Monday, May 27, 2019

Conversation with Odilia Galván Rodríguez by Xánath Caraza

Conversation with Odilia Galván Rodríguez by Xánath Caraza

Odilia Galván Rodríguez is a poet, writer, editor, and activist. She is the author of six volumes of poetry. Her latest, The Color of Light, (FlowerSong Books, 2019) is an extensive collection of chronicles and poetry honoring the Mexica (Aztec) and Orisha (Yoruba) Energies, which she worked on during her time living in Cuba and Mexico. Also, along with the late Francisco X. Alarcón, she edited the award-winning anthology Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice (University of Arizona Press, 2016). Galván Rodríguez has worked as an editor for various print media such as Matrix Women’s News Magazine, Community Mural’s Magazine, and Tricontinental Magazine in Havana, Cuba. She is currently the editor of Cloud Women’s Quarterly Journal online and facilitates creative writing workshops nationally. As an activist she’s worked for the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO and the East Bay Institute for Urban Arts, has served on numerous boards and commissions, and is currently active in women’s organizations whose mission it is to educate around environmental justice issues and disseminate an indigenous worldview regarding the earth and people’s custodial relationship to it.

Odilia, could you share with La Bloga readers about your new book, The Color of Light?

This book took me many years to complete because it is a compilation of poems dedicated to the Orisha and Mexica energies, or as many still call them – deities.  There is not complete agreement on this designation, deity or energy, but I went with calling them energies because as a spiritual person who is a deist, I believe in one god who caused the universe to be created but does not necessarily intervene in it – for me the Orishas and Mexica energies fit into this world view. Others would say that these two traditions are polytheistic – that they hold belief in many gods, but the people who today practice these traditions would disagree. The energies as I am calling them, are the ones who can be called upon to help and they do, but they are not gods or god. I only mention this because writing this part of the book, which contains only the very simplest descriptions of the energies, was the part I had most difficulty with. I did not want to reveal too much or too little. I also wanted to be in integrity with whatever I did share because spiritual beliefs are very personal and when you put them down in a book which is public, well, then what your write is open to scrutiny and criticism. But the most important part for me was not wanting to offend practitioners in including this information in the book, and back when I started working on it sharing information about the Orishas was tricky. The poems, well they are my offerings, and really the heart of the book so I hope people will enjoy them.

As a child, who first introduced you to reading? 

That is a hard question because both of my parents read. Mom was always an avid reader. She loved Agatha Christi, mysteries in general – her go to entertainment. She also read our text books once we started having those, I remember being really surprised to find her at the kitchen table reading my history text, and later in college she was especially interested in my psych and political science books. I began reading as a very young child, with my Dad, I would point to words on labels and he, noticing this, would sound them out with me. I think I was about 3 or 4 years old. He used to bring home a newspaper in Spanish, we were living in Chicago at the time, and I remember the same thing I would point and he would read to me and then he would tell me to “read” it. Of course, I don’t think I was very good at it at all but, by the time I went to kindergarten I was already reading. There were always a lot of books in our home.

How did you first become a poet? 

That is a good question. I was always writing. Started early –  writing in those diaries I would ask for and get for Christmas. You know the ones that come with a key and lock. I’m laughing at this, because I know how easy they were to open with a bobby pin or a paper clip. So there was nothing private about them. Anyway, I kept a journal from early on and was never really interested in poetry because what they give you to read in school are normally poems working-class poor children growing up on the south side of Chicago can not relate to. But low and behold one day Gwendolyn Brooks! Yes, her poem We Real Cool is the reason I am a poet today. I don’t remember what grade that was, maybe 5th grade, yes, I had Mrs. Elliott that year – one of the few lay teachers in my Catholic School. The year JFK was assassinated. Yes, she introduced us to Gwendolyn Brooks. Everything changed for me then, I started loving poetry. Knew I wanted to write it. I was always very private about my writing and didn’t come out as a poet until the late ‘70’s my first poem was published in a small anthology in Santa Cruz, CA under a pseudonym. That makes me laugh now. It wasn’t until I met the incredible Francisco X. Alarcón – ¡presente! who encouraged me and invited me to write more. I started sharing my work in a taller called Centro Chicano Latino de Escritores, and in the early 80’s was when my work began to be published in anthologies.

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

Just that if you are a writer or want to be, find like-minded people who will support and help you work on your craft, whatever that might be poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction etc. We have to get our stories and voices heard.  So, join or form a community of writers in your area and write together, then when your work is ready, submit it and see what magic happens!

The Color of Light

is shadow
there is not one
without the other
to delve further
into this duality
one must vision
reality bent
a descent
into seeing
what isn’t
a three-dimensional trick
in that world of flat magic
it’s tragic
when people refuse
to muse beyond
their edges
isn’t it?
and color only
inside their lines
their whole lives spent
not looking beyond
their assigned comfort
not feeling the others
who live with us daily
sharing the planet
on an invisible level
or is it?
some same plane
traffic jam
where some of us
are merely sideswiped while
others are rammed head-on
since birth in a collision

She Walks in Beauty

she walks 
in beauty 
in night
shadow dreams
a star specked shawl 
swirled across
her shoulders
free of wide world’s weight 
tonight she dreams
reality that fits 
she strolls
red earth mesas 
where gold bones 
are a sunken treasure 
all that is left 
of petrified trees
rock roots
in an ancient ocean 
to desert floor 
deep with messages
of the still rooted

Cloudy Serpent

from the milky
sky road
we were
in handfuls
from on high
seeding the earth
from molten
blue stars
we became flesh
from your
downy plumes
you made
flores bloom
as humans


Edward Vidaurre said...

This is a great collection! I had the privilege of reading this collection and learning so many new things from the mind of this wonderful poet. You can speak her name in the same breath with all the Latinx writers of our time now and from the past. Teach this book! Let it inspire you!

Elizabeth Marino said...

Wonderful selection and comments -- a peek into the mind and heart of a wonderfully supportive editor and poet.