker’s mother.  While these are tender rituals, rituals of a mother’s care, they are birthed from violent rites of passage.  

Amelia Montes:  Yes—and that comes through clearly: violence that begets a kind of tenderness and vice versa.  Also—on that theme, a recurring character is present in the manuscript: “el Esposo de la Llorona.”  How did his presence come about in your writing and what does this “Esposo” mean to you?  

Poem by Ángel García from Teeth Never Sleep
Ángel García:  I’m interested in the ways Chicana Feminism has reappropriated narratives of historical women to make new meaning about their lives—La Llorona and La Malinche being the two prime examples. And so thinking about the narrative of La Llorona, I was interested in exploring the male role and to a certain extent, his responsibility which is overlooked.  My attempt was not to redeem el Esposo, but rather challenge and explore the ways in which male emotions are often seen as rote and static.  Through the persona of el Esposo, I explore the possibility of grief in its various manifestations as this is something with which my speaker struggles. 

Amelia Montes:  This is so important because we often read the perspective of la Llorona without any male counterpart which leads me to how these readings also make me think of “Cortez.”  I never thought of Cortez as soft or remorseful so the way he is portrayed in these poems is very compelling.  I’m also thinking of your poem, “Conversations with My Father” and the Cortez character there.  

Ángel García:  It’s funny you mention Cortez because early on I had planned to write persona poems from his perspective.  This though was too much of a task considering the violent and long history of colonization.  But Cortez in many ways represents colonization and patriarchy, as does el Esposo.  My exploration of these personas was an attempt to complicate them.  Cortez shows up in the latter poem as both an example of colorism but also the violence that can exist between men and the silence that perpetuates its own kind of violence.  

Amelia Montes:  Along those lines, one of my favorite poems is “El Esposo de la Llorona Reza,” because it carries so much of what the entire manuscript is about:  the handing down (via DNA,  fathers to sons) the trauma of the past that is so difficult to fully understand and resolve because the tools of healing are not easily available.  

Ángel García:  This was a difficult poem to write for many reasons. The main reason being that while there is an acknowledgement of not wanting to follow the paths of his patriarchal and/or mysognistic forefathers, the persona also accepts that there is often little hope.  I do believe as a male poet, however, that the tools of healing exist.  But those tools need to be discovered just as much as they need to be imagined and forged to share with other boys and men.  There is plenty of work to be done and it is necessary and crucial work.  

Amelia Montes:  And your book is definitely exploring this necessary work! Also—I was interested in the plethora of animals and animal symbolism in your book.  Some become the narrator/speaker.  Another is present but not living.  It is made from human hands:  the Alebrije.  And yet, the Alebrije comes alive within the poem.  I see this as very indigenous/Chicanx.  Do you?  

Ángel García:  I am interested in the alebrije because of its existence as a “many-animal.”  They are separate and distinct beings that comprise a whole—making an entirely new animal. Masculinity, to push the metaphor, is a many-animal.  The collection explores these animals, in their most tender manifestations but also in their most violent: beasts that feed off prey or that are fed upon.  

But the alebrije is also an animal of imagination, coming to the original creator in a dream.  I think too, that new modes of masculinity are being imagined and adopted that will help men liberate themselves from toxic masculinity and work to remedy patriarchy.  The morphing/blending/metamorphoses of the alebrije is particularly Chicanx because we exist in the borderlands, in a third space.  

Amelia Montes:  And then there is the poem “Full Moon.”  There is a vulnerability in this poem, a soothing as well as an alarming and grieving love.  And this connection (mother/son) is echoed in “Antipode.”  

Ángel García:  Throughout my collection my speaker is dealing with grief: loss of innocence, loss of family, divorce, displacement, love loss, the loss of what kind of man he thought he’d be and the loss (imagined/real) of a child.  But in these poems, that realization becomes true about his mother. While my speaker fears many things, his greatest fear is losing his parents.  These poems are my speaker’s attempt to hold onto his mother while also realizing he must let go.  

Amelia Montes:  I can feel all you say in the poem.  It cuts deep.  Within this “letting go,” the entire manuscript/book feels like a coming of age journey—filled with so many other people’s journeys that have influenced the speaker in a myriad of ways, primarily the parents. How do you feel about it when you gold the book in your hands?  

Ángel García:  Both my parents made Teeth Never Sleep possible.  They have always been supportive of my career as a poet, for better or worse, and never once questioned the path.  Having the book in my hands in many ways is a testament to their love and support, but also a testament to their endurance and strength.  I hope that resilience translates for readers, particularly for young male readers who are struggling with what it means to become or embody their masculinities.  

Amelia Montes:  And parents and immigrants the question of language also arises. Your poems are at times bilingual.  The Spanish easily slips in and through the English—even present all by itself—entire poems in Spanish.  

Ángel García:  While I did not grow up speaking Spanish (only listening to it) this collection reflects my lingual and literary genealogy.  It moves between Spanish and English as I too move between both languages.  Originally there were more poems in Spanish, an attempt at reclaiming my language, but the poems were omitted from the final manuscript.  Many of those decisions were also influenced by who was speaking.  I wanted to be true, as much as possible, to their own language and how characters/personas might speak.  

Amelia Montes:  Thank you so much, Ángel.  The cover of the book, by artist Guillermo Lorca García Huidobro is also quite stunning. La Bloga readers also want to know where you will be reading from your book.    

Ángel García:  I’ll be in Los Angeles from October 20thto the 28thdoing several readings and celebrating with an official book launch. I’ll be reading in Topanga as part of the Loose Lips Series on the 20th.  On the 23rd, I’ll be reading at The University of Redlands.  On the 24th, I’ll be at Long Beach City College.  On the 25th, I’ll be in Santa Ana with LibroMobile.  On the 27th, I’ll be reading in Pasadena and that evening I’ll be having the official book launch in DTLA at the Civic Center Studios at & 7:00p.m. Finally, on the 28th, I’ll be reading at Avenue 50 in Highland Park.  Folks can visit my website for event details.  

Amelia Montea and Ángel García
Amelia Montes:  Gracias, Ángel y felicidades. Dear La Bloga readers: you are cordially invited to attend Ángel’s readings. Also for those in the Midwest, Ángel will be launching his book Tuesday, October 30that The University of Nebraska-Lincoln in The Bailey Library: second floor of Andrews Hall.   


msedano said...

congratulations and felicidades, Ángel. Looking forward to hearing your October readings!

Alpinista said...

Wonderful interview that makes me want to read Ángel Garcia's poems.