WHAT DOES THE ART OF PERFORMANCE MEAN TO YOU? AS IN THE MEDIUM TO USE FOR YOUR WORK.
On a higher level I think of performance as a long tradition of sharing knowledge / lineage / ritual / storytelling / ancestral tongue & thought. I’m not the first one to do this, right? So many came before so that I can be part of the passing as well. I also think that when I perform, I am in service of my work. I refuse to be a page poet and I refuse to be a performance poet. I am very much both. I create with the intention of writing for the page and stage every time.
I also think it's a different type of human connection for me. The intimacy of carrying someone’s book is very different from seeing them perform, or hearing them read. They’re two very distinct experiences and I want to be able to do them both well.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS? WHICH ONES HAVE CHANGED YOUR LIFE? WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?
I’m teaching and reading microchips for millions by Janice Sapigao (forever). It’s a collection of poetry that unveils the underbelly of Silicon Valley and its exploitive practices—it’s also a dedication to her mother and the immigrant women labor force in the Bay Area.
As for the two pieces of work that I always come back to / that gave me permission to write SPLIT—Rachel McKibbens’ Pink Elephant and Cherrié Moraga’s Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Paso Por Sus Labios. They unlocked something for / in me. They were the first books I read that allowed me to say, “Oh, I can talk / write about this.”
What I'm currently reading? Oh gosh, this is the worst question to ask a book nerd. Danez Smith's, Insert Boy. Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s collection, There Should Be Flowers. Uff, I just toured with her and she gutted me every night. I love books that split me open, no reservations—all human, all exposed and shit. You know? Okay, last one: Juliana Delgado Lopera's, Cuéntamelo. I can be here all day but we’ll leave at it those, hah!
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR SOMEONE THAT WANTS TO WRITE, OR PERFORM BUT IS TOO SHY OR DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO GET STARTED.
Yes, lots of it, but I don’t know if it’ll be any good.
First, always be in defense of your work, even if it’s shit. Own it, and own that you’re in your own evolution as a writer—where ever you might be, be protective of the space you have to create. Also, if you carry a marginalized identity and can write from your specific experience, WE NEED YOU. All of you. This isn’t to say that you sit around writing about what it’s like to be queer, or brown, or differently abled. I just mean that inherently, we create work that is influenced by our experience—and we need that.
Secondly, folks invested in upholding the current state of publishing aren’t keen on art that makes them uncomfortable, so the weirder / more unconventional you can write, the better.
Thirdly, you’re going to hear the word, no, a lot. But I want you to know this: someone’s no does not mean that your work does not matter, that your voice does not matter, and that your specific experience--even if it is very similar to someone else's--the way that you relay it, is distinct. So, do not allow anybody to dim that light. Be protective of that light, even if it’s small, even if you don’t know where it’s taking you.
With that being said, it’s not enough. It’s not enough to say that I’m writing. As important as it is to be defensive of the space you have to create work, it's also important to know and keep growing your craft. Don't get comfortable even if you’re stacking accolades. Read anything you can get your hands on. Expose yourself to every medium possible.
WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE AT GROSSMONT COLLEGE LIKE AS A WRITER?
I was enrolled in Sydney Brown’s English 120 course and she quickly realized that I didn’t have a productive outlet in my life, so she sat me down and told me, “Just write about it. Write about whatever you’re going through.” For the first time in my life someone took a moment to see the shit that I was carrying and told me to just lay it down. Sure enough, I enrolled in her Poetry Workshop course and found community and every Thursday we sat together in her class to hash shit out, or at least not feel so damn alone.
To be honest, I was a horrible student. It pains me to say that as an educator now. However, I think it’s why I empathize so much now with my students. Because I know how much shit they're carrying too.
Ten years ago it was so much less about the poetry and so much more about keeping myself accountable every week. I needed that type of structure—I was a feral ass kid with not much to lose. I was running up and down the goddamn streets of east county up to no good, but that classroom created a safe space for me. It created friendship for me. Most imperatively, it gave me the tools to come out of myself—to write myself out of the dark / light in me.
I haven't stopped writing since.
...previously published in The Acorn Literary Review, Grossmont College 2017.